Two years on from turning professional, Victorian Ryan Ruffels is back in Australia and is ready to cash his first cheque on home soil at the 2018 Oates Vic Open.
The 19-year-old from Melbourne will kick start his season at 13th Beach Golf Links on Thursday, marking his first pro start in Australia.
One of the nation’s brightest young talents, Ruffels peaked at 13th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings in January 2016 before he took the leap into the pro ranks as a 17-year-old.
“It’s gone pretty quick,” Ruffels told Golf Victoria.
“When I turned pro, I felt super ready and everything was in order. I was anxious and nervous, but that’s just normal.
“Part of the reason I wanted to turn pro a little earlier was because if I had to learn these lessons when I was 23 or 24, then I’m a little behind the 8-ball.
“But if they happen a little earlier then I’m ready to go at 19 or 20 and that’s okay. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learnt a lot.”
After splitting his time on the PGA Tour in the US and the PGA Tour Latinoamérica further south for the last two years, Ruffels returns to his home state Open with fond memories of the Barwon Heads layout.
He shared Low Amateur honours in 2015 with fellow Victorian young gun Ben Eccles, the duo finishing T3, just two strokes out of a playoff.
“It’s a course and a tournament that I’ve played well at, I remember as an amateur in 2015 I had a good event that week and got myself in contention,” said Ruffels.
“I love 13th Beach, both courses. I had a bunch of time off and was going to come home anyway and I was on the Inside The Ropes podcast and Clayts asked ‘are you going to come back for the Vic Open?’.
“Golf Victoria was great in being able to get me into the tournament, so it worked out absolutely perfectly.”
Ruffels credits his decision to turn pro so young with the invaluable lessons already learned. With 16 starts on the PGA Tour to his name already, the teenager has been exposed to the game at the highest level.
“To now be competing against Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, it’s a bit of a different feeling and you start to realise how good you have to be, because the courses are so hard,” said Ruffels.
“This year in the Canadian Open, I’d never been in the mix in a PGA Tour event.
“I played with Jhonattan Vegas in the last round who won. To just be around all that, I didn’t do it for four rounds but I did it for three and now I know I’ve got that standard in me.
Ruffels is hoping to improve on last year’s 15th-placed finish on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica money list by committing to a full schedule in 2018.
But in the short-term there’s only one goal – to win some silverware at home and set up more trips back to Australia in the near future.
“It’d be amazing to win back home, it would be my first professional win which would be an honour to have in Australia,” said Ruffels.
“It’d set up great to have the option of coming home to play any of these events over here. Hopefully the schedule pans out and I can play the ones at the end of the year as well.
“I’ll always have a place in Australia, it’s home. I went to school here, all my mates are here so it’s always going to be home.”
The Oates Vic Open is the only golf tournament of its kind around the world, where the men’s and women’s fields compete on the same courses, at the same time, for an equal share of the prize money.
In 2018, the combined purse will be $1.3 million, meaning the men and women will each battle it out in Barwon Heads for a share of $650,000.
Those unable to make the trip to Barwon Heads in February will still be able to watch the weekend’s action with the return of the Oates Vic Open live stream.
Hosted on Facebook LIVE and YouTube, fans across Australia and around the world will be able to follow the final 36 holes of the tournament thanks to the Oates Vic Open’s professional broadcast team.
Find out more about the 2018 Oates Vic Open at www.vicopengolf.com.