Final match features golf’s future stars


ROCKVILLE, Md. – In the world of amateur golf, Gabriela Ruffels is in a class of her own, and she proved it once again on Saturday afternoon.

Ruffels advanced to the finals of the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur, defeating the championship’s most-consistent player of the week, Michigan State’s rising star Valery Plata, 2 and 1. Entering their semifinal match, Plata, last season’s Big Ten golfer of the year, had led for 51 holes and trailed for just four.

“Every player at this point is going to be good. I knew that coming into the match and expected it, and she played great today,” said Ruffels of Plata, who was 1 over through 17 holes with the usual match-play concessions. “It was a great match again. Nothing is easy out here.”

Plata held a brief 1 up lead on the front nine, but like the rest of the week, the back nine was all Ruffels at Woodmont Country Club just outside the nation’s capital.

U.S. Women’s Amateur: Scores | Gallery

The Australia native took a 1 up lead on the 8th hole and never looked back, shooting 1 under over 17 holes. Her game wasn’t nearly as good in the semifinal match as it has been all week, but it was still good enough to avoid the 18th green.

“To win these long tournaments, you’re not going to have your best all the time,” said Ruffels. “I think my irons held up, and my putting definitely at the start was pretty good. I think we both shot about even or 1-under, and on this course it’s so tough out there. Such a tough course.”

The USC senior has a chance to be the fifth player since World War II to defend at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she would join the likes of Danielle Kang (2010-11), Kelli Kuehne (1995-96), Kay Cockerill (1986-87) and Juli Inkster (1980, 1981, 1982).

Much like last year at Old Waverly Golf Club, a Stanford Cardinal is standing in her way. Sort of.

Ruffels defeated Albane Valenzuela 1 up in last year’s final and will take on 2021 Stanford commit Rose Zhang in Sunday’s 36-hole final. Zhang, one of the world’s top junior golfers, defeated Ruffels’ USC teammate Alyaa Abdulghany, 2 and 1, shutting down the possibility of an all-Trojan final match.

“Kind of reminiscing from last year’s final, playing another Stanford girl,” said Ruffels of Sunday’s final. “Obviously she’s playing really good, and my teammate told me today how good she played. I think it’s going to be a great match. Can’t wait to get out there.”

The always-smiling Abdulghany was 2 under over 17 holes, a great score at Woodmont, not to mention this late in the week. But early mistakes had the Newport Beach, California, native playing from behind on the first green. Zhang was impressive yet again, shooting 4 under over 17 holes. The two together would have been 8 under in a better-ball match (once again, with normal match-play concessions).

“To be honest I feel like it’s less pressure because I’m super satisfied with how far I’ve come since U.S. Women’s Amateur is such a prestigious event,” said Zhang. “Making it this far makes me feel accomplished as a golfer, so it made me feel assured that I can just keep playing my game and just keep striving to try to make birdies against my opponent.”

And why should she feel pressure? Zhang’s amateur career has featured appearances in a couple LPGA events, as well as a T-55 finish at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open. The 17-year-old now has the chance to put her name on the Robert Cox Trophy alongside some of women’s golf’s best, including Ruffels.

“Yeah, it’s honestly surreal because I actually watched her last year win this Women’s Amateur, and it just makes me feel so honored to play with her since she’s such an amazing player and an amazing person,” said Zhang. “I’m just going to go out there and have fun tomorrow and try my best.

Like Ruffels, Zhang was a tennis player early in her life. Her foray into golf was an unusual one.

“I was a very athletic kid where I liked to play a lot of sports, so my dad’s friend actually forced my dad to play golf by buying him shoes, golf balls on the range, clubs, etc., and my dad is like, ‘okay, fine, I’ll play with you,’” explained Zhang.

So, she picked up a club and started to swing. After making contact on her second try, she thought, “great, maybe I should try it out … So right off the bat I started practicing extremely hard, working on my game, and that’s how I got to today.”

She knew she had a future in the game when after a month or so, she went to a course and played with three boys who had been playing for a few years.

“So my coach decided to take me with them, and I beat them by like four strokes, and I shot 7 over,” said Zhang. “That was when I was like, ‘oh, this is fun, maybe try again.’”

She then won the first tournament she ever played. On Sunday, she’ll have the chance to win the biggest tournament of her life.

How to watch

Golf Channel: 1-4 p.m. ET



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