Sky's the limit for Aussie golf's new star
Golf great Karrie Webb says the sky is the limit for Gabriela Ruffels, a former tennis prodigy who became the first Australian to win the US Women's Amateur Championship.
Just four years after taking up the sport, 19-year-old Ruffels won the world's most prestigious women's amateur title, displaying steely nerve in a one-up victory over Swiss star Albane Valenzuela in Sunday's 36-hole final in Mississippi.
Ruffels' victory completed an Australian set of the US amateur titles for men, women, boys and girls in recent years, following wins by Minjee Lee (2012 US Girls' Junior), brother Min Woo Lee (2016 US Junior) and the US Amateur triumphs of Curtis Luck ( 2016) and Nick Flanagan (2003).
"I'm a proud Australian," said Ruffels, a US college star. "That's where I started playing golf.
"I have such a huge support system back there, and to win it not only for myself but everyone back home is huge, and it just means the world."
Initially is seemed Ruffels was destined to make her name in tennis as she was a junior star and spent eight years playing international events.
But in 2015 she opted not to follow in the footsteps of her parents - three-time Australian Open finalist, Ray Ruffels and doubles star Anna-Maria Fernandez.
The change brought swift dividends as she has excelled for University of Southern California and also won last month's North & South Women's Amateur at Pinehurst.
Her talent caught the eye of seven-time major champion Webb, who came across her as a qualifier at the US Women's Open in June.
"(Her mother) Anna-Maria suggested I chat with Gabi about her career," Webb told AAP
"But after seeing her play, I said there was nothing I could really suggest as she has God-given ability. She has it all.
"It's absolutely amazing for Gabi to win the US Women's Amateur so soon in her golf career. The sky is the limit for her."
Ruffels' father, Ray, who once reached the mixed doubles final at Wimbledon with Billie Jean King, said golf was Gabriela's true calling, like her older brother Ryan.
"She just wasn't happy playing tennis, having long days at Melbourne Park and not a lot of interaction with other kids," Ruffels told AAP.
"She liked the camaraderie of golf and started to have good scores very quickly.
"Her success is a combination of talent and hard work, for sure."
On Sunday, Ruffels survived eight hours of brutal Mississippi humidity - as well as a caddie change - during the 36-hole final.
She had to switch her bag from her university head golf coach Justin Silverstein when he had to rush for a flight for a funeral.
The match was tight with Ruffels and Valenzuela all square at the 35th hole, but that was when Ruffels took the match by the scruff of the neck.
At the par-3 17th, she stuffed her 6-iron tee shot to within 10 feet and drained the birdie to go one up.
Valenzuela hit a laser-like approach to four feet for a certain birdie on the 36th hole but Ruffels responded with an iron shot to within 15 feet before draining the putt to halve the hole and win the match.
Ruffels' 21-year-old brother Ryan, a rising pro golfer on the US PGA Tour's Latin America and Canadian tours, was watching on TV and attempted to fly to Mississippi to caddie for his sister.
"She is one of the hardest workers I know. Having this much success since taking up golf not that long ago shouldn't be possible, but she's so gifted," he told AAP from Canada.