Ryan Ruffels has admitted he was “scared” on the first tee, such was the depth of his recent malaise.
The brilliant, young Australian professional and one-time world junior champion appears to have turned a corner with his second-place finish on the PGA Tour Latino last weekend, but it has only served to remind of him of how low he was in 2018.
In a revealing interview with Golf Australia’s Inside The Ropes podcast, Ruffels said he was playing so badly that he had no idea where the ball was going in 2018.
He said his self-confidence had disappeared, forcing a change of coach – from Marty Joyce, who coached him in 2017-18 to Denis McDade, his original coach from the age of 11 and the long-time mentor for Marc Leishman among others.
Ruffels had made just $US11,000 in 11 events in Latin America last year, a vast underachievement for a player who was rated as one of the best amateurs in the world a few years ago. A bad shoulder injury – a dislocation that occurred during a tournament – scarcely helped.
"I kind of got to a point in September last year, where I got to an event and in a couple of the practice rounds I couldn’t play," the 20-year-old said.
"That was tough for me. I remember sitting in a hotel in Brazil last year just before the first round dreading it, thinking ‘What am I gonna do? I can’t hit the fairway with a 3-iron’.
"Yeah, completely scared to play. I’ve always been such a hard worker, but that hard work turned into analysation as opposed to letting the creativity flow, letting the natural ability that I’ve got flow. That was the probably hardest place I got to, being at an event thinking, ‘How the hell am I going to play?’ (then) having to pull out of a couple of events later to kind of get things back on track."
Ruffels said he had no hard feelings towards Joyce, who is working with a couple of other bright young Australian stars such as Zach Murray and David Micheluzzi. He said he and Joyce were still “good mates’’ but that he needed to make the change back to his old swing.
"Marty’s a fantastic coach. He’s got some great players … So no knock on him, but for me it didn’t quite work out. We changed quite a few things, and they all made sense and they’re all probably the right things, but they were just different to stuff that I’ve done in my whole life. So for me, when I got under any sort of pressure, I just couldn’t back myself, because it wasn’t me, it wasn’t part of my DNA, it wasn’t stuff that I could trust."
With hindsight, he has taken responsibility for what he considers to be a mistake. Ruffels said it was because of him “being a little bit reactive, naïve and in a sense, being 18".
"I wasn't making the wisest call that I’ve ever made, being reactive to things aren’t happening as quick as I want it to happen and trying to do something about it."
Ruffels needs to finish top five on the Latino Tour this year to earn a Web.com card for 2020 and said he was done with accepting invitations to play on the main PGA Tour, a choice for which he has been criticised. "The next time you see me on the PGA Tour, I'll have earned it," he said.
Ruffels said he was looking at his down patch as a learning experience. "I’m 20. Most people are still at uni when they’re 20. Sometimes, if a business doesn’t run a profit for a couple of years, it’s not done. You’re just getting started. If (48-year-old) Jim Furyk’s out there playing in the Players (Championship), I’m 20 and I’m done? I find that one a bit interesting."
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