Gabi Ruffels (USC Athletics photo)
When Gabi Ruffels made it to the match-play quarterfinals at the North & South Women’s Amateur, she remarked that Pinehurst No. 2 felt a lot like home.
“The sandy areas, the tight lies around the greens, the bunkers – it felt so similar,” Ruffels, a USC sophomore who hails from Melbourne, Australia, told tournament officials. “A lot of American courses are so different than what we grew up on. But this looks just like what we’re used to at home.”
She might have been the only one to express it that way, but she wasn’t the only Australian player to find success on No. 2. In fact, five of the 16 women to make the third round of match play were from Australia.
Ruffels ultimately lost in the final to Stephanie Lau
on July 13, but the Australian presence didn’t go unnoticed. A Carolina away, Canberra’s Josh Armstrong was ninth at the Players Amateur in Bluffton, S.C. The next week, another Australian, Karl Vilips, ran through the U.S. Junior bracket before falling in the second round of match play. And at the Porter Cup, Queensland native Shae Wools-Cobb tied for sixth.
Those are just the recent results. The summer amateur circuit has been flooded with Australian success, which has become something of a trend over the past 10 years. Success breeds success, and Australians are finding it all over the world.
Brad James, Golf Australia’s high performance director, calls this kind of international competition a major priority for athletes in the Golf Australia program. There can be as many as 400 players under the federation’s umbrella, which was the case last year, but James said about 60 athletes form the core of the program. James is responsible for the oversight and management of Australia's men's and women's national teams, the country's rookie program, and the junior development program.
“The success goes back to what you do every day and the training environment you help create for them years before competing in these events this year,” James said. “Some of our athletes that have had success at the junior level have been in the program for over three years.”
The level and type of coaching differs from player to player and can include everything from conditioning to nutrition to finances to recovery. James call international competition a “major priority,” and James’ background puts him in a unique position to help with that.
James played collegiately for the University of Minnesota from 1993-96 then returned in as a coach. He went down in Gopher lore for leading Minnesota to a national title in 2002 after the university had announced they would be cutting the golf team (needless to say, the program remains). It shows James’ ability to get the most out of his players and his resources.
For the past eight years, Golf Australia has hosted a summer team camp in the United States. This year’s camp took place at TPC Woodlands in Houston. James said it helps athletes prepare for U.S. events.
There are six Australians in the top 50 of the Golfweek/Amateurgolf.com World Rankings and nine women among the top 100. When the World Amateur Team Championship is played Aug. 29-Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland, the Aussie men will be looking for a title defense. The women finished T-12 in 2016. The teams have already been selected. The men’s side will feature Perth's Min Woo Lee, Melbourne's David Micheluzzi and Wools-Cobb. Queensland pair Kirsty Hodgkins and Becky Kay and Sydney's Grace Kim will play for the women.
"I love playing over in Europe and I believe we have a great team to do well," Kim told an Australian golf news outlet. “To get in this team has been a goal of mine for a long time and I'm beyond grateful and excited to represent Australia again."
So what makes Australian golf so successful? Part of it is certainly James’ hand, and the variety of coaching and competition to which Australian players have access. Preparation is hard to beat.
“Traveling to different parts of the world learning to deal with different food, golf courses, money, grass types, weather, cultures is all part of the developing as a person an athlete,” James said.
Even if, as Ruffels noted, those places feel familiar.
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Kudos to the USGA:
After finishing T-10 at the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which also made her the low amateur, Martha Leach has earned a special exemption into the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Leach, 56, works as a real estate agent in Hebron, Ky. She had planned to try qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur but the closest qualifier geographically fell during the Senior Women’s Open.
This was a good move by the USGA considering that a similar exemption is awarded to the low amateur at the U.S. Senior Open. Jeff Wilson received a U.S. Amateur invitation with his T-31 finish earlier this summer at the Broadmoor.
AmateurGolf.com caught up with Leach a week ago for a Q&A. Find that here
• • •
On a run and a walk:
Yealimi Noh may be the hottest player in amateur golf right now. Her recent list of accomplishments includes winning the California Junior Girls' State Championship
for the second time, going 24 under to win the Girls’ Junior PGA Championship
and playing 49 holes in one day on her way to the U.S. Girls’ Junior title
Noh is as physically tough as she is talented at golf. Interestingly, she doesn’t like to use a caddie during stroke play, and held true to that during stroke-play qualifying for the Girls’ Junior at Poppy Hills Golf Club in Pebble Beach, Calif.
“My friend (Yoonhee Kim) came up to caddie for me in match play. In stroke play, I like playing by myself. A caddie is OK, but I like being in my own zone. Even raking bunkers and pushing a cart is part of my routine. It’s what I do in [most junior tournaments] because we don’t have caddies.”
• • •
Winner’s photo of the week:
• • •
Tournaments we’re watching:
Canadian Women’s Amateur
, July 24-27
Pacific Coast Amateur
, July 24-27
• • •
Five questions with
… Patrick Cover
, the winner of the Southern Amateur
. Cover recently completed four years at North Carolina-Wilmington, and after a summer of amateur starts, plans to play Web.com Tour Qualifying School in the fall.
1. You had six birdies and an eagle to start the second round. Walk me through your mental state as that was happening.
I started off my first hole, nothing special, I actually hit a pretty bad shot and had a good up-and-down to make par. Started off with a couple easier holes on the back nine. No. 11 was a reachable par 5, I hit two pretty good shots and then hit a really nice chip up there to tap in birdie. That was a nice, easy birdie to start. The next hole was a par 4 that had kind of a double bowl green actually. I played it off one of the slopes really well and it ended up just rolling up there, tap-in. It was a really easy 2-under-through-three start. Then I got to a little bit of a harder hole, a par 3 where you have to hit a good shot to make a birdie and I hit a solid shot, didn’t make the putt but still kind of hit another good shot in there. So at that point through four holes, I hadn’t really hit a poor shot except the first hole, so I knew I was playing well.
Then I really started to get hot after that. Definitely a good start, but nothing out of the ordinary to go 2 under through four. We played the drivable par 4, No. 14. That day it was a little into the wind…It was a full-out 3-wood, it ended up rolling to 40 feet and I ended up making that putt so that got it started. All of a sudden I was 4 under through six and I knew that that kind of quick start probably shot me up the leaderboard since it was so congested.
I just tried to not think about the last four holes that much, just play it as four new holes, just try to go shoot as low as I could on those four. I ended up hitting really good shots into all of them and having makeable putts. Eighteen was maybe one of the easier holes we played all week. You always go into that hole trying to make birdie. The ones that I made on 15, 16 and 17 were kind of a mixture of tap-in for birdie, a mid-range putt, a nice 25-footer for birdie on 17.
2. Your grandfather caddied for you at the Southern Amateur. What’s he like out there?
A lot of the kids that I’ve grown up with are not as surprised as some of the people (at the Southern Amateur) were. Definitely the guys who were interviewing me at the tournament liked that story. A lot of the people I’ve played with my whole life, they’re not that surprised. . . . He’s really supportive of my golf, he’s been helping me with my golf since I was a young kid. I still go to him for some help. We talk about my swing a lot. . . . Last summer he even caddied for my U.S. Amateur qualifier which was 36 in one day.
3. Did your game shows signs that 12 under and a major amateur victory were on the horizon?
That’s a good question for me right now because my entire summer, it’s been kind of weird because I played well in my first tournament of the summer and won that one. After that it was a couple missed cuts, a couple tournaments where I didn’t play as well as I expected, feeling good going into it. I felt good about my game all summer. . . . I played the Sunnehanna and the Northeast and missed the cut in both of those. Even though I missed the cut, I felt like my game was really close. I feel like pros say that a lot of times in their interviews. Things were just a little bit off, they just needed a little sharpening up.
The week leading up, I played in the Tans-Miss, and played pretty bad and missed the cut there too. I got to have a couple days extra for practice before the Southern Am and my U.S. Am qualifier.
I think those three days extra that I had after missing the cut the past week helped get my game sharp. Not in the way of practicing at the range really hard for a couple days, but going out and playing a lot of golf and figuring out my game on the course.
4. Next up, you have the Western Amateur and the U.S. Amateur, two very prestigious summer events. Have you reframed your goals?
I’m really excited for both of them, obviously the U.S. Amateur because it’s the U.S. Amateur, it’s the biggest tournament you play all year and it’s at Pebble Beach. The Western Amateur is a tournament I haven’t played in before but it’s definitely regarded as the next biggest one after the U.S. Amateur. It’s another stage like the U.S. Amateur where maybe it doesn’t have the perks of the Masters or the U.S. Open but you’re playing against the other best players in the world so you can really measure your game compared to the best players there. They’re almost the same in that regard.
5. Did you have an idea of where you wanted your game to be to be successful at Web.com Q-School? If so, what?
I just take the approach of it being another golf tournament. Whether it’s playing for money or not, it’s not like I play any harder if it’s for money. You just go out there and keep playing golf like you have been. You don’t think about it being different because it’s professional versus amateur.
I decided to stay amateur this summer and play in some of these tournaments because I thought they would prepare me better for the Web.com Tour Q-School and any other professional tour going forward better than the mini tours just because the quality of the field and the quality of the golf courses you’re playing. Some of the notoriety you can get if you really play well in some of those bigger amateur tournaments like last week.