Rose Zhang (USGA)
In one of the closest matches in tournament history, 17-year-old Rose Zhang
upset defending champion Gabriela Ruffels
on the 38th hole of the U.S. Women’s Amateur thanks to a shocking 3-foot lip out off of Ruffels’ flat stick.
The two needed more than 36 holes to crown a champion. Ruffels was looking to defend her 2019 title and become just the 12th woman ever (and the fifth since World War II) to do so. As for Zhang, she was on the hunt to overcome a wrist injury that nearly kept her from playing in the event.
Ruffels grabbed an early lead in the morning 18, taking a 2 up lead through four, Zhang won holes Nos. 5 and 6 to make the match all square before taking a lead of her own on No. 9. Picking up another win on the par-4 12th with a par, Zhang settled in nicely before losing the 18th to Ruffels to take a 1 up advantage into the second 18-holes.
After a brief lunch break, Ruffels kept the momentum gained on the 18th to win holes Nos. 20 and 21, bringing the match back into her favor at 1 up. Undeterred, Zhang regained the lead with sequential birdies as the pendulum swung back and forth.
“Winning those two holes was huge,” Zhang told the USGA. “That gave me a chance to recover after losing the previous two holes. It allowed me to regain the momentum.”
Winning the par-4 7th (25th hole), Ruffles brought the match back to a stalemate as the duo kept throwing darts onto the undulating and lightning-quick greens at Woodmont Country Club. Trading wins on holes 30 and 31, the match lived up to its billing as they remained tied through regulation.
Down the stretch, momentum looked as though it was set to sway back in favor of Ruffels. Having been in the final match last year, she stayed poised despite mental errors and/or poor shots on the final four holes of regulation. Keeping pressure on Zhang, the 2017 Girls’ Junior PGA champion handled the applied pressure well. Having made mistakes of her own and her father calling her off of putts just as she was about to roll them, Zhang kept her composure, not allowing her opponent to ruffle her feathers.
Matching each other shot for shot despite their respective mistakes, Zhang gave Ruffels a break on the 36th hole to send the match to a playoff.
Zhang hit the shot of the championship after flaring her drive to the left and failing to get her second shot into the fairway. With just under 100 yards to the pin, Zhang put a wedge inside 2-feet from the thick left rough.
Ruffels conventionally made the green and had a 4-foot tester to force a playoff on her own merit, but Zhang gave her the nod to pick it up. A move that would leave a weekend warrior scratching their head, the gesture was highly respectful of Ruffels.
With both players unable to capitalize on open doors, they went to the par-4 8th for their 37th hole of the match.
After halving the 37th, the match became the longest championship match since 2001 when Merideth Duncan took the title over Nicole Perrot on the 37th hole.
Both players had their third shots on the par-4 9th inside of 5-feet. Zhang was given the nod to pick her ball up but, with the championship on the line, Zhang refused to give Ruffels the 3-footer to continue the match.
Ruffels’ ball was halfway down the cup before rimming out, costing her the opportunity to win back-to-back titles. The putt reminds the most avid of golf fans of the putt that gave Steven Fox the 2012 U.S. Men’s Amateur
when Michael Weaver had a 5-footer hit a pebble on the 37th hole.
“You can’t take any putt for granted out here,” Ruffles said. “These greens are crazy fast, and that did have a little break to it. I was playing it outside of the hole. I actually hit it on my line, but it was heartbreaking to see it horseshoe out.”
For Zhang, the championship gives her validation.
“Winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur means the world to me,” said Zhang. “To have my name on the trophy with the best players of all-time is life-changing for me. It’s a dream come true.”
Ruffels, by virtue of her win last year, will be in the spotlight in December at the U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Club in Houston, Texas. She also earned an exemption into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club in 2021. Zhang, with the win, will join Ruffels at Olympic Club next summer.
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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