U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Lee Dominant in Reaching Semis; Joins Valenzuela, Ganne, Ruffels
August 9, 2019 | West Point, Miss.
By David Shefter, USGA
Andrea Lee didn’t have a lot of time to think about her quarterfinal match on Friday morning against 2018 USA Curtis Cup teammate Lucy Li in the 119th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.
The last player to exit Old Waverly Golf Club Thursday – thanks to a 23-hole marathon Round-of-16 encounter with co-medalist Alexa Pano – Lee, 20, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., had just enough time to eat before conking out on her hotel bed.
“I was beat,” said the No. 2 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™. “I literally knocked out in bed. But it was kind of tough to wake up. But once you get out here and start warming up, I mean, you’re playing for the biggest amateur championship [in the world]. So, the nerves kicked in and the tiredness kind of went away.”
No wake-up call was required on the course.
Six consecutive one-putt greens that included birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 11 helped the Stanford University rising senior to a 6-and-5 victory. Lee, competing in her seventh U.S. Women’s Amateur and 16th USGA championship that includes a pair of Curtis Cups (2016 and 2018), next faces Gabriela Ruffels, 19, of Australia, in Saturday’s second semifinal match at 9:15 a.m. EDT.
For Li, 16, of Redwood Shores, Calif., it was her third consecutive defeat in the U.S. Women’s Amateur quarterfinals. The No. 4 player in WAGR lost to the eventual champion, Kristen Gillman, in 19 holes last year at The Golf Club of Tennessee.
Lee will be joined in the final four by Stanford teammate Albane Valenzuela, 21, of Switzerland, who will face four-time Drive, Chip & Putt national finalist Megha Ganne, 15, of Holmdel, N.J., at 9 a.m.
Lee, who teamed with Li to win a four-ball match in last year’s 17-3 Curtis Cup victory over Great Britain & Ireland at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., never let the Northern Californian get comfortable. She won two of the first three holes, then managed to save pars on Nos. 6-8, including a win on No. 7 to go 3 up. The three consecutive birdies gave Lee an insurmountable 6-up advantage. Li got one back with a 12-foot birdie on the par-3 12th. But when she struggled from a fairway bunker on the par-4 13th, leading to a remarkable bogey, Lee two-putted for par to close out the match.
“I didn’t even know,” said Lee when asked about the one-putt streak. “The first three were for par. So they were great saves. The next three for birdie. And the putter just kind of felt hot today and I was just rolling them in nicely.
“I know that [Lucy] didn’t have her best game today. But I’ll take the win. She’s a great player and I wish her the best of luck in the future, too.”
The best match turned out to be the last quarterfinal between Ruffels and University of Alabama rising senior Kenzie Wright, 21, of McKinney, Texas. The two collegians – Ruffels is a rising junior at the University of Southern California – combined for 13 birdies, the last three of which were converted by Ruffels to earn a 2-and-1 victory. Three holes in the match were tied with birdies: the par-5 ninth and 10th and the par-3 12th.
“It was crazy,” said Ruffels, who won the North & South Women’s Amateur, a match-play competition, last month at Pinehurst. “I mean, from the start, she never made any bogeys. I was kind of waiting for her to kind of miss one, mishit a shot or something like that, but it didn’t happen. She put the pressure on [me] every single hole, and I think [all but one] hole was won with a birdie, so it was a really good match.”
Added Wright, who was competing in just her second competition of the summer after a Round-of-16 showing in the recent Texas Women’s Amateur: “It was super-fun all day long. I mean, it was a little stressful, but it was super fun. These are the types of matches you look forward to.”
Ruffels, who went 1 down after three-putting the 13th green for her second bogey on the inward nine, reached the shortened par-5 15th hole (450 yards) in two and deftly rolled her 40-foot birdie putt to a foot for a conceded birdie to tie the match. Then on 16, she stuffed her 6-iron approach to a couple feet for another conceded birdie and a 1-up lead. And she completed the run by hitting her tee shot on the par-3 17th to 18 feet to set up another birdie.
“I was just telling myself, this is good for you to be in a pressure situation,” said Ruffels, who had not gone past the 15th hole in any of her three previous matches. “It’s good to see how you handle it. I didn’t want to shy away from it; I just kind of took it head on and did pretty well.”
Ganne, who had played all 18 holes in her first three matches, finally discovered what it was like to finish early. She and Canales, 16, of Calabasas, Calif., only tied two holes on the outward nine, with Ganne taking a 3-up lead by converting a short birdie putt on the ninth. Still holding that 3-up advantage on No. 15, Ganne reached the par 5 in two, leaving herself a 15-footer. Canales stuffed her hybrid approach even closer to 6 feet. But Ganne would not allow the momentum to slip, holing the eagle putt and followed with her biggest fist-pump of the match. Canales also made the putt to tie the hole, but her opponent was comfortably in the driver’s seat. Ganne prevailed, 3 and 2, after tying No. 16.
“It was really weird not having to catch my breath every shot,” said Ganne, who went 18, 19 and 20 holes to win her first three matches. “It was a lot more peaceful today.”
Valenzuela, the No. 5 player in the WAGR and fresh off sharing low-amateur honors in the Evian Championship, played the equivalent of 6-under-par golf – with the usual match-play concessions – in dispatching Ohio State rising sophomore Aneka Seumanutafa, 18, of Emmitsburg, Md. Valenzuela, the 2017 runner-up broke open a tight match with birdie wins on 13, 15 and 16.
“I played really solid today,” said Valenzuela. “I could not ask for more. I really stuck to my game plan, and I think as the week went by, I started hitting better shots and rolling the putts better. And great chemistry with my brother [Alexis, my caddie]. I think as days go by, we also learn more about the game, the course, and just how I feel this week.”
The two semifinal matches will be contested on Saturday, beginning at 9 and 9:15 EDT (heavy rains on Friday afternoon pushed back the starting times by 30 minutes), with FS1 broadcasting live from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. EDT. The 36-hole championship match is set for Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. USGA.org will have live streaming of the morning 18 from 10 a.m. to noon, with FS1 picking up the afternoon round starting at 2 p.m.
- The four semifinalists are now exempt into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md., and the 2021 championship at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y.
- This won’t be the first time Gabriela Ruffels and Andrea Lee have squared off in a match. Ruffels beat Lee in last year’s East Lake Cup in Atlanta. “It was a great match. I mean, I know she’s one of the best players in amateur golf right now, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun,” said Ruffels.
- The Pacific-12 Conference has three of the four semifinalists, with Lee and Albane Valenzuela representing Stanford and Ruffels the University of Southern California. Megha Ganne will be a sophomore at Holmdel High School in New Jersey.
- Ruffels is the first player from Australia to advance to the U.S. Women's Amateur semifinals since Alison Whitaker in 2005. Whitaker is now a golf analyst for SkySports. No Australian has ever won the U.S. Women's Amateur, with Lindy Goggin losing in the 1981 final and Anne-Marie Knight falling in the 1995 championship match.
- Mississippi State golfer Blair Stockett served as Lucy Li’s caddie for the championship. Stockett, of Jackson, Miss., is a rising junior for the Bulldogs, who often practice at Old Waverly. The team also has a practice facility across the street at Mossy Oak Golf Course.
- Ganne is a product of The First Tee of Essex County in Newark, N.J., and often serves as a mentor for the program.
- All four semifinalists qualified for the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.). Only Lee (T-60) made the cut.
- Ruffels has been receiving good-luck and congratulatory texts this week from older brother Ryan, a professional who is competing in a Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada event in Calgary this week.
“I might take a nap.” – Megha Ganne on her post-quarterfinal win plans after a marathon Thursday
“I’m just going to eat, drink, sleep and probably do nothing else. Probably the same routine as [Friday]: get up early, drive here, have breakfast and see how I feel.” – Ganne on how she will prepare for the semifinals
“It feels good to put my feet up a little early today, especially after yesterday’s [23-hole] match. It was straight to dinner and straight to bed and an early wake-up call. So it feels good to be able to rest up.” – Andrea Lee on just needing 13 holes on Friday to advance after playing 38 on Thursday
“Oh, he’s amazing. He knows that I have to get the towel at the right time, and I tell him, I think this putt is going to turn this way. He just checks my line on the putt, and just gives me a lot of confidence. He tells me to have the game, stay super relaxed, and we laugh a lot on the course; and he tells me a lot of stupid things. We just have fun.” – Albane Valenzuela on her younger brother/caddie, Alexis
“Me and my brother (Ryan) grew up playing all kinds of sports, everything. My brother was actually a really good tennis player growing up, and then he kind of fell in love with golf, as well, at maybe 13, 14. Maybe a little earlier. But yeah, I played tennis for about eight years, pretty competitively, and kind of lost interest in that, and then took up golf.” – Gabriela Ruffels on how she fell in love with golf growing up with two parents who were professional tennis players
“This was definitely one of the best courses I’ve ever played, and being in the heat of the competition and making it to the quarterfinals is just going to be something that I’m going to take to every tournament, and just the competition of it and just the match today alone taught me a lot.” – Kenzie Wright on the confidence she gained from her quarterfinal showing
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Social Scene
Gabi Ruffels is onto the #USWomensAm semifinals! The 2019 North & South champion wins her ninth straight match, 2&1, over Kenzie Wright, winning holes 15-16-17 to advance.— USC Women’s Golf (@USCWomensGolf) August 9, 2019
She will play Stanford rival Andrea Lee on Saturday at 5:45am PT. #FightOn