Unruffled Ruffels wins U.S. Women’s Amateur with clutch finish

(Reuters) – Teenager Gabriela Ruffels became the first Australian to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur championship when she birdied the final two holes to beat Albane Valenzuela 1-up in the 36-hole final in Mississippi on Sunday.

Ruffels, the daughter of former professional tennis players Ray Ruffels and Anna-Maria Fernandez, was behind for most of the final at the Old Waverly course in West Point.

But she proved clutch at the end, hitting a series of magnificent iron shots to clinch victory with four birdies in the final five holes.

“This is my dream, my goal,” said 19-year-old Ruffels at the victory presentation.

“I’ve worked so hard to get here. It was a great match. It could have gone either way but I’m so glad I have the trophy. I wanted it so bad.”

Valenzuela, 21, who was attempting to become the first Swiss winner, was also the losing finalist two years ago.

“It’s hard to be that close. I fought hard so there’s nothing to regret,” she said.

It was only the second time in the past century that the final pitted two non-American players, though both Ruffels and Valenzuela attend university in the United States.

Ruffels was the third Australian finalist, after Lindy Goggin (1981) and Anne-Marie Knight (1995), who both lost the title match.

As if the pressure of playing the final was not enough, Ruffels had to switch bag carriers with a few holes left when her coach/caddie had to leave to catch a flight.

But she remained unruffled, hitting a soaring four-iron into the 33rd hole, the par-five 15th, for a two-putt birdie that tied it up.

Ruffels took the lead two holes later when she fired a six-iron to eight feet at the par-three and sank the birdie putt.

She closed it out in style at the par-four 18th by holing a 15-foot birdie putt that barely toppled in on its final revolution.

Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ian Chadband

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