Fifteen-year-old Ryan Ruffels stepped onto the 7th tee at Royal Sydney on Thursday having already made a birdie at the long par five, 2nd hole. Perhaps that did something to calm his adolescent nerves but four holes, a bogey, two double bogeys and a triple bogey later his head had to be spinning. Fifteen-year-olds should be playing in junior events and perhaps the big national amateur tournaments but the Australian Open is on a whole different level. People come to watch and there are a lot of them this week where the crowd numbers have put the two recent tournaments in Melbourne to shame. There are scoreboards everywhere and a cursory glance around the practice fairway and putting green reveals to a junior a lot of famous players. To not feel intimidated or out of place is difficult. Ruffels played a practice round with Rory McIlroy on Tuesday and well held his own with one of the best three or four players in the world but Tuesday is not Thursday and as he had done at Royal Melbourne in the Masters he was away to a horrible start. By the time he stood on the 18th tee he needed a par for a 76 but he took three putts from the back level of the green. It was a good score considering the start but hardly one to offer a reasonable chance of making the halfway cut. Friday morning was calm and the course vulnerable. McIlroy was around in 65, his playing partner; Geoff Ogilvy shot 66 as did another Victorian, Richard Green. The greens here this week are far from the hard and fast surfaces of Royal Melbourne and neither Royal Melbourne nor Royal Sydney are long courses in this age. Adam Scott s brilliant Thursday 62 shows the vulnerability of our old traditional courses designed when the equipment and the course coexisted in reasonable balance. If anything in the last days of hickory shafts that balance was in favour of the course and rounds around par were to be celebrated. Now the balance has swung so far in favour of the player and those with the skills of Scott or McIlroy can tear them apart, hitting wedges into so many of the par fours and long, or even middle, irons into the par fives. Ruffels eagled his seventh hole, the par five 16th and by the time he got to the 8th tee he needed two pars on the short fours to finish for a 68 and a chance to make the cut. He ripped a hybrid club up the 8th, pitched safely to twelve feet and made four. The same club off the tee at the 9th left him with a less than full eight iron and he pitched that into ten feet and holed for 67. It goes without saying it was the finest round played by a schoolboy in this country. His dad, the old tennis pro, has known precocious talents before and has his boy s career in perspective. He has seen the ugly, pushy parent and goes to great lengths to be the opposite. There is no sense of entitlement, indeed he thinks it is now time Ryan earned his way legitimately into these big championships as opposed to being invited to play by the organizers. This free entry stuff is all BS was his typically blunt way of seeing the situation. After this week he needs to earn his way into these big events. Maybe, but he has well earned his way to the weekend at Royal Sydney.
Author: Mike Clayton at Royal Sydney Golf Club