Gabriela Ruffels’ redemption story — Must-click women’s golf links
The IX: Golf Thursday with Addie Parker, Aug. 17, 2023
Welcome back to Golf Thursday! There’s so much happening in golf right now that selecting today’s topic was quite difficult. Golf media outlets are anointing Lilia Vu to be the next great American hope (especially with Solheim 36 days away). The LPGA, along with the DP Tour, is in Ireland for the ISPS HANDA World Invitational. The U.S. Women’s Am was last week, and Stage I of Q-School begins next week. But with all that, there’s one story that I think is worth diving into because it has it all — hard work, heartbreak, drama, redemption, and a fairytale ending.
Gabriela Ruffels, a native Australian, started her sports journey as an elite amateur tennis player. Starting at age eight, she grew to be quite accomplished, winning 21 International Tennis Federation doubles events competing in Europe. But in 2015, she made the switch to golf and the rest is history.
She competed her way through golf circuits in Australia, and in 2018 she committed to the University of Southern California, her mother’s alma mater. During her time as a Trojan, Ruffels earned her stripes as a consistent player playing in all eight matches in her first season at USC. In her sophomore season, her growth as a player shot up exponentially. She became one of the top golfers in the country as a 2019 sophomore, earning WGCA All-American second-team and All-Pac-12 first-team honors. She finished fourth on the team with a 72.73 stroke average with five top 10s and eight top 16 results on the season. Ruffels posted her first collegiate victory at the Windy City Collegiate at 10-under 206. She then went on to win the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur defeating Stanford All-American Andrea Lee in the semifinals.
Following her stellar sophomore season, in 2020, Ruffels was the runner-up to Rose Zhang in the U.S. Women’s Am and was a top-15 ranked amateur before turning pro in February of 2021.
Through sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers, Ruffels made eight LPGA starts but earning her tour card was proving to be anything but easy. To win on any tour is quite difficult, but she wasn’t one to be easily deterred. She entered Q-School in the fall of 2021, falling short of earning her card. We all have gotten to know that Q-School is a grind, but her lack of earning a card meant that she could learn from the experience and gain more confidence playing on the Epson Tour.
If you can recall late last year, the story about the player who arrived at the first week of Q-Series but forgot to register, therefore ineligible to earn her card for the 2023 season — well that player was Ruffels. In a moment of realization, she checked to see if she had even registered, and it turns out that she did not and the registration deadline had passed weeks prior. Needless to say, her drive from Orlando to Mobile, Alabama back to Orlando was a long one.
It was a mistake that she owned, no one’s fault but hers, and yet she didn’t wallow. Ruffels immediately went back to work. She flew back home to Australia and competed in the Australian Women’s Open for the first time in her career. After a top-20 finish, her road to redemption wasn’t over. The LPGA isn’t the only tour with a Q-School, and Ruffels took advantage of that. She went on to finish eighth in the LET Q School, earning her playing card for 2023.
She began her season on the LET, winning at the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Championship in March (her first professional win). She then won the Garden City Charity Classic in May after tying the Epson Tour’s all-time 54-hole scoring record (-19). Her third win at last week’s Four Winds Invitational sealed the deal. And as if three wins weren’t impressive enough, she made the cut in three LPGA events this season, including two majors at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open.
“I’m so excited to officially say that I will be on the LPGA Tour next year. It has been my goal since I turned pro at the start of 2021, and I’m so proud to have earned it through the Epson Tour. It means the world and is something that every little girl playing golf strives to do, so to be able to have status for next year and play in the tournaments that I grew up watching on TV is such a great feeling. I’m super excited for 2024.”Gabi Ruffels
Nine months after what probably seemed like the biggest mistake of her life, Ruffels is now the first to earn 10 available tour cards via the Epson Tour’s Race for the Card, sealing her fate for the 2024 season. With seven events left on the Epson schedule, it’s safe to say it’s smooth sailing for Gabi and I can’t wait to see what she’s able to do in her rookie season.
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Five at The IX: Lilia Vu’s winning presser
Q. What were your emotions coming down the stretch with the big lead you had and how challenging was it to stay in the moment and not think about how close you were to winning?
LILIA VU: I didn’t look too hard at the leaderboard. I wasn’t really sure where I was at. I kind of knew that I was doing pretty well and I think I glanced at it on 16 green just to see was at but I was going to play my game the whole time, anyway.
Q. You are projected to move to world No. 1 with your win today. Is that something you ever thought about achieving?
LILIA VU: No. Honestly, I just wanted to win golf tournaments out here on the LPGA. It’s just been a crazy year for me, just doing pretty well at the beginning of the season and just hit a lull in the middle, just struggling. I thought at the U.S. Open after I played so bad, I didn’t know if I could ever win again.
Q. You also clinched the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award. Michelle Wie West, the only other American to win that award. How does it feel to win that honour?
LILIA VU: I never even imagined that I would win that honour and to be here today with that is so amazing. I just really want to thank my team for believing in me and helping me get to this point.
Q. As a result of of this victory, you’ll defend the AIG Women’s Open at St Andrews in 12 months. How special is that for you?
LILIA VU: I am so excited for that tournament. I’ve been talking about it all week. I think I’m going to cry when I cross the bridge on 18, honestly.
Q. Have you been to St Andrews before?
LILIA VU: No, it’s going to be my first time.
Q. What do you think it will be like, not only to play there but play there as the defending champion?
LILIA VU: I think it’s going to be great. It’s going to be so much fun.
|By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
|By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
|By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
|By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
|By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
|By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer