[PHOTO: Getty Images]

Despite stringing together some impressive results over the past month, including three top-15 finishes, rising star Gabi Ruffels will enter the season’s first major championship with something so much more valuable than form itself.

Just five events into her first full season proper, Australia’s newest LPGA Tour sensation admits she has discovered the secret sauce to any fledging pro career: self-belief.

The timely shot-in-the-arm comes fresh off a T3-performance at the Fir Hills Seri Pak Championship, where Ruffels fell agonisingly short of making a playoff against American World No.1 Nelly Korda. Such a close call could prove a crushing blow for most first-year players. Not Ruffels.

Speaking with Australian media Tuesday, the Orlando-born flusher was quick to note she’s never been more prepared for a tournament ahead of this week’s Chevron Championship at The Club at Carlton Woods.

“I feel like I’ve gained some confidence from the past three weeks, and being one shot away from a playoff, I guess the thought sunk in that, Hey, if I was one shot better then I’m in a playoff and I have a chance to win an LPGA tournament,” says Ruffels.

“I had never really experienced that before at LPGA level. So, I feel like whenever I go to a tournament now, the goal is definitely to try to win, and my practice should make me believe that I can.

“At the start (of my first LPGA season), I remember saying that it felt kind of weird to be out there as an LPGA member now because I had played a few LPGA events before when I never had status. And so this year was the first year as a member and it kind of felt different at the start. 

“But I’m definitely feeling comfortable now and the good results are definitely giving me more confidence out here.” 

Winning, when it does happen, should come as nothing new to Ruffels, who graduated to the LPGA Tour from the Epson Tour last year after winning three titles – the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic, Garden City Charity Classic and Four Winds Invitational. She finished the 2023 season first in the Epson Tour’s Race for the Card, ultimately earning 2023 Player of the Year honours.

Can she convert her secondary tour dominance into LPGA Tour stardom? Just you try to stop her.

“I feel like I’ve put in some good practice with my coach at the start of this year, and I feel like I’m hitting it good,” says Ruffels. “I feel like I have a bit of momentum from the past three weeks so I’m trying to continue that form (into the first major of the season) this week.”

A star junior on the tennis courts like her parents, Ruffels says she has no regrets making the switch to the fairways like her brother, Ryan, despite taking some time to adjust to the individual nature of pro golf.

“There’s a lot of time alone out there practising, playing and travelling,” says Ruffels. “I feel like when I played tennis, I had more of a team around me at all times and they kind of controlled my practice and my schedule. I travelled with them quite a bit. I feel like golf, you know, to be good, you have to spend a lot of time on your own and there are a lot of decisions as an individual, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest differences. 

“But, overall, I enjoy golf so much more than tennis and the competitive aspect is something that really attracted me to golf. I definitely enjoy it more.” 

Suffice to say, winning her first event as a fully-fledged LPGA Tour pro at the year’s first major would take that enjoyment to a whole new level.

“It would be a dream come true, that’s for sure,” she says.