She has one more professional start on the LET after this. Then it’s off to the second stage of Q School in October where she hopes to gain some status for 2022. But the process from her first professional start as a sponsor invite at the Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona in January to this week at the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout has been eye opening for Gabi Ruffels.
“I’m really happy with my decision (to turn pro in 2021) because I feel like I’ve learned so much this season,” the 21-year-old said. “Amateur golf is so different. Professional golf is not easy. And you just don’t see that, especially in college.
“It’s also lonely out here, to be honest,” Ruffels said when asked what the biggest surprise was in her transition from a star at the University of Southern California and U.S. Women’s Amateur champion to a pro looking for sponsor invitations. “In college, you have your teammates and your coaches, and you have a huge support group around you. Everything is taken care of, from flights to hotels to rental cars to practice round times. Out here you have to do it all yourself. And if you have a bad week, it’s on you. You’re out here on your own. I didn’t think it was going to be as different as it is. And I’m kind of shocked, really.
“I’m just using this year as a really big learning curve. It hasn’t been as easy as what some people have made it out to be. But I feel like I’m still new to golf, certainly new to professional golf.”
She is, indeed, new to golf, especially by professional standards. Ruffels was the top-ranked junior tennis player in Australia as a 14-year-old, following in the footsteps of her parents who were tennis stars. Ray Ruffels, Gabi’s father, played on the ATP Tour and made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open three times. Gabi’s mother Anna-Maria Fernandez played the WTA Tour and was an all-American tennis star at USC. But Gabi followed in her brother Ryan’s footsteps, walking away from the courts and taking up golf at age 15. Three years later, she was the leading freshman on the USC golf team. Three years after that, she’s hoping to earn her LPGA Tour card.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Ruffels’ story is similar to another tennis and golf family: the Kordas.
“We get that comparison a lot and we’re actually pretty good friends with the Kordas because our dads knew each other from tennis,” Gabi said behind the driving range at Mystic Creek Golf Club. “I don’t mind it, especially if we can be as good as them. It’s really cool. I feel like being a sporting family is a big advantage for us because our parents know the highs and lows of professional sports and how to manage yourself out here.”
How is she handling herself? By her own standards, so far so good.
“I’ve received six exemptions on the LPGA Tour and I’ve seen the best in the world up close,” Gabi said. “I was so interested in playing with Inbee (Park). Her pitching and putting is so amazing. Those are the areas where I have the most room for improvement. It’s not amateur golf where 5-under par is winning. These girls are shooting 25-under par. Short game is an area where I’ve seen the best in the world and where I know I can improve in the future.”