Aneka Seumanutafa

Aneka Seumanutafa plays the first ball to start the first round of stroke play at the 2020 U.S. Women's Amateur at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md. on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

August 3-9, 2020 – Gabriela Ruffels trailed in all five of her matches in the 120th U.S. 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.

Ruffels, 20, of Australia, will attempt to become the fifth player to win back-to-back titles since World War II. She will face 17-year-old Rose Zhang, of Irvine, Calif., in Sunday’s final at Woodmont Country Club. Zhang, the youngest Women’s Amateur finalist since Eun Jeong Seong in 2016, led from start to finish in her 2-and-1 semifinal victory over Alyaa Abdulghany.

Unlike Zhang, Ruffels never led in her quarterfinal match against Emilia Migliaccio until she drained a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to win, 1 up. She fell 2 down after bogeying both of the par 5s on the outward nine (Nos. 3 and 5), 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-3 16th to tie it again.

Still even on the 18th, and with Migliaccio on 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 8-iron from 144 yards – setting up the winning birdie.

“That match was super-close on the back nine,” said Ruffels, a senior at USC. “I thought she made hers on No. 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-3 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 2 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.

“Winning the U.S. 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 honor.”

In the other semifinal, Zhang and Abdulghany combined for 10 birdies in a battle of two players with ties to Southern California. Zhang, of Irvine, struck first, with birdies on Nos. 1 and 3 to take an early 2-up lead. After Abdulghany, a senior at USC, cut the lead in half with an 18-foot birdie on the sixth, Zhang responded with birdie putts on Nos. 7 and 8, to push the lead back to 3 up.

“I was really feeling that birdie on No. 8,” said Zhang, the No. 9 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings. “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 2 feet on the 12th to trim the deficit back to 1 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'm super satisfied with how far I've come since the U.S. Women's Amateur is such a prestigious event,” said Zhang, a quarterfinalist in the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior. “Making it this far makes me feel accomplished and assured that I can just keep playing my game and just keep striving to try to make birdies against my opponent.”

WHAT'S NEXT

The morning round of the 36-hole championship match will begin at 7:30 a.m. EDT on Sunday. The afternoon round will commence at 12:30 p.m. EDT. Live coverage on Golf Channel begins at 1 p.m. EDT.

NOTABLE

  • Both finalists are exempt into the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
  • By virtue of her win in last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, Ruffels is also exempt into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open, which will be played Dec. 10-13 at Champions Golf Club in Houston.
  • Ruffels has won 11 consecutive matches to start her U.S. Women’s Amateur career. That is the longest streak since Dorothy Campbell won 13 straight in 1909-11.
  • After being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior, Zhang caddied the final two matches for eventual champion Lei Ye.
  • Two U.S. Women’s Amateur champions – Lydia Ko (2012) and Danielle Kang (2010, 2011) – are in first and second place, respectively, through 54 holes at this week’s Marathon LPGA Classic.
  • This is the second consecutive Women’s Amateur final in which Ruffels has played an opponent with Stanford ties. She defeated senior Albane Valenzuela, 1 up, in 2019. Zhang has verbally committed to Stanford (Class of 2025).
  • In each of her first four matches, Ruffels trailed after eight holes. She won the ninth hole each time. In all five matches, Ruffels has won 19 holes and lost just three between Nos. 9 and 16.

QUOTABLE

  • “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.” – Gabriela Ruffels, on comparing her two U.S. Women’s Amateur finals appearances
  • “It's surreal because I watched her win the Women's Amateur last year, and it just makes me feel so honored 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.” – Rose Zhang, on facing Ruffels in the championship match
  • “I wasn't going to play this event because of my wrist. I was thinking of withdrawing so my hopes weren’t very high. Today it was a little sore, but I keep on icing it every single night. Anything can happen, and I'm super grateful to have even played this event.” – Zhang, on her expectations coming into this week’s championship
  • “It means a lot. I haven't been this far in a USGA championship before, and these are always the events that have the best players in the world. I'm really happy to know that I'm one of those too. – Valery Plata, on reaching the semifinals
  • “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.” – Alyaa Abdulghany, on her run at the Women’s Amateur

Rockville, Md. – Results from Saturday's Quarterfinals at the 2020 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, played at par-72 Woodmont Country Club (North Course).

Rose Zhang, Irvine, Calif. (145) def. Kaleigh Telfer, South Africa (146), 2 and 1

Alyaa Abdulghany, Malaysia (144) def. Riley Smyth, Cary, N.C. (143), 2 and 1

Valery Plata, Colombia (142) def. Kennedy Swann, Austin, Texas (146), 1 up

Gabriela Ruffels, Australia (143) def. Emilia Migliaccio, Cary, N.C. (142), 1 up

Rockville, Md. – Results from Saturday's Semifinals at the 2020 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship, played at par-72 Woodmont Country Club (North Course).

Rose Zhang, Irvine, Calif. (145) def. Alyaa Abdulghany, Malaysia (144), 2 and 1

Gabriela Ruffels, Australia (143) def. Valery Plata, Colombia (142), 2 and 1

Courtesy of WWW.USGA.ORG

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