16 Dec 2019 | Professional golf |

Emotional Ruffels locks up Korn Ferry card

by Mark Hayes

Golf Australia's Luke Mackey keeps Ryan Ruffels on the straight and narrow in Florida.
Golf Australia's Luke Mackey keeps Ryan Ruffels on the straight and narrow in Florida.

Ryan Ruffels fought back tears today as he effectively graduated to the Korn Ferry Tour.

On a day of vastly different emotions for the Australian contingent at the KFT Q-School finals in Florida, Victorian Ruffels put behind him a shaky start to lock in his 2020 playing path.

And while one-time US PGA Tour player Brett Drewitt also confirmed his Korn Ferry status, fellow New South Welshman Harrison Endycott was one of 12 players eliminated by one of the last shots of the day.

Endycott, who overcame an early double-bogey on the Crooked Cat course near Orlando, fought back gamely to even-par 72 and finish at 11 under through his four rounds.

But across on the nearby Panther Lake course, American Zach Zaback dropped a birdie putt on his last hole to ensure that 12 under was the required mark, leaving the Sydneysider to agonise over what might have been.

Ruffels, who already had partial status after his stellar season on the LatinoAmerica Tour, said he empathised with Endycott, having once missed a card by less than one FedEx Cup point.

“It’s brutal. Professional golf is full of hard knocks and `Harro’ took one today. I really feel for him,” Ruffels said of his fellow Aussie.

Ruffels, 21, has endured several blows in the past couple of years after turning pro at age 17 to great fanfare, including several serious injuries and losing his playing rights in the tertiary LatinoAmerica Tour at this time last year.

But having found his game – and more crucially his happiness – early this year in Central and South America, he has not taken a backward step, eventually finishing seventh on the LatinoAmerica Tour’s order of merit having won back his card.

“That was probably the most stressful day I’ve had on a golf course,” Ruffels said after his closing 70 left him safely at -14 and in a share of 21st with players from 21-40 earning a minimum eight events to start up next season.

“I think I only have to make one cut in the first eight starts next year to be (able to keep playing rights) in the re-rank.

“And I was just so desperate not to be on the bubble like I have been for the past couple of years, and obviously to give myself the best chance of getting up on to the PGA Tour the following year.”

Having started the Q-school with rounds of 69-65-69, the dual Australian Junior champion knew he had some wriggle room to start day four.

“But I got nervous early. There are only two bushes down the right hand side of the first and I hit a good drive and it just stayed in one of them and I had to take an unplayable (lie penalty),” he said.

“I made a par, but then a soft bogey on three and my ball plugged in a bunker on five and my game just wasn’t there.

“I was really grateful to have (Luke) Mackey on my bag and he did a great job in keeping me positive and I knew I had that little buffer from the first few days.

“And I eventually settled down a bit and made a few birdies to ease the nerves a little.” Ruffels said he didn’t feel comfortable until his approach to the last hit the green.

“That’s a hard tee shot on 18 with a few fairway traps, but once I hit that 52-degree into the green, I knew I was capable of two-putting. That’s when I knew all disaster had been avoided.

“I was choking up walking up 18.

“It’s been a very tough battle for three years, so to achieve this is very fulfilling. I’ve had a heap of support from back home which has been greatly appreciated and helped me through some dark moments.

“But I’m finally playing great golf, I’ve got my game in order and I’m happy. It’s a big relief, to be honest.

“The game of golf doesn’t owe you anything, but I think this is a nice reward for how hard I’ve been working to get to the next phase of my career.”


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