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Gabriela Ruffels to begin rookie season at LPGA Drive On Championship

Gabriela Ruffels to begin rookie season at LPGA Drive On Championship

BRADENTON, Florida – Gabriela Ruffels still has a player profile up on The daughter of two tennis pros, Ruffels was a top-three player in her age group, a national champion for 12 and under and a member of the national squad. Her heroes, according to the profile, were Kim Clijsters and Roger Federer.

To the shock of everyone, a burned-out Ruffels gave up tennis entirely at age 14.

“The national academy gave me a couple weeks to think about it,” said Ruffels, one of 15 LPGA rookies to begin their season at this week’s Drive On Championship in Bradenton, Florida.

“Everyone thought I would come back.”

That first day away from tennis, a bored Ruffels headed to the driving range to hit golf balls. Older brother Ryan had already left tennis for golf. The next day, Ruffels returned to the range and thought she’d play a few holes. If you’re going to do that, mother AnnaMaria told her, take a few lessons to enjoy it more. She’d taken 15-minute lessons growing up (splitting a session with Ryan), but never wanted to play.

Soon, AnnaMaria had her signed up for a nine-hole tournament.

“We got to the first tee and everybody was talking to each other,” AnnaMaria recalled. “She said, ‘Mom, this must be a really rinky dink tournament because everyone is socializing and talking on the tee.’ I said ‘No, that’s golf, Gabi.’ ”

She loved it.

Golf, it turns out, wasn’t as cutthroat as the tennis ranks. Ruffels, who homeschooled at the academy and mostly practiced with the same girl every day, was happy to escape the tennis bubble and enjoy a calmer sport. In golf, she found some peace.

In December of 2014, Ruffels played her first 18 holes with her dad’s clubs. By April, she was down to a five handicap. She landed a scholarship to USC, her mother’s alma mater, won the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur and notched a pair of top-15 finishes in LPGA majors before turning pro in 2021.

AnnaMaria (nee Fernandez), the National Collegiate Player of the Year in 1981, rose as high as 19th in the world during her professional tennis career. Husband, Ray, a three-time semifinalist at the Australian Open,…


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