Gabriela Ruffels didn’t do much to celebrate her record-setting victory last week at the Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes. The 23-year-old simply headed to Denver with her mom for an early flight back home to Palm Springs, California.
Now a two-time winner in six starts on the Epson Tour, Ruffels said it’s too early to celebrate: “I feel the job is not done.”
The job, of course, is securing an LPGA card, a goal that was deterred when the former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion forgot to sign up for Q-Series last year. Such a costly mistake could’ve led to a mental break, but Ruffels gave herself a couple of days to feel disappointed and then accepted that she’d be spending another full season on the qualifying tour and “used it as motivation.”
She also had a frank conversation with her team.
“Last year I came 15th on the Epson tour money list,” said Ruffels. “I didn’t kill it out there. … I need to get better.”
The top 10 players on the Epson Tour money list earn LPGA cards for the following season. Ruffels holds a sizable lead in the money race with $89,262. Natasha Andrea Oon sits in second at $54,627.
Ruffels said her game has improved this season but not by a wide margin. Good play, she notes, is a culmination of solid work, and she feels as though she’s building on that foundation every week.
Not to mention getting comfortable being in contention and learning how to win at the professional level.
“One of the most important things in golf and in sport,” she said.
Ruffels, a former elite tennis player turned hungry pro golfer, didn’t start playing golf seriously until age 15 and rocketed up the world amateur rankings while playing for USC. In her first Q-School appearance in 2021, she missed out on advancing to Q-Series by a single stroke.
Last week in Garden City, Kansas, Ruffels opened with a bogey-free 10-under 62 and set a new 36-hole tour record at 18-under 126, breaking the old mark by three shots.
With her second win on the #EpsonTour @GabiRuffels takes home her second #EpsonTourPrizePack of the 2023 season In addition to the purse, she won an Epson EcoTank Printer. #Road2LPGA pic.twitter.com/NMqKW0hniD
— Epson Tour (@EpsonTour) May 8, 2023
Ruffels, who said she plays best when she’s aggressive, wound up tying the tour’s 54-hole record by week’s end at 19-under 197. She pulled from the experience she had winning the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic in March.
“Since I’ve played professional golf, I haven’t really been in that situation that much,” said Ruffels. “I never really had a lead. Being able to close it out with at two-shot lead in Phoenix, that gave me a huge confidence boost.”
Ruffels’ parents, Anna-Maria Fernandez and Ray Ruffels, were professional tennis players while older brother Ryan plays professional golf. Mom has been on Ruffels’ bag most weeks since last spring, and her presence on tour has especially helped outside the ropes. Professional life, Ruffels noted, can be a lonely road.
“This year I felt like I’ve listened to them more,” said Ruffels of her parents’ advice. “I’ve kind of matured in the sense that I guess I’m listening to them more and knowing they’ve been professionals and their experiences correlate with the sport I’m in.”
Several years ago, the Epson Tour got rid of the “battlefield promotion” route to the LPGA, which gave players a card midseason after earning three victories on the developmental tour. Because players weren’t getting many starts through the promotion, the tour felt it was somewhat of a false promise.
The only way Ruffels could play her way onto the tour in 2023 would be to win an LPGA event. She’ll tee it up in a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier in Vancouver next Monday, hoping to earn a spot at Pebble Beach Golf Links.