Amateur star Kirsten Rudgeley has beaten professionals for the first time in her career in a commanding victory in The Athena at Sandy Golf Links.
Rudgeley, 20, defeated Grace Kim in a thrilling five-putt ‘putt-off’ to hoist the trophy and claim the $30,000 prize in front of a strong crowd.
Plenty more tuned in at home to watch the three-hole stroke play matches on Sunday and despite having played in a Major – at last year’s AIG Women’s Open – Rudgeley said the spotlight on her has never been greater than this weekend.
“At that point in time when the putting came down to the wire. Everyone was concentrating on one putt. It was pretty cool,” she said.
“I was just going through my routine and trying to hit the putt that I wanted to.”
The West Australian fought back every time the title appeared to be slipping from her grasp.
She immediately fell a shot behind on the first hole, but managed to level things up at the second thanks to a brilliant chip shot that secured tap-in par.
It looked as if it was all over, however, when her second putt of the putt-off lipped out and threw the door wide open for Kim.
The Sydneysider could not capitalise and Rudgeley never gave her another look-in on her way to winning the title.
“It was such an awesome experience. I loved the whole week,” she said.
Sandy’s fast and firm greens had players trying to land the ball in front of the green and roll it on all day, but Rudgeley relied heavily on her sublime short game as she left her approaches short on all three holes.
“I can thank Brett Rumford for that one because he helps me out a wee bit,” she said.
“I’d probably say that my short game is my strongest point and it paid off today.”
Rudgeley began the day as the top seed after topping the leaderboard in yesterday’s skills challenge and she had a special guest with her as she stamped her authority with wins over Cassie Porter (in the quarter-final) and Stephanie Bunque (in the semi-final).
On the bag for the champion was Emily, an Australian Golf Foundation Junior Girls Scholarship recipient, and all the players were delighted to have such eager young golfers as part of the tournament.
As for the prizemoney – which she can accept under the new R&A rulings on prizemoney for amateurs – Rudgeley said it will go towards travel. She is heading to Augusta National soon to play on invitation in the Augusta Women’s Invitational.
Back home in Perth, Mt Lawley Golf Club will be rocking, as her win made it a hat-trick of victories for club members this month following Hannah Green’s Vic Open and TPS Murray River triumphs.