Epson Tour Player of the Year Gabriela Ruffels Will Be a Rookie to Watch on the LPGA Tour in 2024

Meet 2023 Epson Tour Graduate Gabriela Ruffels

This time last year, Gabriela Ruffels was making plenty of headlines, but not for a good reason.

After finishing 15th in the Epson Tour’s Race for the Card in 2022, Ruffels automatically qualified for LPGA Q-Series in December but still needed to register for the event by 5 p.m. on October 11. Thinking she had already done so, the deadline to sign up came and went, and it was only after the registration window closed that Ruffels realized she hadn’t actually signed up to compete in LPGA Q-Series, a costly mistake that caused her to miss out on an opportunity to earn LPGA Tour Membership in just her second year as a professional. It also meant that she’d once again have to fight for a spot in the Race for the Card top 10 the next season on the Epson Tour.

For some players, that kind of blunder might have mentally derailed them as they kicked themselves for such a simple clerical error that kept them from reaching the pinnacle of the women’s game and achieving a lifelong dream. Others would’ve pointed fingers and blamed others for the mistake, claiming that they didn’t have all the necessary information or that someone should have reminded them of the deadline when they noticed they hadn’t registered.

But that’s not Gabi Ruffels.

With a poise that belies her age, Ruffels owned the situation, picking herself up and dusting herself off, resetting and refocusing during the off-season, determined to make the most of another year on the Epson Tour. And boy, did she ever.

Ruffels raced out of the gate in 2023, capturing her first professional victory in just the second event of the Epson Tour season at the Carlisle Arizona Women's Golf Classic, where she won by two shots over Kathleen Scavo. Ruffels then tied for sixth in her next start at the IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, winning again just a few starts later at the Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes, defeating Isabella Fierro, Agathe Laisne and Ga Yul Kang by a whopping four shots.

She cooled a bit after that victory in Kansas but still managed to record four top-15 results in her next five tournaments after taking home her second Epson Tour title, most notably finishing solo third at the Twin Bridges Championship and tying for fourth at the French Lick Resort Charity Classic. Ruffels then struck again at the Four Winds Invitational, picking up her third career victory at South Bend Country Club in South Bend, Ind., and winning by three shots over Becca Huffer and Katherine Smith.

It was that last win that pushed Ruffels over the $150,000 mark in season earnings, helping her to clinch her LPGA Tour card for the 2024 season and ultimately secure Epson Tour Player of the Year honors, all accomplishments that were a dream quickly realized for Ruffels, who had only turned professional in 2021.

“It's definitely a dream come true, and it was a huge goal of mine ever since I turned pro. I was super grateful to have done it with six events left,” said Ruffels, who will be a 2024 LPGA Tour rookie. “It was surreal being at the card ceremony after last year and what happened with Q-School registration and everything last year. Super grateful to be here. I can't wait for next year.

“Getting Player of the Year is just awesome. I missed out kind of marginally last year. I think (I was) 15th. So, to not only get my card but to finish in this way, I feel like I've really earned it and that's the most gratifying thing.”
Gabriela Ruffels of Australia during LPGA Card Ceremony after the final round of The Epson Tour Championship at LPGA International on October 8, 2023 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Unlike many of her counterparts, Ruffels, whose parents Maria Fernandez and Ray Ruffels were both professional tennis players, spent much of her childhood on the tennis court instead of the golf course and didn’t pick up the game until she was around 14 years old. Despite the late start, she quickly rose through the junior ranks to land a spot on the women’s golf team at the University of Southern California and was then thrust fully into the spotlight when she became the first Australian to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2019.

It was that 1-up victory over Albane Valenzuela at Old Waverly Golf Club that showed Ruffels she had the potential to pursue the game at its highest level and that she could hang with the world’s top talent, ultimately leading her to set her sights on the LPGA Tour and motivating her to do whatever she needed to do to get there.

“(The U.S. Women’s Amateur) definitely was a breakthrough moment,” Ruffels said. “I didn't really do much in my first two years in college, and then to be able to win the U.S. Women's Amateur, the biggest women's amateur event, showed me that maybe I can do this for a living and maybe I can be okay at it. And it showed me that I could compete with some of the best girls in the world, whereas prior to that, I didn't know if I could, or I didn't know if I wanted to do this for a living.”

While both the LPGA and Epson Tours have seen plenty of pro golf sister acts in recent years with siblings like Nelly and Jessica Korda, Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn and Kristin and Jenny Coleman all having success on their respective tours, brother/sister duos are much rarer. Brett and Sarah White on the Epson Tour come to mind, but the most well-known brother and sister professional golfers by far are Australians Minjee and Min Woo Lee, who play on the LPGA Tour and the PGA and DP World Tours, respectively. Ruffels will join that small group as one of just a few modern female players whose brother is also pursuing a professional golf career, as her older sibling Ryan is working to achieve his dream of competing full-time on the PGA TOUR.

Ryan is two years older than Gabi, and she has leaned on her brother a lot throughout the process of turning pro and playing professional golf, really valuing his insight and opinion on the lives they lead on and off the course. Ryan has even caddied for Gabi a time or two in the many LPGA tournaments she’s played in as both an amateur and non-member. While he can’t hit the shots or win events for her, the wise advice that Ryan has provided over the years has helped Ruffels grow into the player she is today, one who has a laundry list of incredible achievements and one who will surely fit right in on the LPGA Tour next season.

“My brother has been so helpful for me. I haven't been playing as long as him, so I pick his brain a lot on his experiences, especially with shots around the green, how to handle yourself during a tournament,” said Ruffels. “I really enjoy picking his brain. Kind of going through this journey together has been super special as well.

“He has a great golf mind and a lot of knowledge that I feel like I don't quite have yet. Even just practicing with him and playing with him, we've been able to learn a lot from each other. There is a competitive aspect, but you want each other to do well and it's not like we're playing on the same tour or anything.”

But Ruffels certainly has more than enough experience of her own to rely upon as she looks ahead to her rookie year in 2024. She has played in 22 LPGA Tour events since 2019, making the cut in 14 of them and earning a best finish of T13 at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. In those 22 tournaments, she has recorded 16 rounds in the 60s, the best of which was a 7-under 65 at the 2021 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Add in her dominance on the Epson Tour this year, and Ruffels has a more than good enough resume to hang with the top talent on the LPGA Tour next season, something she’s looking forward to doing in just a few short months. She’s also looking forward to continuing the legacy of Aussie success that players like Minjee Lee, Hannah Green and Grace Kim have carried forward in recent years.

Gabriela Ruffels of Australia hits a tee shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club on June 22, 2023 in Springfield, New Jersey.

“When I first started playing, Hannah and Minjee were at the top, even in amateur golf, and to see what they’ve done at the pro level, I can only aspire to do the same,” said Ruffels of her fellow countrywomen. “It’s gonna be fun playing alongside them next year and all the other Aussies that are doing well too, so I’m looking forward to it and hopefully, I can do just as good.

“I’m looking forward to just getting out there and playing the tournaments that I've watched on TV and playing with some of the best golfers in the world week in and week out. It's been a dream of mine ever since I started playing and to be able to have that dream realized is something so special and I can't wait to get out there.”