Rose Zhang wins Women’s Am title

Rose Zhang outlasted defending champion Gabriela Ruffels in 38 holes to win the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club.

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With the victory, Rose Zhang, 17, becomes the 10th player since 2000 to win the U.S. Women's Amateur before her 18th birthday. (Chris Keane - USGA)

Rose Zhang outlasted defending champion Gabriela Ruffels in 38 holes to win the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur at Woodmont Country Club. The second-longest match in championship history ended in heartbreaking fashion for Ruffels, who lipped out a 3-foot par putt that would have extended the match.

Zhang, 17, of Irvine, Calif., considered withdrawing from the championship because of a left-wrist injury, but instead opted to rest for 10 days before the Women’s Amateur began. A combination of daily ice packs, medical tape and fairways in regulation were the perfect treatment plan for Zhang, who was collected and poised throughout the week.

“Winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur means the world to me,” said Zhang, the No. 9 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. “To have my name on the trophy with the best players of all time is life-changing for me. It’s a dream come true.”

For Ruffels, 20, of Australia, it was a stunning reversal of last year’s Women’s Amateur, when she drained a 10-foot birdie putt on the 36th hole to defeat Albane Valenzuela, 1 up, at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss. Ruffels was looking to become the fifth player since World War II, and the first since Danielle Kang in 2011, to successfully defend her title.

With the match tied on the 36th hole, Zhang delivered the shot of the championship. After missing her drive into the left rough, her recovery effort failed to get back to the fairway. With Ruffels on the green in regulation, Zhang needed to get up-and-down from 95 yards to have a chance. Her wedge hit on the front of the green, bounced up and curled to within 18 inches for a conceded par. When Ruffels’ 25-foot birdie effort came up short, the championship match was extended to extra holes for the first time since 2001.

The players exchanged pars on the 37th hole (No. 8), then came to the hole that Ruffels won four times in match play – Woodmont’s par-4 ninth. Hitting first, Ruffels pulled her drive into the left rough – her third consecutive missed fairway. After missing the green long, she played her delicate chip to within 3 feet. Zhang had an opportunity to win it, but her 18-footer missed to the left, setting up Ruffels’ putt to extend the match.

“You can’t take any putt for granted out here,” said Ruffels. “These greens are crazy fast, and that did have a little break to it. I was playing it outside of the hole. I actually hit it on my line, but it was heartbreaking to see it horseshoe out.”

Neither player had a lead of more than 2 up in the match. Ruffels got on the board first, birdieing the second and third holes to take a quick 2-up advantage. It was her largest lead on the front nine all week, though it did not last long. Zhang birdied the par-5 fifth to cut her deficit in half, then squared the match on the par-3 sixth by rolling in a 15-foot birdie putt, then watching Ruffels lip out from 8 feet.

Zhang won the ninth and 12th holes with pars to pull ahead for the first time. She maintained that 2-up margin until she caught a flier lie on the 18th, sailing her approach shot over the green and making  a bogey that trimmed her lead to 1 up at the break.

Just like in the morning, Ruffels won the second and third holes, the 20th and 21st of the match, to take her first lead in more than four hours. But just when it seemed the momentum had swung, Zhang birdied the 22nd hole to tie it, then stuck a wedge to 4 feet on the 23rd to regain a 1-up advantage.

“Winning those two holes was huge,” said Zhang. “That gave me a chance to recover after losing the previous two holes. It allowed me to regain the momentum.”

The players exchanged victories with pars on the 25th (Ruffels) and 30th (Zhang). On the par-3 31st, Ruffels hit a 7-iron to 12 feet and sank her birdie putt to square the match. It was the last hole won by either player until Ruffels’ stunning miss at the 38th.

For winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Zhang receives a gold medal and custody of the Robert Cox Trophy for one year. Her name also will be engraved on a plaque in the Hall of Champions at the USGA Golf Museum that will commemorate all of the USGA champions for 2020.

She also earns a 10-year exemption into the U.S. Women’s Amateur, as well as an exemption into the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. She also earns an invitation to next April’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur, and is likely to receive invitations to next year’s ANA Inspiration, Women’s British Open and Evian championships, provided she is still an amateur.

Highlights

  • This was the fifth time a U.S. Women’s Amateur final went to extra holes, and first since 2001.
  • This was the second-longest championship match in Women’s Amateur history. JoAnne Gunderson Carner defeated Marlene Stewart Streit in 41 holes in 1966.
  • Before her loss to Zhang, Ruffels had won 11 consecutive matches to start her U.S. Women’s Amateur career, the longest streak since Dorothy Campbell won 13 straight in 1909-11.
  • As part of U.S. Women’s Amateur tradition, both finalists got to customize their lunch menus. Zhang had honey-glazed salmon with steamed broccoli and white rice. Ruffels had the same meal she had in 2019: penne Bolognese with a side garden salad.
  • Seventeen of the 18 hole locations in the championship match were five paces or fewer from the edge of the green.  
  • Zhang had to reschedule her flight home three times after advancing to the final match.
  • Two U.S. Women’s Amateur champions – Danielle Kang (2010, 2011) and Lydia Ko (2012) – finished first and second, respectively, at this week’s Marathon LPGA Classic.
  • This is the second consecutive Women’s Amateur final in which Ruffels played an opponent with Stanford ties. She defeated senior Albane Valenzuela, 1 up, in 2019. Zhang has verbally committed to Stanford (Class of 2025).
  • Ruffels lost the par-5 fifth hole six of the seven times she played it in match play.
  • By virtue of her win in the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur, Ruffels is exempt into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open, which will be played Dec. 10-13 at Champions Golf Club in Houston.

USGA Release, Aug 10, 2020