09 Feb 2023 | Vic Open |
Ruffels runs riot with record-equalling round
by Dane Heverin
Ryan Ruffels had golf fans running for the record books as he shot a career-best and equal course record 11-under par first round 61 to lead the Vic Open by two shots at 13th Beach.
Ruffels matched the previous Creek Course record set by Jake McLeod in 2017, and in the process, he combined with his playing partners Elvis Smylie (-7) and Nathan Barbieri (-7) for 25-under par.
Australian golf icon Mike Clayton – who caddied for Smylie – had never seen anything like it and it is suspected that the feat is a record single round score for a group in this country.
“We all just got in a good rhythm quite early. Barbs started off really well. Elvis then rattled a few off in a row and then I had my turn for a little bit,” Ruffels said.
“Feeding off each other is a weird one. I don’t know if there’s anything to it, but it definitely happened today.”
Ruffels reached the turn in 29 largely due to back-to-back eagles at the 16th and 17th – he teed off from the 10th – where he holed out from roughly 100m with a wedge and then putted in from off the back of the green.
The 24-year-old used the Texas wedge to great effect as he holed putts from off the green on two other occasions.
“I was joking with my best mate Josh Hetherington, who’s caddying for me, and he caddied for me on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2021 and we birdied the first seven holes, and eight of the first nine and shot 29 together,” Ruffels recalled.
“So that combo seems to be working so I might have to drag him out of Melbourne for the rest of the year and take him with me.”
The Florida-based Victorian is back in Australia for the first time in four years and it is his first time playing competitively on home soil since the 2018 Vic Open.
His Korn Ferry Tour playing schedule along with injury issues and travel restrictions have been the cause of that lengthy gap between visits, and now he is relishing the chance to once again be alongside his childhood friends.
“I’m relaxed being back home in Australia. I’m around a lot of the boys I grew up with. I also want to show them that I can still play too,” he said with a laugh.
“I know a lot of the boys are having a lot of great results but I’m not too bad myself sometimes. There’s a bit of added incentive there but I just love being back.”
Earlier in the week Ruffels spoke of his past apprehension about coming home because he felt as if people would think less of him if he did not play well.
As a junior, Ruffels was regarded as the best Australian talent to come through since Jason Day but since turning professional six years ago, he has endured battles with the mental side of the game.
At times he felt as if he did not know if the ball was going left or right off his club face, but now he is in a much better head space courtesy of a power of work on his mental performance skills and mental health.
“I knew I was improving. Like I alluded to earlier in the week I’ve worked very hard on mental game and becoming, I guess, a better person before a better golfer. I think that’s helped a lot,” Ruffels said.
Two shots back from Ruffels are WA Open champion Deyen Lawson and former world top-50 player Mathew Goggin.
Despite now living in Queensland, Lawson called the Bellarine Peninsula home until only a few years ago and the 32-year-old thrived in familiar conditions with a strong local gallery in support.
He was blemish free as he made nine birdies in his round of 63 on the Beach Course, while Goggin produced a spectacular finish with an eagle at the par 5 18th on the same course.
The Tasmanian made his return to competitive golf at the Victorian PGA Championship in November and has been devoting the majority of his time to leading the delivery of Seven Mile Beach project in Hobart.
Goggin showed he still has the class that saw win five times on the Korn Ferry Tour however as he was the best of the afternoon field with eight birdies to accompanying his eagle.
In the first group of the day to tee off the 10th on the Beach Course amateur Jack Buchanan and Gavin Fairfax both shot 64.
The pair each made a bogey and nine birdies with South Australian Buchanan looking to make a big statement in a professional event.
Queenslander Fairfax meanwhile is chasing a breakthrough victory on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia before returning to the United States for a second straight year to chase more playing opportunities.
They are joined in a share of fourth place by New Zealander Michael Hendry who also played the Beach Course and produced the highlight of the day with a hole-in-one on the par 3 12th.
Alongside Barbieri and Smylie in a tie for seventh are two-time Gippsland Super 6 champion Tom Power Horan, Daniel Gale, who made his PGA Tour debut last year, 2014 Vic Open runner-up Matthew Stieger and 151st Open-bound Haydn Barron.
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