By Alex Podlogar
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST – Stephanie Lau was speaking about her semifinal match specifically. But the sentiment fit the afternoon as a whole.
“That?” she said, almost exasperated. “That was crazy.”
Lau’s heroics in her 19-hole victory over Australian Becky Kay were wild enough. Were they enough to trump Gabi Ruffels’ unconscious putting display in her 22-hole victory over Natalie Srinivasan?
Go ahead, take your pick – and look out in the championship match of the 116th Women’s North & South Amateur.
“That was amazing,” Ruffels said as she came off the 4th green of Pinehurst No. 2, her 22nd hole of the match. “I’m kind of speechless, to be honest.”
Being speechless is fine. Truthfully, though, you need only one word.
Both semifinal matches were close the entire afternoon, back and forth affairs in which neither match featured a player leading by more than two holes at any time.
But as they came to a close – or at least what everyone could reasonably think would be the close – each match elevated into something the sizable galleries following them will be talking about for some time.
Lau actually trailed 1 down after Kay made a nifty birdie on the par-5 16th hole, and seemed in desperate trouble once Kay lofted her tee shot into 17 a mere 6 feet from the cup. Lau responded with a beauty of a shot in the air, but the ball land short of the front-left hole location, and Lau dropped her head as the ball trickled back off the front of the green.
Choosing putter from off the green, Lau, a senior at Northwestern who was the runner-up at the British Ladies Amateur last month, drained the putt for birdie. Kay, too, made hers, and took the same 1-up lead to the 18th hole.
Both players hit nice approach shots into the 18th green, but after Kay missed her putt short, Lau buried hers from about 12 feet, giving herself new life and extending the match.
“You feel the pressure, but at that point, you begin to believe, ‘whatever happens, happens,” Lau said. “I picked a good line, did everything I needed to do to prepare before the putt. Then you just have to trust it.”
Kay found the left greenside bunker on the 19th hole – No. 2’s first hole – and ran her sand shot 18 feet past the hole. Lau had a long birdie attempt, but left it about 5 feet shot. When Kay’s putt stopped just on the front edge of the cup, needing one more roll, Lau calmly found the center of the cup for the triumphant win.
“It would be awesome to win here,” Lau said. “It means so much to me already just to get the opportunity to play for the chance to win. This would be a really big one for me.”
While Lau was able to ride back to the Pinehurst clubhouse to quietly celebrate, the match between Australia’s Ruffels and Furman star Srinivasan continued. Moments before Lau’s winning putt, Ruffels saved par from about 12 feet to extend her match to a 20th hole.
A halve was made there as well, and on the match went, this time to the 3rd hole, which was playing as a driveable par-4. Srinivasan had the honor, playing a 3 wood to the fairway about 50 yards short of the green, but behind the left greenside bunker. With the wind blowing directly in her face, Ruffels didn’t chance it, taking an iron off the tee and leaving her approach well short of Srinivasan’s.
Ruffels played a nice shot to about 10 feet, but watched as Srinivasan made a deft pitch to just a couple of feet above the hole. Needing another made putt to extend the match once more, Ruffels again poured it in, and with some pace. Srinivasan tapped in her birdie, and the players silently walked to the fourth tee, the shadows growing longer with each step.
Playing into the teeth of the wind, neither player could reach the 414-yard par-4 in regulation. Both faced difficult chips into the green, with Ruffels running her third shot by 10 feet above the hole while Srinivasan rolled hers to about 7 feet.
Ruffels gave the putt a long look before settling over it, seemingly barely tapping it to get it on its way. When it too fell confidently into the cup, Ruffels powered a fist pump at the hole. For Srinivasan, her good fortune finally ran out, and her putt slipped by the cup’s edge, giving Ruffels a well-earned victory.
“I felt like I had to make every putt today,” said Ruffels, a rising star at Southern Cal. “Natalie, to her credit, just kept finding ways to get up and down, all day long. It was incredible.
“But I backed myself all day, and backed myself with my putter. I’m super proud of the way I hung in there and fought.”
Now she finds herself one match away from potentially winning the coveted Putter Boy trophy, one that has gained more and more prestige in Ruffels’ eyes the more time she’s spent in Pinehurst.
“Oh, I would love it to be able to say I won here,” she said. “Pinehurst No. 2 feels like home. I keep falling in love with Pinehurst a little more every day I come out here.”
The Championship’s finals will be played on Friday morning beginning at 7. Admittance to all matches is free to the public, which is encouraged to attend.
Women’s North & South champions are among the legends of the game, and include Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk Bell, Hollis Stacey as well as Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng.
As much as the North & South is a championship with a great past, it also continues to foster a great legacy. Eleven of the last 15 Amateur champions have joined the LPGA Tour, four of whom have won major championships – Pressel, Tseng and Lang, who won the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open. 2011 Women’s North & South Champion Danielle Kang won her first major championship in 2017 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
The Women’s North & South has drawn the top amateur women from around the country and is the longest consecutively running women’s amateur championship in the country. Its first championship was played in 1903.
116TH WOMEN’S NORTH & SOUTH AMATEUR
PINEHURST NO. 2
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
ROUND OF 32
No. 1 Anita Uwadia vs. No. 32 Natalie Srinivasan, 7 a.m.
No. 16 Julienne Soo d. No. 17 Julia Johnson, 3&2
No. 8 Jaclyn Lee d. No. 25 Haylee Harford, 5&4
No. 24 Allisen Corpuz d. No. 9 Kelly Whaley, 4&3
No. 29 Brigitte Thibault d. No. 4 Ivy Shepherd, 1up
No. 13 Stephanie Bunque d. No. 20 Naomi Ko, 5&4
N0. 5 Gabi Ruffels d. No. 28 Evelyn Arguelles, 4&2
No. 12 DeeDee Russell d. No. 21 Kathryn Carson, 5&3
No. 2 Anna Redding d. No. 31 Anna Morgan, 7&6.
No. 18 Gurleen Kaur d. No. 15 Ana Paula Valdes, 3&2
No. 7 Jennifer Chang d. No. 26 Siyun Liu, 5&4
No. 10 Becky Kay d. No. 23 Chia Yen Wu, 1up
No. 30 Isabella Fierro d. No. 3 Malia Nam, 2&1
No. 14 Stephanie Lau vs. No. 19 Tze Han Lin, 20 Holes
No. 6 Emma Albrecht d. No. 27 Elsa Moberly, 2&1
No. 22 Addie Baggarly d. No. 11 Amanda Doherty, 5&4
ROUND OF 16
No. 32 Natalie Srinivasan d. No. 16 Julienne Soo, 2&1
No. 24 Allisen Corpuz d. No. 8 Jaclyn Lee, 1up
No. 13 Stephanie Bunque d. No. 29 Brigitte Thibault, 4&3
No. 5 Gabi Ruffels d. No. 12 DeeDee Russell, 3&1
No. 2 Anna Redding d. No. 18 Gurleen Kaur, 2up
No. 10 Becky Kay d. No. 7 Jennifer Chang, 5&4
No. 14 Stephanie Lau d. No. 30 Isabella Fierro, 3&2
No. 6 Emma Albrecht d. No. 22 Addie Baggarly, 20 Holes
Thursday, July 12, 2018
No. 32 Natalie Srinivasan d. Allisen Corpuz, 3&1
No. 5 Gabi Ruffels d. No. 13 Stephanie Bunque, 3&1
No. 10 Becky Kay d. No. 2 Anna Redding, 19 Holes
No. 14 Stephanie Lau d. No. 6 Emma Albrecht, 1up
No. 5 Gabi Ruffels d. No. 32 Natalie Srinivasan, 22 Holes
No. 14 Stephanie Lau d. No. 10 Becky Kay, 19 Holes
Friday, July 13, 2018
No. 5 Gabi Ruffels vs. No. 14 Stephanie Lau, 7 a.m.