With Jin Young Ko sitting at world No. 1, Leona Maguire coming off a victory at the Meijer LPGA Classic, and Rose Zhang quickly climbing the rankings, this week's KPMG Women’s PGA Championship has a stacked field. Although, there are many talented players among the 156, one to not overlook is Gabriella Ruffels.
Ruffels is in the field this week on a sponsor's invitation but it's more than just a courtesy invite. The 23-year-old has played very well this year, winning twice on the developmental Epson Tour. She's on a path towards the LPGA, but it hasn't always been a straight line.
Born in Orlando, Florida, before moving to California and then Australia, Ruffels was destined for some kind of athletic success. Her parents, Anna-Maria Fernandez and Ray Ruffels, are both former tennis players. Her brother Ryan, who is two years older, was also a tennis player before becoming a professional golfer in 2016.
Gabriella Ruffels has had a unique path as she did not start playing golf until 2015. Her prior years were spent on the tennis court, and not just casually. Ruffels won dozens of events in Europe and was the No. 1-ranked junior in Australia at age 12.
But tennis wasn’t her future; it was golf. She switched sports when she was 15 and was a quick study. Playing collegiately for the USC Trojans, Ruffels became a top-10 amateur and was the first Australian to win the U.S. Women’s Am, in 2019. She nearly repeated the feat in '20, losing to Zhang in a 38-hole final. That same year, she also saw success in the biggest events on the LPGA, earning top-15 finishes in each of her three major starts. In 2021, she turned pro.
Her professional path, however, has been an adventure. She split time on the LPGA and the developmental tour in ’21, before playing the Epson Tour primarily last year. Needing to earn her LPGA card through Q-Series, though, she simply forgot to sign up. The result was another year in the minors. Ruffels told Golfweek that she, “used it as motivation.”
The motivation has been evident. Ruffels is a two-time winner in six starts on the Epson. However, she told Golfweek, “I feel the job is not done.” Celebrating is not yet on her radar. Leading the money list, earning two titles, and being on her way to a full-time LPGA card in ‘24, Ruffels is staying focused.
With the “promotion” route to the LPGA being removed, there is only one way for Ruffels to join the LPGA this year. That would be to win a tour event. The old route gave players a card immediately, if they earned three victories in a season on the developmental Tour. Ruffels, though, will have a huge opportunity this week.
Thanks to her exemption, she will tee it up in the LPGA’s second major of the season. Baltusrol’s Lower Course will be playing host. The par-71 venue has held four men’s U.S. Opens, one U.S. Women’s Open (1961) and two men’s PGA Championships.
Ruffels is looking to make history herself. If not this major then the next. She also earned a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open by winning her qualifier. That championship which will be held at Pebble Beach, two weeks after the Women’s PGA.
But as she has been all year, Ruffels will stay focused on the present and this week in New Jersey.