It’s no longer enough for amateur Ryan Ruffels to contend at the Emirates Australian Open – he’s on a fully fledged mission to win it and keep his 2016 Masters dream alive.
Ruffels, alongside fellow Golf Australia national squad member Cam Davis, finished just one stroke behind in the typhoon-shortened Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Hong Kong earlier this month with a trip to Augusta National on the line.
And while magnanimous in his praise of champion Jin Cheng, Ruffels remains desperately disappointed that weather conspired against his chances of playing at the Masters.
And as part of a world-class amateur assault on the Emirates Australian Open, Ruffels, still just 17, views his third trip to the national championship as his shot at redemption.
“Jin deserved to win, don’t get me wrong. But I’m still bitter about what happened at the Asia-Pacific Amateur (with the weather),” the Victorian said.
“You don’t get many chances to play the Masters and I hope winning the Aussie Open could be one. I know Aaron Baddeley got a special invite (to the 2000 Masters) when he won as an amateur (in 1999), so I’m hoping I can do the same thing.”
But not only will Ruffels have to contend with a crack professional field full of past champions and dual major winner Jordan Spieth, he’ll also have to fend off a crack field of amateurs, as well.
Ruffels, No.8 in the world amateur rankings, will join world No.6 Bryson DeChambeau and world No.14 Jordan Niebrugge in the field, but Davis has been ruled out after season-ending wrist surgery.
Melbourne’s Brett Coletta, the medallist as the strokeplay leader at the recent US Open and another national squad member, will also join the pack that Ruffels says will all have eyes on the Stonehaven Cup.
DeChambeau is coming off victories at the US Amateur and NCAA Championship, becoming just the fifth player on an elite list – Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore – to have done so in the same year.
Fellow American Niebrugge was low amateur in a stellar class at The Open at St Andrews this year. The Oklahoma State student was within three of the lead during the manic back nine in July, and his eventual T6 finish has already booked him a berth for the 2016 Open at Royal Troon.
“They won’t be as well known here yet, but those guys are really well respected in the amateur game. Their achievements this year were incredible,” Ruffels said.
“The race for low am will be hot (at The Australian), but there’s nothing to stop any of us winning overall. The amateurs are a lot better prepared these days to play against the pros and won’t be intimidated by the occasion or back away from it.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see amateur contend or even win.”
Ruffels finished T28 at last year’s Emirates Australian Open, one stroke behind low amateur Lucas Herbert.
The young Victorian made world headlines in 2013 on his Open debut as a 15-year-old, playing a practice round with soon-to-be champion Rory McIlroy and ultimately finishing T24 as a 15-year-old, two shots behind Brady Watt who was low amateur at Royal Sydney.