MSU's Stockett steps in as caddie, proves helpful in title run

Gabriela Ruffels, right, stands with her caddie and Mississippi State junior Blair Stockett, at the 35th tee during the final round of the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point. (Photo by Steven Gibbons, USGA, for Daily Times leader)
Staff Writer

Gabriela Ruffels was getting some good advice down the stretch of the U.S. Women’s Amateur championship match Sunday afternoon at the Old Waverly Golf Club.

When her caddie and University of Southern California women’s golf coach Justin Silverstein had to leave the course to catch a flight for a funeral, someone had to take over.

Enter Mississippi State junior Blair Stockett.

Stockett was with Ruffels for the final four holes and shared some valuable information that capped a championship run.

Ruffels became the first Australian to claim the U.S. Women’s Amateur championship with a 1-up victory over Albane Valenzuela.

Trying to dig out from 1-down with four holes to play, Ruffels said Stockett, a native of Jackson, ended up being just the calming force that she needed.

“My caddie Blair was great,” Ruffels said. “She made it so clear and made me feel so comfortable. I had played with her before and knew she was from Mississippi and is a proud Mississippi State student.

“This is her home course and she’s such a sweet and nice person. I just needed someone to calm me down and someone to talk to. She was great and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.”

Stockett went into Sunday knowing there was a possibility her services were going to be needed by Ruffels.

After watching some of the action on television in the clubhouse, Stockett went out onto the course and started following the final 18 holes.

It was at the conclusion of playing the 33rd hole of the championship match and hole 15 at Old Waverly that Silverstein had to surrender the bag.

Stockett was in position.

“I grabbed the bag on 15,” Stockett said. “(Ruffels) was incredible and did so good. She really kept her emotions in check. She was a little bit nervous with the transition there, but she hung in there.”

Ruffels made a key putt on 17 an another on 18 to secure the victory.

In Stockett’s mind, Ruffels’ putt on 17 “was really big” and had confidence she could make it.

“I knew she had it in her,” Stockett said. “She’s a great friend and I was so glad I was able to share this experience with her.”

Neither Ruffels or Valenzuela could get anything going consistently in the morning round of 18 as Ruffels shot 1-over 73 (with match-play concessions) and Valenzuela carded a 75.

As the temperatures heated up, so did the golfers on the second 18 holes.

It was a battle to the finish. On the 30th hole, a birdie by Valenzuela gave her a 1-up lead that lasted until the 33rd hole.

Ruffels grabbed her first lead since the 14th hole of the morning 18 when her putt caught the left side of the hole and dropped on hole 35 of the day.

On Old Waverly’s hole No. 18, Ruffels converted a 10-foot birdie putt on the 36th hole of the championship. The ball snuck into the hole at the last minute and much to the appreciation of the estimated 300 spectators in attendance to see the dramatic finish.

“To be honest, I didn’t think that last putt on 18 was going in, but seeing that just drip in was the best feeling of my life,” Ruffels said. “This is amazing and what you dream of when you start playing golf. This is the biggest championship in amateur golf. I’m still speechless, but I guess that shows how much it means to me.”

It was a disappointing moment for Switzerland’s Valenzuela, who had fought so hard all week to get into that position and only to become runner-up again like she did at the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2017.

The effort was there for Valenzuela, but just came up a little bit short.

“It’s tough,” Valenzuela said. “It will be even tougher (Sunday night), but I fought really hard.”

In the end, it came down to the final two holes and the two successful putts by Ruffels that gave her a championship.

It provided Mississippi State a little exposure in the process.

“Oh, yes. Hail State,” Stockett said.