It took until the 17th hole in the last match, but the Victorian women are the 2017 Interstate Series champions.
After an epic final against old foe New South Wales, Victoria placed its faith in rising star Gabi Ruffels and the 17-year-old answered in inspired style, calmly knocking in a par putt to spark wild celebrations by her teammates on the 17th green.
It was on the same green just minutes earlier that New South Wales No.3 Doey Choi shook Royal Fremantle to its foundations with the shot of the week – a holed bunker blast for birdie across a treacherous slope – for a 2&1 win over Stephanie Bunque that set the hearts of both teams racing.
Moments later, Grace Kim edged out Montana Strauss 3&2 in the No.2 match and Victoria’s early lead had evaporated and left the teams knotted at 2.5 points after five matches.
Seemingly oblivious to the pressure, Ruffels and her opponent Hannah Park holed testing par putts to halve the 16th, then stepped to the par-three 17th tee with a huge gallery hanging on every swing.
Ruffels calmly played a mid-iron to the back-left fringe, then Park dumped her tee shot in Choi’s bunker.
Amazingly, Park almost followed suit and the crowd roared in disbelief as her trap shot trickled agonisingly past the cup.
Ruffels, under the eye of touring professional Stacey Peters as her caddie, then lagged down to inside 1m before making the putt of her fledgling career.
“It was the best feeling. It was so good. That was the most nervous I’ve ever been, so I was really happy with that,” Ruffels said.
“It was so cool to have them (teammates) all run down … such a great thing to experience as a team.
“I love my team – we all are really good friends.”
Ruffels paid special tribute to Peters, the 2013 Vic Open winner and former Spanish and French Open champion on the Ladies European Tour.
“I don’t think I could have done it without her this week, she was great,” Ruffels said.
“Especially with putting, how relaxed she stays and she really helped me through the tight moments at the end.”
Earlier, Linley Ooi had been poised to give Victoria the perfect start, but a brilliant par-birdie finish by Belinda Ji – the baby of the NSW team at 14 – enabled her team to pinch what later loomed as a critical half-point.
Victorian captain Olivia Kline fought back from an early three-hole deficit to edge NSW skipper Amy Chu 1-up with a clutch 2.5m par putt on the final green.
And former Australian junior champion Kono Matsumoto was almost the unsung hero of the Victorian team, effectively leading all the way against the impressive Stephanie Kyriacou for a 3&2 win in the No.4 slot to cap her first open-age Interstate Series.
Kim, the recently crowned Australian junior champ, was equally impressive in leading almost the entire way for her victory over the in-form Strauss.
While Victoria fielded a young squad, it was great credit to the extraordinarily young NSW team – the same group that saluted in the recent Junior Interstate Series – that it was so competitive across the board in the open-age competition.
There were just two undefeated players through the round robin matches, with Kyriacou and Bunque receiving medals to honour their achievements.