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Ex-tennis champion Ruffels emerges as golf sensation

3 minute read

Less than a decade after quitting tennis, former national junior champion Gabriela Ruffels is fast emerging as an LPGA Tour golf sensation for Australia.

Nelly Korda.
Nelly Korda. Picture: AAP Image

In another life, Gabriela Ruffels might be about to serve it up at Roland Garros.

Instead, the former tennis prodigy will tee up at the Women's US Open golf championship in Pennsylvania.

And Ruffels won't just be making up the numbers. The 24-year-old will arrive at the Lancaster Country Club next week as one of the form players on the planet and a genuine winning chance.

With top-three finishes in her past two starts, including Monday's effort behind world No.1 Nelly Korda and her fellow Australian Hannah Green at the Americas Open in New Jersey, Ruffels is peaking nicely for the season's second major.

"I just keep taking every week on the LPGA Tour as a learning experience and hopefully it does lead to that big win," Ruffels told AAP from the US on Wednesday.

"I do like the bigger stage."

And the two biggest stages in global women's sport next week will be the French Open tennis grand slam in Paris and the US Open golf.

Rewind less than a decade and, while golf wasn't on her radar, Ruffels was on a fast track to tennis super-stardom.

Until the former Australian under-12s champion squad abruptly quit the national squad.

"I was 14 and a half," Ruffels said. "I just kind of got burnt out from the sport.

"I started home-schooling at the National Academy and going on trips by myself to Europe at a young age and spending just hours and hours on end on the tennis courts all day.

"So November, 2014, I told my parents and all the coaches at the National Academy that I was done, I was quitting tennis and they gave me a couple of weeks to think about it.

"Then I didn't return to tennis after those couple of weeks and picked up golf.

"It's just crazy for me to think that now I'm playing professional golf when throughout basically my whole childhood I had my eyes set on professional tennis.

"It's a whole different world but it's cool and I'm enjoying it."

Both Ruffels' parents were professional tennis players, including her father Ray, who played Davis Cup for Australia before going on to coach doubles greats Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.

It was mum Anna-Maria who got her hooked on golf after taking Ruffels to the driving range the very day after her precocious daughter packed in tennis.

"Neither of my parents tried to talk me out of it," said Ruffels, whose brother Ryan is also a pro golfer after switching from tennis.

"I have been so lucky that they've been so supportive to both of us, and they let us do what we want to do.

"If something wasn't making us happy, like tennis wasn't making me happy, then they were completely fine for me to redirect my path and have me do something that I really enjoyed."

Australia's first ever US Amateur winner in 2019, just five years after taking to the fairways, Ruffels already boasts three top-15 major finishes - from her first three starts in 2020.

Clearly super talented, the world No.43 credits her tennis background for her golf success.

"A lot of people ask if I would take back my tennis years and start playing golf sooner," Ruffels said.

"But definitely my tennis has helped me in that sense I was working long hours and I was used to that grind and I transferred that work ethic to my golf.

"As well, learning how to deal with pressure and nerves and trying to close out tennis matches correlates between the two sports."

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