Gabriela Ruffels and caddie Justin Silverstein (USGA/Steve Gibbons)
Two very worthy opponents will meet in the final match of the U.S. Women’s Amateur on Sunday. When Albane Valenzuela, an upcoming senior at Stanford, and Gabriela Ruffels, soon to be a junior at USC, meet for a 36-hole shown at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., it will be just the third all-international match in the event’s history, and the first since 2016. Valenzuela hails from Switzerland and Ruffels is from Australia.
Valenzuela built an early 3-up lead on Ganne, a four-time Drive, Chip & Putt national finalist, winning the par-5 second with a par and the par-4 fourth with a bogey. Then she started to struggle on the greens, three-putting the sixth green – she lipped out a 4-footer – to lose the hole and missing a 7-footer for birdie on No. 9, eventually losing the hole when Ganne converted from 4 feet.
Ganne, however, showed no quit after Valenzuela regained her 2-up advantage on 12, thanks to a winning par. Two down with five to play, Ganne drove the 236-yard, par-4 14th hole and converted the 12-foot eagle putt and followed up those heroics with an up-and-down birdie from the pine straw on the par-5 15th hole, nearly holing out the 50-yard pitch-and-run.
“That was probably the highlight of my week just because that’s what you play these events for,” said Ganne, a product of The First Tee of Essex County (N.J.). “Pars are nice, but when you get under pressure and people are watching and you’re in a match and you’re down and you pull off just two incredible shots like that, it really just feels good, and you can hold on to those memories for a long time.”
On the par-3 17th, Ganne’s tee shot landed underneath the lip of a greenside bunker and she was forced to take an unplayable lie. She eventually conceded Valenzuela’s birdie to go 1 down heading to the closing hole.
Ganne stuffed her approach to 6 feet and won with a conceded birdie. Valenzuela gave herself a pep talk as she headed to the first extra hole.
“I told myself, do not regret this,” said Valenzuela. “Do not let it slip off your hands. You have control over it. And even when you start feeling a little nervous, I’m like, I want this. I wanted to go to the finals, and so that’s what you need to do to go to the finals is make birdie.”
Valenzuela made herself a prophet. She drained a 10-foot birdie putt and then watched Ganne miss left from 8 feet to secure the victory.
“A win is a win,” said Valenzuela, who played the equivalent of 1-under-par golf, with the usual match-play concessions. “I didn't have my best game today. I missed some shots out there. But I just knew I had to stick to my game plan; eventually they’d fall, and it fell in the playoff, the one putt that I really struck well. It was a tough match. She’s a great competitor. She has amazing composure for a 15-year-old, and she made me work hard.”
Andrea Lee, making her seventh and likely last U.S. Women’s Amateur appearance (she plans to turn pro after her final season at Stanford), saw her dream of reaching the final end in the semifinals for the second time in five years. The first came in 2014 as a 15-year-old.
On 18, after Ruffels knocked her 7-iron approach from 156 yards to 9 feet, Lee’s shot from the fairway landed 22 feet above the flagstick, leaving a tricky birdie attempt. She took plenty of time studying the line, getting assistance from dad/caddie James before sending the putt 6 feet by the hole. Ruffels carefully trundled her attempt to 3 feet, and when Lee couldn’t make the comebacker for par, she conceded the match.
“I’ve never played a 36-hole final but starting the week this is where you want to be,” said Ruffels, whose victory over fellow Australian Doey Choi in the North & South final was over 18 holes. “No complaints. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
ABOUT THE U.S. Women's Amateur
The U.S. Women's Amateur, the third
the USGA championships, was first played
at Meadowbrook Club in Hempstead, N.Y.
event is open to any female amateur who
USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 5.4.
Women's Amateur is one of 14 national
championships conducted annually by the
10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
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