The enduring memory of Gabi Ruffels’ historic US Women’s Amateur win will, for many, be the gutsy 7-iron approach and seemingly nerveless birdie putt at the 36th hole to seal victory.
But for this writer the lasting image comes from a much earlier and less confident time, from a chance encounter at a driving range in Melbourne some four years ago.
It was there I first laid eyes on a then 15-year-old Gabi Ruffels, known at the time only as ‘Ryan’s sister’.
The elder Ruffels sibling had been a known quantity for quite some time by then having been mixing it with the pros at the likes of the Australian Open and Australian Masters.
Gabi, however, looked anything but a world beater as she grappled awkwardly with the implements of the game.
It may have even been one of her first attempts at swinging a club and the results were – obviously – nothing like what she produced at Old Waverly Golf Club in Mississippi last week.
While nothing would give greater pleasure than to claim one saw her potential immediately, that would be a gross misrepresentation of the facts.
The truth would be closer to feeling a little sorry for the youngster should she decide to pursue the game with any seriousness as she would likely have to spend much of her time in her brother’s shadow.
How misguided that judgement has turned out to be.
Instead, Ruffels junior has gone from a shy, awkward teenager who occasionally had trouble getting the ball airborne to one of America’s top college players.
"Gabi Ruffels’ story reminds us once again what an extraordinary game golf is. To go from rank beginner to US Women’s Amateur champion in less than half a decade is an incredible feat."
And she has now made history on a scale none who were present that day would likely have believed (which is really only testament to the relative importance of what others think about one’s prospects in the game versus the belief of the player themselves).
Gabi Ruffels’ story reminds us once again what an extraordinary game golf is. To go from rank beginner to US Women’s Amateur champion in less than half a decade is an incredible feat.
Clearly she has oodles of natural ability but that explains only a small portion of what it takes to win at that level. As Mathew Goggin once said, talent is only the entry fee.
No, Ruffels displayed something more than just an ability to play golf on her way to victory, not only in the final but all week.
The US Amateur is likely the most gruelling tournament any elite golfer can play with its 36 holes of strokeplay qualifying followed by the need to win six consecutive matches to be crowned champion.
It requires stamina, an ability to manage one’s emotions and an innate knowledge of when to play safe and when to attack.
Ruffels proved she had all of that in spades when she cruised through the first three rounds then birdied the last three holes to get through the quarter finals and birdied the final hole again to advance to the championship match.
That she achieved the feat a third time, under intense pressure with her opponent in close and looking likely to extend the championship match, suggests Ruffels is a player of more than just physical ability.
She is that rare combination of talent, drive and determination that often adds up to something special.
And shines far too brightly to live in anyone’s shadow (sorry Ryan).
Rod Morri is founder of the TalkinGolf Podcast Network, home of the State of the Game, iSeekGolf, TalkinGolf History and Feed The Ball podcasts.
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