Gabriela Ruffels defeats Albane Valenzuela to win 119th U.S. Women's Amateur

USGA/Steven Gibbons

Gabriela Ruffels defeats Albane Valenzuela to win 119th U.S. Women's Amateur

USGA

Gabriela Ruffels defeats Albane Valenzuela to win 119th U.S. Women's Amateur

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WEST POINT, Miss. – After surviving a late-match caddie change and six lead changes, Gabriela Ruffels became the first Australian to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur championship.

Ruffels won 1 up over Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland with a birdie on the 36th hole at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., on Sunday.

“To be honest I didn’t think that last part on 18 was going in but seeing that just dripping is probably the best feeling of my life,” Ruffels said moments after her win.

She had taken the lead for only the second time during the match with a birdie putt on the par-3 35th hole after a nearly perfect tee shot.

Valenzuela, who led five times for 18 holes, took the lead one final time on the 30th hole after Ruffels missed a putt for birdie, but lost it on the par-5 33rd hole when she failed to make a birdie putt, even after chipping her ball out of a bunker on the previous shot.

The battle that lasted nearly eight hours, not including a 60-minute break after 18 holes, and it was tied for 11 holes, becoming the most difficult match either player faced. That includes Valenzuela’s 19-hole semifinal against 15-year-old Megha Ganne on Saturday.

Ruffels, 19, was in command from the beginning of the match as Valenzuela struggled with long putts, as Ruffels made two birdies and winning five out of six holes with par in the first 18 holes, six out of nine overall.

Valenzuela, a rising senior at Stanford and the runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur, began the match with a 2 up lead after winning the first and fourth holes, but Ruffels won holes 8-11, including a conceded birdie at 10 to take the largest lead of the match, 3 up.

That’s when Valenzuela’s experience became advantageous. The 21-year-old coming off Pac-12 Women’s Golfer of the Year honors didn’t panic, but took advantage of Ruffels struggles, rattling off pars on 12-16 to take the 1 up lead. During that five-hole stretch, Ruffels carded four bogeys, including one double bogey, giving way for the first 18 holes to end with a tie.

Her bogey and double bogey on 12 and 13 marked the first time the USC junior lost consecutive holes in all of match play at the Amateur.

Ruffels had the opportunity to win the par-3 17th with a birdie putt, but her shot landed about one inch from the cup to make par. A birdie attempt on 18 after her second stroke landed about nine feet from the hole, leaving it all square after 18 holes.

Albane Valenzuela during the final round at the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss. Photo: USGA/Steven Gibbons

Valenzuela’s struggles with her putter bled during the afternoon which was played in temperatures over 90 degrees with added humidity that made it feel near 104 degrees.

While she won the 21st hole with a long birdie putt to take the lead 1 up, she gave away the lead on the 25th hole after a missed putt from close up. The same story happened again when she briefly regained the lead on 26, but lost it with a missed birdie putt on 28 and again when she lost the lead she gained on 30 on with a missed birdie putt on 33.

In addition to an unrelenting opponent and humid conditions, Ruffels switched caddies from USC head coach Justin Silverstein to Mississippi State junior Blair Stockett on 31st hole as Silverstein had to get to catch a flight for a funeral.

Throwing Stockett, whose home course is Old Waverly, into the mix to replace Silverstein hadn’t been planned for long. In fact, she only had an hour or two to get ready.

“Her mom kind of told me her coach and caddie had to take a flight so they didn’t really know how the timing would line up, but just be ready in case,” Stockett said. “So when they finished and were on lunch break, I marked a couple pins in my book and came out just in case and hole 15 I guess was when he needed to leave so I just jumped on, kept her calm. I knew she had it in her.”

While there’s plenty that could go wrong when you change a caddie with four holes left in a championship match, there was one advantage: Stockett’s knowledge of the 17th and 18th holes.

“I just think the putt on 18 and 17 little subtle breaks like that, you saw how much the putt broke a little bit more than it probably looks so I think that helped her a little bit but hey, she’s a great player that was all her,” Stockett said.

Ruffels concurred.

“I was like to Blair, ‘This is moving a lot. This is moving a lot to the left.'” Ruffels recounted after she putted on 18. “And she was like ‘Yep it is. It’s really fast downhill.’ You’re downhill, down grain, but just trying to kind of match line and speed and just seeing that ball kind of roll into the hole was special.”

While only Ruffels, who becomes USC’s fourth U.S. Women’s Amateur champ, takes home the Robert Cox Trophy for the next year, both semifinalists qualify for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston, although Valenzuela must remain an amateur to play there. Both are also eligible for the next 10 U.S. Women’s Amateur events, should they maintain their status.

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