Gabi Ruffels made her professional debut at the Gainbridge LPGA in February on a sponsor exemption. The bright Aussie star left USC early to pursue a professional career with no status on any tour. She’d have to rely on sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers to make her way.
This week’s Meijer LPGA Classic is Ruffels’ fifth exemption of the season. Her final exemption – the LPGA allows up to six for non-members – comes next week at the KPMG Women’s PGA.
It’s not lost on Ruffels that a non-member, Yuka Saso, won the tour’s most recent major.
“If I could do that,” said Ruffels, “that would be pretty awesome.”
Ruffels opened with a 5-under 67 at the Meijer with her coach, Grant Waite, on the bag. Waite, a PGA Tour winner from New Zealand, looped for Patty Tavatanakit for her first two events of the season. She tied for fifth at the Gainbridge and finished T-14 at the Drive On in Ocala with Waite inside the ropes. In April, the LPGA rookie went wire-to-wire to win the ANA Inspiration.
Tavatanakit, Ruffels and Waite are all members of Isleworth in Windermere, Florida. Waite also works with Jennifer Song, who like Ruffels, is a past U.S. Women’s Amateur champ. Ruffels began working with Waite earlier this year.
“He’s played on the PGA Tour I think for 10 years,” said Ruffels, “so it’s really cool to get some of his knowledge and insight and have him on my bag. It’s been awesome.”
Ruffels, who is currently two strokes behind a foursome of players at 7 under, could earn her card and avoid Q-School by either winning an LPGA event or earning the equivalent of the top 40 on the points list by season’s end. She’s currently the equivalent of 83rd.
In her five starts on the LPGA, Ruffels has made three cuts and earned $63,176. She’d be exempt into the second stage of Q-School based on her Rolex Ranking of 136th. Players inside the top 400 are exempt into Stage II. Players within the top 75 as of Aug. 9 are exempt into the final stage, now known as Q-Series.
Ruffels has also made appearances in two Symetra Tour events, finishing fourth and 17th.