07 Feb 2023 | Vic Open |
Reborn Ruffels begins phase two
by Dane Heverin
The next chapter in Ryan Ruffels’ rollercoaster ride in golf begins at this week’s Vic Open.
The Florida-based professional is competing on home soil for the first time since he played at 13th Beach in 2018 and he is ready to start a fresh after enduring injury and mental battles in recent times.
“I almost see it as phase two of my career,” Ruffels said.
“Let’s get going again. I figured out what didn’t work for me. I feel very on top of things now.”
The 24-year-old was a highly touted junior - he was regarded as the best Australian talent since Jason Day when he represented Victoria in the Interstate Series at only 15 years old – but has experienced many setbacks since he joined the professional ranks six years ago.
Ruffels has predominantly plied his trade on the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA Tour Latinoamerica in the past, and he also played on the PGA Tour courtesy of invites and at times he has spoken of feeling as if he had no idea where the ball was going off his club head.
Last year a herniated disc in his lower back prevented him from coming home for the ISPS HANDA Australian Open in December as he was left hardly able to move or bend as the cracked disc leaked fluid.
Now, he has regained trust in his body and is buoyed by the fact that coming back and winning straight away has been done before.
“One of my good friends, Nelly Korda (the current world No.2), she referred me onto her doctor – she had a similar issue. Right after she got her procedure done - the one I got done too - she came and won the Aussie Open,” Ruffels said.
“She was like ‘maybe some good voodoo there’. She had it done, then came to Australia and won so maybe I’ll do the same.”
To step into the winner’s circle, Ruffels has identified that it is not the physical side, but the mental side of his game, that requires the most improvement.
He booked in this trip home after his sister Gabi - who is also a professional golfer and opened her campaign on the Ladies European Tour with a top-five finish last week – raved about her time in Melbourne for the ISPS HANDA Australian Open and he needed to overcome some of his past demons.
“For a while there I judged myself so harshly based on my scores. Even for a while there I didn’t want to come home because I wasn’t playing well enough, and people would think less of me,” Ruffels said.
“Once I got on top of it, I realised that is so stupid. These people are my mates and don’t care if I’m hitting the ball left, right or straight. It doesn’t matter. I think that was a bit of an awakening too.”
Ruffels’ realisation that change was required came to a head this time last year.
He parted ways with coach Dennis McDade - on good terms - to begin working with a US-based coach as he struggled with being unable to see the Melburnian in person because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
His game began to click into gear afterwards, but something was still amiss.
“I was hitting all the shots I wanted to see but I was not quite having the results that I wanted,” he recalled.
“I started to realise that this isn’t about my physical golf game. To get to where I want to get to, it’s that hurdle mentally I have to get past. I thought if I really spearhead this part of my game and attack it from different angles – none of them conflict with each other, they all work together – then I can really push myself past it.”
To overcome those barriers, Ruffels relies on a three-pillared approach to his best manage his mindset.
He works with mental performance coach Jamie Glazier – who he spent time with on the Gold Coast last week – on how he conducts himself on the golf course through routine and ways to approach competition.
He is also being mentored by Australian tennis champion Todd Woodbridge - who Ruffels’ father Ray coached – while to care of his mental health outside of golf he regularly speaks to a psychologist.
“I’ve made that more of a priority than probably practice in the past year and I’m really excited to see where that can take me,” Ruffels said.
“It’s always been a tough one for me to buy into, the mental game, because you can’t measure it. You can’t look at a video and see that my mental game is better. It’s a trust thing.
“About a year ago I was like ‘I have to buy into this. I have to trust the people I’m hiring because I’m hiring them for a reason. If I don’t, there’s no point. I’d rather save my money’. I finally committed myself to it and it’s been awesome. Not only as a golfer but as a person I feel much better.
“I think that’s really important when it comes to golf. If you’re happy with yourself, it’s much easier to go out there and do what you need to do.
“I’ve got to be Ryan Ruffels and not Ryan Ruffels the golfer 90% of the time.”
A key part of Ruffels’ reformation is the big decision to head to Europe this year.
His professional career so far has been almost exclusively in North America but in April, he will tee it up in the United Arab Emirates to embark on a season of roughly 15 events across the Challenge Tour and the DP World Tour.
The move means that the Ruffels siblings will both be in action across Europe but the journey across the Atlantic has been inspired by two Australians who are inside the top 50 in the world.
“For me going over there is a different perspective. I’ve done the US thing for a while,” he said.
“I sat down at the start of the year and thought everything is in a really good spot, I just want to get over there and do something different. Playing on some courses and going to places that are a bit more similar to Australia might bring a bit more out me. It’s worked for a lot of people.
“Herby (Lucas Herbert, who played in winning Interstate Series teams alongside Ruffels in 2014 and 2015) started over there and he’s a member at the same club as me in Orlando. We spend tonnes of time together.
“Min Woo stayed with me for about a month last year and he’s obviously having a great time over there. Chatting to those boys I was like ‘you know what, get over there. I’m playing good. It’s time for a fresh start. Do something different’.”
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