Gabriela Ruffels drove up from Orlando, Florida, to Mobile, Alabama, in early November on a scouting trip for LPGA Q-Series. Ten minutes away from the course, a thought crossed her mind: Had she entered the tournament?
Ruffels looked on the player portal and saw that she had not registered. The deadline for Q-Series — her last chance to qualify for the LPGA in 2023 — had passed nearly one month prior. Just two days after the Epson Tour finale.
Needless to say, it was a long and sad solo ride home.
“It was tough,” said Ruffels, a promising 22-year-old who finished 15th on the Epson Tour money list. The top 10 earn LPGA cards.
“I basically just called my whole team and let them know the situation … they were all extremely sad and disappointed. I guess it was all on myself, and that’s something I need to work on — being more on top of deadlines.”
The final stage of LPGA qualifying, an eight-round grind that spans over two weeks, begins on Thursday at Magnolia Grove in Mobile. A total of 45 players will receive LPGA status for 2023.
Ruffels, whose parents played professional tennis, will instead spend the week competing in her first ISPS Handa Australian Open. The event, which also begins on Dec. 1, will be contested over Victoria and Kingston Heath Golf Clubs. Ruffels learned to play the game at Victoria Golf Club, and this marks her first time in Melbourne in five years. She’s staying with friends in the neighborhood where she used to live, frequenting her favorite restaurants.
From there, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion will head to Spain to compete in LET Q-School.
Ruffels works with former PGA Tour winner Grant Waite, who told her that the sooner they can get over this misstep and keep working, “… the LPGA will come.”
Ruffels said she’s inspired by what Linn Grant and Maja Stark were able to accomplish on the LET this season, pointing toward the co-sanctioned events and majors that LET players can play their way into. While that’s not possible on the Epson Tour, there are 10 LPGA cards at stake each season. She could have options.
“I definitely feel like I’m gaining more golf knowledge and knowledge about my own swing,” said Ruffels, who didn’t take up the game until age 15. The former USC star rocketed up the amateur rankings in short order but has hit several speed bumps in her young pro career.
Last year, Ruffels missed out on advancing to Q-Series by a single stroke at Stage II.
This time it was paperwork that kept her out. Both are brutal.