BEAUMONT, Calif. — Last year, heading into the final round of the IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, Fatima Fernandez Cano (Santiago, Spain) held a one-shot lead. That cushion was all the Troy University alumna needed, as Fernandez Cano fired a 3-under par 69 to close out a 12-under overall performance and step into the winner’s circle for the first time in her Symetra Tour career.
“It meant the world I had been a professional for three years and come pretty close a few times, but to finally close it out here was a dream come true,” said Fernandez Cano.
When looking back at the date, some may recognize that earlier that day history was made on the LPGA Tour, as Sophia Popov won the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon. In fact, a handful of Symetra Tour professionals remember watching it via their phones as they were walking to the tees.
“That was huge. I remember we were all following it on our phones. I remember watching it on someone’s Instagram live as I was warming up to tee off. I think she finished right before I was talking to tee off, I told myself I have no excuses, I have to close this,” said Fernandez Cano. “She did it over there which was the most impressive thing. She was just with us the week before and flew over there maybe had one practice round and completed dominated the whole thing. She made us realize the line between Symetra Tour and LPGA Tour is very fine.”
By the end of the 2020 season, Fernandez Cano worked her way into the top five in the Race for the Card rankings courtesy of six top-15 performances across eight starts, and joined the four other graduates in competing at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open for their first start after claiming their LPGA Tour cards for 2021.
“It was solid week and I had a lot of fun,” said Fernandez Cano. “I got to play a practice round with some really great players: Amy Olson, Lexi Thompson and Brooke Henderson. It was a really cool experience to play out there with some really good players and see my game against there. It felt I was ready to be out there.”
RUFFELS RETURNS TO THE SYMETRA TOUR, THIS TIME AS A PROFESSIONALLast Fall, Gabriela Ruffels (Melbourne, Australia) competed in the 2020 Symetra Tour Championship in Davidson, NC. This week she returns to the tour, but one thing has changed since her last appearance. She is no longer a member of the University of Southern California golf team. In February 2021, Ruffels turned professional and has been competing as one the last few months.
“It was really cool to get that start and see how my game compared against those players. I really got to get a feel on how this tour works as well. I thought I did pretty well. What I could take away was that at my best I could compete with the players out here.
“I played a Cactus Tour event and the Gainbridge LPGA event as my LPGA Tour debut which was cool,” said Ruffels, who made the cut at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, finishing T37. “My mindset hasn’t really changed, I am just out here playing golf and having a lot of fun with it.”
She won the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur and North & South Amateur and was the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up to Rose Zhang who came in second place last week at the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic.
Ruffels competed in two LPGA Tour major championships in 2020 —the AIG Women’s Open and ANA Inspiration. Her finish at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. was particularly notable, not only because she made the cut, but because she ended in a tie for 15th.
She has represented her native country of Australia in several events including the 2017 World Junior Girls Championship. More recently, Ruffels competed in the 2019 Arnold Palmer Cup with current Symetra Tour members Ana Belac and Frida Kinhult, both in the field this week.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Ruffels noted her mother as someone who has been most influential in her life.
“She is always out here supporting me and my brother,” said Ruffels. “Being a former athlete herself she has been able to give us pointers and the athlete mentality. She has been instrumental for my brother and I.”
GABRIELLA THEN PLAYNIG CLOSE TO HOME IN BEAUMONT
The city of Rancho Cucamonga is home to Gabriella and Angella Then, and is located just 39 miles from the Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon, host of this week’s sixth annual IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. In 2018, it would be the first professional event the sisters played in together. This week, Gabriella returns to Beaumont, CA, without her sister, to compete again.
“Back then, with my sister, it was amazing to play a professional tournament with her,” said Then. “It was really a unique experience that not a lot of sisters get to do.
“Now being here in 2021, it’s been a long time coming. This being really close to home and I really appreciate getting the chance to play this week. The course is pretty challenging but the way they set it up it pretty fair. The wind can get pretty tough out here so it takes a really smart player to be strategic around the course.”
Gabriella attended Upland High School in Upland, Calif., and graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications. Following her time at USC, she turned pro and joined the Symetra Tour. This week she joins the twelve other California natives and fifteen professionals with collegiate ties to the host state for the second event of the 41st Symetra Tour season.
“We have been competing against each other since we were junior golfers, so I think it’s just a formed a long-time friendship, not a rivalry, just friendly competitors. So. It’s nice to have all of us out here this week. I missed it, and I am really excited to compete this week.”