Australia’s Gabi Ruffels will soon find out if the risk she has taken is all worth it.
Ruffels has foregone her last semester of a degree at the University of Southern California to turn professional, and she will make her debut on the LPGA Tour’s Gainbridge tournament at Lake Nona in Florida this week.
She has no playing status on the LPGA Tour meaning she will have to rely on sponsor’s invitations. But as the former No.5 amateur in the world and the 2019 US Amateur champion, she is already creating enough interest to suggest that she will get some starts.
“I have an exemption into the ANA [Inspiration] and I received this Gainbridge exemption,” 20-year-old Ruffels told LPGA.com.
“I’m trying to get as many sponsors’ exemptions as possible. I just got an exemption into a Symetra Tour event after ANA. And I just heard that Monday qualifiers are coming back on the LPGA Tour, so I’ll try to do those and play in as many events as I can get into.”
Ruffels told LPGA.com that her decision to turn professional was difficult.
“I was wondering, should I stay and maybe try to win an NCAA [title]?” she said. “But I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while. And with COVID, things kind of changed. I think without COVID, I probably would have stayed [in school]. But with COVID and me doing all my classes online, I figured I could go to classes online and finish my degree. And I might as well get out there and play as a pro.”
She has signed an endorsement deal with Nike already.
“I still have my place in LA,” she said. “My parents live in the desert, in Indian Wells [in California], and I’m a member at Toscana [Country Club] out there. I also just joined Isleworth [in Windermere, Florida] so I’ll have a base [on both coasts]. I think, for the first couple of years at least, I’ll be spending some time in California and some time [in Florida].”
Brother Ryan, who also forewent a tennis career to take up golf and now plays on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour, has given her some advice.
“[Ryan] told me that it’s going to be tough out there,” she said. “They all wanted me to make my own decision. Everyone wanted the decision to come from me, which it did.
“Ryan said, ‘It’s not going to be a walk in the park, especially when you don’t have any status.’ But he also said that I should just go work hard and enjoy it. Have fun. And that’s what I plan to do.”