Rockville, Maryland, United States: Gabriela Ruffels has trailed in all five of her match play contests in the 120th US Women’s Amateur, but each time she found a way to come out ahead when it mattered the most. The defending champion delivered clutch shots throughout her two victories on Saturday, rallying to earn a berth in the championship match for the second consecutive year.
Australian Ruffels will attempt to become the fifth player to win back-to-back titles since World War II. She will face 17-year-old American Rose Zhang in Sunday’s final at Woodmont Country Club.
Zhang, the youngest Women’s Amateur finalist since Seong Eun-jeong in 2016, led from start to finish in her 2&1 semi-final victory over Malaysian Alyaa Abdulghany.
“I feel like it’s the same, very similar to last year. I’ll definitely draw on that experience. This championship is so crazy, with mixed emotions all the time. It’s like a roller-coaster. I'm just so happy right now,” said 20-year-old Ruffels.
“Winning the US Women’s Amateur for the second time would mean everything,” said Ruffels. “I know the list of names that have won it twice and I’d love to join them. It’s the biggest tournament in women’s amateur golf and it would be an honour.”
On the prospect of facing Ruffels in the championship match, Zhang said: “It's surreal because I watched her win the Women's Amateur last year, and it just makes me feel so honoured to play with her since she's such an amazing player and an amazing person. I'm just going to go out there and have fun tomorrow and try my best.”
Unlike Zhang, Ruffels never led in her quarter-final match against Emilia Migliaccio until she drained a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to win, one-up. She fell two-down after bogeying both of the par-fives on the outward nine, but won the ninth and 10th holes with pars to square the match. After a bogey on the 15th, Ruffels sank an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-three 16th to tie it again.
Still even on the 18th, and with Migliaccio on the right side of the green about 35 feet away, Ruffels took advantage of a well-placed drive and took aim directly at the flag. She seized the moment, hitting what she called her most memorable shot of the championship – an eight-iron from 144 yards – setting up the winning birdie.
“That match was super-close on the back nine,” said Ruffels, a senior at the University of Southern California (USC). “I thought she made hers on 18, but I was really happy to move on. That was a huge relief.”
In the afternoon against Valery Plata, the highest-remaining seed in the championship, Ruffels lost the third and fifth holes again, but quickly rebounded with a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-three sixth. After taking the lead with a par on the eighth, Ruffels sank a downhill, right-to-left 40-foot birdie putt on the 13th to go two-up. When Plata left her 15-foot birdie effort short on the 17th, Ruffels was headed to the championship match for the second consecutive year.
In the other semi-final, Zhang and Abdulghany combined for 10 birdies in a battle of two players with ties to Southern California.
Zhang struck first, with birdies on the first and third to take a two-up lead. After Abdulghany (pictured right), also a senior at USC, cut the lead in half with an 18-foot birdie on the sixth, Zhang responded with birdie putts on the seventh and eighth to push the lead back to three-up.
“I was really feeling that birdie on eight,” said Zhang, the number nine player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. “It was about a 40-footer and from then on, I just tried to keep the momentum going.”
Zhang seemed in control of the match until Abdulghany sank a 15-foot birdie on the 11th and stuck her approach to within two feet on the 12th to trim the deficit back to one-down. But Abdulghany could not get any closer and when she hit her hybrid approach heavy into the penalty area on the 17th, the match was essentially over.
“I was just telling myself to stay patient through the whole week. It's kind of inevitable to make mistakes on this course, and I was waiting for my opportunity, but she was making a lot of great shots. It's great to be part of USGA events. I'm just super glad to be able to put my best foot out there and go out and play some good golf,” said Abdulghany, winner of this year’s Australian Master of the Amateurs Championship.