Q&A with Ryan Ruffels on his Korn Ferry Tour start, golf in Australia and his perfect day
February 11, 2020
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Ryan Ruffels has two top-25 finishes in four starts this season on the Korn Ferry Tour. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
If it feels like you’ve seen Ryan Ruffels' name for a long time, well, you have. But the one place you’ve not seen him is on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Ruffels, at 21, has been a pro golfer for four years already. He tried his hand on the PGA TOUR, getting various exemptions over the last few seasons. In 2019 he played both the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada and PGA TOUR Latinoamerica finishing 20th and 7th, respectively, on the two Tours’ Orders of Merit.
Ruffels finally earned guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour via his result at the Final Stage of Q-School and despite being a professional for nearly half a decade, he made his Korn Ferry Tour debut a few weeks ago in the Bahamas.
He spent a few minutes with PGA TOUR Digital to chat about his athletic family, his professional development to this point, and why golf in Australia is the best.
You’ve had a steady start to the year after getting through Q-School. How have you felt 2020 has gone so far?
Your first goal is that you get re-shuffled in for the rest of the year. I did that in the first few events which is nice, because that gives me more of a chance to pick my schedule going forward – I can pick and chose where I’m going to play and where I might miss because the schedule is very busy. To be honest, I don’t think the first four courses suited me that well. Colombia was short and tight, so was Panama and Exuma there was crazy winds. It’s been a funky start to the year all the courses and golf courses we’ve had to play but I’ve adjusted really well and I’m excited to get back to the States and play some golf I think I’m a little better at.
These were your first Korn Ferry Tour events, despite being a professional for a few years now. First impressions?
There’s been a bit of an adjustment, but they do a fantastic job on the Korn Ferry Tour. Exuma was the first Korn Ferry Tour event I’ve ever played so even those first four events – we haven’t played in the States yet. So, I’m not sure what a Korn Ferry Tour event is like there. I know it’s going to be more different back in the States but they do a phenomenal job of running the events. It’s very professional. It’s very much like a PGA TOUR event … those first two events in the Bahamas they did the live coverage so all the camera towers were out. It’s a step up and it’s not too far off the hosting standard of a PGA TOUR event.
You were on the PGA TOUR LIVE broadcast one of the days in the Bahamas – how was that experience for you?
I had my trainer on the bag, from Australia, and he’s a really funny guy and we talk about some stuff that probably shouldn't be broadcasted (laughs) so we had to make quite a conscious effort to take sure we didn’t say anything stupid. We had a lot of fun – it’s always cool when the cameras follow you. I didn’t play all that well that day but it was still really cool to have the cameras there, because hopefully that’s what the future holds a little bit – cameras following you around everywhere when you step on a golf course. That’s where I’d love to be someday. To get a little jump into that is a really cool experience. For the most part I think people really enjoyed having the Korn Ferry Tour on PGA TOUR LIVE. It was something different. Hopefully they do something like that more in the future.
Up to this point in your career, how would you describe your professional development?
I’m really excited about where it’s going now. The cool thing about turning pro a little bit earlier is that I had those years, that people might have been at college, to screw up a little bit (and) maybe make not the right decisions for my career at the time or not think the right way. I got those experiences under the belt and got to learn from them. I wouldn’t even (be a college graduate) yet, still, so at this time I already have a lot of experience at a professional level that will hold me in good stead moving forward. I’ve got the right team in place, I’m doing the right things, I know what works for me and what doesn’t. From there I can start to build on that. That’s something you don’t learn without screwing it up once or twice. They weren’t easy times at points, but I think I’m really lucky to have figured out what does work.
Everything with your team and your approach to things is going well for now?
I had a very solid year last year. Obviously I didn’t win but across both Tours I had a very consistent year. I started the year now pretty consistent as well. I feel like everything is building. I’m not going to make a huge jump from where I am now to being the No. 1 player in the world in six months but I feel like everything is gradually building and moving in the right direction and that’s what’s pretty exciting for me. I can keep working on what I’m working on now and that will keep moving me forward.
Growing up, how close were you to choosing tennis as a career path and not golf?
I was close. I played pretty high-level tennis until I was about 12 years old. I was really into it and I was training really hard. I never really had any ambitions to be a golfer until (my Mom) signed me up for a golf tournament when I was like 12 or 13. It was a nine-hole golf tournament in the afternoon after I had a tennis tournament in the morning. It was my first time playing in one before. I had lost 6-1, 6-0 in the tennis tournament in the morning … I went out to the golf tournament in the afternoon and I shot 2 under for nine holes and I finished second or third. I was really excited. I thought it was a lot of fun. There were a lot of kids my age and it was a lot more social than in tennis – you’re not playing someone 1:1, everyone was in the tournament and buddies. At that age, that seemed really appealing to me. Since I shot a couple under, I thought the sport was pretty easy at that point (laughs). From there on I started to drift away from tennis and drift towards golf until I was full-time with it.
Have you back to Australia since the fires?
I haven’t been back to Australia since March of last year. My family now lives in California, in Palm Springs. I went there for Christmas. It’s horrible to see what’s going on back home but I haven’t been back to see it.
Have any members of your family or friends been impacted?
No one related to me is affected but the air quality in Melbourne, where I’m from, at one point, was by worst air quality in the world by four-times. That sort of stuff isn’t great to be around, and the wildlife impact it’s had as well. No one I’m directly related to, and I’m very lucky. But with your country … everyone stands together and it’s not great to see that going on.
How about your support system? Your parents were both tennis professionals and your sister is a spectacular golfer in her own right?
It’s fantastic. Between my sister and I we’re very competitive and I think that helps us a lot. She looks up to me as someone she looks at for advice on practice and how to do things and vice versa. I admire her work ethic - it’s incredible for how long she’s been playing golf for. I admire that about her. In terms of my parents, I think it’s a really good blend of having them there as professional athletes. They were good enough athletes to know that they knew enough about sport but know nothing about golf (laughs). They don’t try to get into my golf because that’s just not their field. They’re good at tennis. They help me to approach high-level competition, nervous situations, that sort of stuff they can relate to. I think it’s really cool how they have let me seek my own advice. They never tried to help me in that department (golf) but anytime I’ve needed someone to talk to about competing at a high level, they are always there and very, very good help for that.
In Australia have you played all those world-renowned Sandbelt golf courses?
Yeah, I’m a member at Royal Melbourne and Victoria Golf Club.
Yeah, I started at Victoria Golf Club when I was 11 and I grew up playing there until I was about 15 or 16 and then I jumped in and joined Royal Melbourne. I keep my membership at both. Golf memberships in Australia are so much cheaper than it is in the U.S. so I’ve put it on an international membership and every time I go home I play them. I’ve played all the others as well. Playing tournament golf in Australia you find your way around them. Royal Melbourne and Victoria are closer to me because I’ve played both of those so many times.
Are they as good as everyone says?
They’re incredible. They’re short courses with wide fairways and you’d think that would be the easiest thing in the world, but it’s so much strategy around angles and how to approach. It’s super fair. A 36-handicapper would be able to play there but get challenged, and a 5-handicapper can get seriously challenged. There’s nothing funky. It always gives the average golfer a good chance to run balls into greens but it also challenges the top-level player. If you can achieve that balance in a golf course, it’s incredible, and I think that’s what all of these sand-belt golf courses achieve.
You have a tattoo on your left bicep – what is it and why did you get it?
I got a tattoo on both arms. The one on my left arm is the American eagle and Australian flag in the background. I have two passports – an Australian and United States, since I was born in the U.S. – and it’s a combination of the two emblems on my passports that I mixed in and created something that would always be a part of me. I’m always going to be half Australian and half American. I thought it was really cool. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve done and I really like it.
We’ll leave you with this one: What does a perfect day look like for you?
Oh, that’s a hard one to be put on the spot with. I’d probably get up pretty early in the morning. I don’t sleep in too much. It always starts with a really good coffee. I’m absolutely a fiend for a good coffee. I would get a Cortado. I’d start my day with that and a good breakfast. I’d go to the golf course, play with my buddies mid-morning. After that it would involve go-karting because I’m really into racing like Formula One and all that sort of stuff. Go-karting is the closest thing I can do, legally, to that (laughs). I’d do that with my mates, and then we’d come home and hang out by the pool and barbecue, have a few beers and enjoy the afternoon. I’m lucky enough I’ve had a very similar day to that a few times.