Date: April 06, 2015
Author: Mark Hayes

Next generation right now

If this were football, there’d be dozens of scouts lining the fairways.

The Australian Junior Golf Championships start in Adelaide on Wednesday – and with the gap constantly narrowing between our emerging youngsters and their elite open-age counterparts, it’s no surprise that many of the combatants are already well established in senior ranks.

There’s no clearer example of that than defending boys’ champion Ryan Ruffels, the Victorian prodigy who at 16, remarkably has this and one more year of eligibility at this level.

Ruffels, ranked 15thin the world senior amateur rankings, scooped the pool at Heritage last year and is eager to defend at Kooyonga from Wednesday.

But Ruffels won’t have things all his own way with a talented field gunning for him.

Among the leading contenders are Perth’s Minwoo Lee, last year’s runner-up Blake Windred, from Sydney, and Queenslander Douglas Klein.

Emerging Cameron John showed his wares when he led the recent Riversdale Cup, while his Victorian teammate Josh Hetherington is making his first appearance for his new state having moved south from Darwin to further his golf.

Lee, 16, had a taste of international golf in Argentina late last year as part of a touring Australian team.

And he can’t wait to put the lessons to good use in the chase to topple Ruffels.

“I’m totally up for it,” Lee enthused.

“It’ll be really good to play alongside Ryan again and show what I have.

“The time in Argentina was great … it was great to represent Australia (and) I really learnt a lot about my game.

“It’s a great field, so it will be good to test what I’ve learnt against everyone.”

The girls’ title will be contested at Tea Tree Gully with an equally gifted field.

Newly promoted Golf Australia national squad member Becky Kay, of the Gold Coast, will be a nominal favourite after a stellar summer.

But in Victoria’s defending champ Kono Matsumoto, Sydneysider Doey Choi, and fellow Queenslander Karis Davidson, the 2014 Australian Amateur runner-up, Kay won’t have it easy, either.

Throw in some international visitors including New Zealand’s Astor Trophy representative Alanna Campbell returning to South Australia, and it’s clearly a hot field.

The pathway from the national junior titles to golf stardom is well trodden with past winners including Adam Scott, Jason Day, Wendy Doolan and Jan Stephenson.??

But, as Ruffels knows all too well, the gap is shrinking.

“Obviously there’s a step up to pro tournaments, but you realise that if you can avoid being star-struck that the difference between the levels isn’t as big as you think,” he said.

??The tournaments are both 72-hole strokeplay with 18 on Wednesday and Thursday followed by 36 on Friday with the winners earning berths in the respective Australian Opens.

The Junior Interstate Teams Championship will be held the following week, also in South Australia.