Victorian prodigy Ryan Ruffels had a well-earned pre-Christmas break and returned with a little “rust”.
It’s safe to say that’s nearly gone.
Ruffels, 16, fired a four-under-par 68 at The Lakes today to share the first-round Australian Amateur Championship lead with England’s Nick Marsh.
It gave the pair a one-stroke buffer over four others and six clear of the players in battle for the all-important 64th spot with those above that line advancing to Thursday’s matchplay section.
Golf Australia national squad member Ruffels had been five under through 13 electrifying holes in windy conditions that battered many scorecards in Sydney’s south with qualifying play also at nearby The Australian.
And with Melbourne-based coach Denis McDade on site, Ruffels was clearly happy with his opening salvo.
“The last few tournaments have been frustrating after the break just not quite being able to find my game,” Ruffels said.
“But it’s great to have Denis here. We worked pretty hard at Belmont (Lake Macquarie Amateur) last week and I was really confident that was going to be a good one today.
“I thought in those conditions anything around par would be pretty good, but I hit a few wedges close early and made a good start which I haven’t done the past few weeks, so it’s nice.”
Marsh, on the third week of a month-long tournament stint in Australia, said playing his junior golf at Huddersfield in northern England stood him in good stead in such testing conditions.
“We have wind, hail snow and rain in one day, so this isn’t too bad,” the Leeds native joked.
“I just kept the ball flight under control – I’m pretty used to this kind of weather, so I was right at home.”
Another Golf Australia national squad member Brett Coletta continued his solid ball-striking and was happy with his 69 in a tie for third with fellow Victorian Ben Eccles and Queenslanders Mitchell Smith and Shae Wools-Cobb, the only player among the leaders to have played at The Australian today.
“I’d have taken that if you offered before the round in those conditions,” Coletta said.
“I was happy in that wind to keep it really tidy and hole the putts I needed to.”
The Victorian made bogeys on the par-three 7th and 15th holes, but cashed in on the par-fives to build his score conventionally.
“I played fairly conservative golf, I suppose, so it’s good to get the reward for doing the right thing.”
Wools-Cobb, 18, has one key goal in mind having finished a shot shy of the matchplay section last year in a tie for 65th after strokeplay.
And although he could only manage nine holes in practice at The Australian the Horton Park member from Maroochydore was thrilled to have fired six birdies.
“I played the back nine blind, so I was really happy with that,” Wools-Cobb said. “I didn’t make it down in time to play full practice rounds, so it was a bit tough in that wind.
“My caddie (Darren Mackay) is a former member at The Lakes, so hopefully he can guide me around there tomorrow.”
Fellow Queenslander Smith, 22, has also cleared big hurdles to be in that group.
The Oxley Golf Club member is also a full-time Griffith University student and a full-time greenskeeper – yet somehow manages time to keep his game in shape.
He was at four under until a bogey on his last, the 9th hole, brought him back to the pack.
“I’d been playing well, so I’m happy with that score. It was tough going out there, so it’s nice to play well in (such a big event).
“I’ve done well at Riversdale (Cup) and Keperra (Bowl), but never in this one, so it’s nice to be up there early. It would be good to make the trip south worthwhile,” he joked.
Eccles suffered a double-bogey on the 2nd, his 11th hole, that cost him higher honours.
But the Torquay Sands ace had six birdies to continue the form that had him a contender throughout the recent Australian Master of the Amateurs at Royal Melbourne.
Former NRL champion Braith Anasta withdrew mid-round with a bicep injury that required surgery that effectively ended his rugby league career.
Anasta was disappointed to have withdrawn, but said he couldn’t risk further injury after feeling pain in his left arm.
There are now 233 men, none of whom has a handicap higher than 0.8, vying to reach the top 64 to reach the matchplay phase beginning on Thursday at The Australian.
Live scores: http://www.golf.org.au/australian-amateur