Ryan Ruffels didn’t win the Federal Open Amateur in Canberra on Sunday – that honour went to fellow star amateur Taylor MacDonald – but it could well be he was still thinking of possibly the most important call of his life just before the start of the tournament in Canberra.
MacDonald, who said he was boosted by a practice round last week with Jack Newton, won the amateur by one shot after firing a tournament record 17 under par.
The Queenslander won from Daniel Gale and Patrick Wilson while Ruffels finished back in the field.
It would have been of little consequence however, following the call he thought was a prank, which he received just ahead of the start of the event – from US legend Phil Mickelson.
The multiple major winner has been watching the teenage Australian and is now trying to lure him to his old university, Arizona State.
A former member at Royal Canberra, Ruffels had returned hoping to go one better than his runner-up finish last year.
The 16-year-old might be still in year 11 but Ruffels has already attracted attention from sponsors and has played rounds with world No.1 Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott.
Mickelson, the world No.2, called him on Wednesday, giving Ruffels one of the biggest shocks of his life.
Based in Melbourne now, Ruffels will travel to the US next month to meet Mickelson.
"I was out here putting and I got this call from an international number and I jumped on my phone and he said, ‘Hey, it’s Phil Mickelson,’ " Ruffels told Fairfax.
"I thought one of my mates from school was giving me a prank call. We chatted for an hour and I’m just starting to get some exposure to those big players and it’s great.
"They’ve obviously won majors and that’s something I’m trying to do when I’m older, so learning the ropes from them is pretty cool."
The son of former Australian touring tennis pro Ray Ruffels, the youngster was born in the US before moving to Canberra at the age if 11 when his father took up a position as an Institute of Sport tennis coach.
Already he has notched some impressive amateur results – he won the World Junior 15-17 boys title in July and finished fourth in one of the world’s most prestigious events, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, at Royal Melbourne last month.
Ruffels also became one of the youngest players to earn a top-25 finish at the Australian Open.
Newton, meanwhile, agrees with Mickelson, rating Ruffels extremely highly.
The former US Masters and British Open runner-up said he was on a par with current world No. 8 Jason Day.
"Ryan Ruffels is a tall lean kid who can belt it out there, and he’s got a good temperament," Newton said.
"He’s going places, he’s still only 16. He’s probably close to being as good as [Day] was. We’ll just see what happens in the next couple of years because I saw Jason Day when he was about 17 at that stage.
"[Day] was just well schooled, technique was good and I think they’re the two guys we’re going to hear a lot of in the future.
Macdonald, meanwhile, plans to turn professional at the end of next year, but his next goal is to try and get an invite for the Australian Open at the Australian Golf Club, which starts on November 27.
By: Robert Grant