With the benefits of experience and hindsight, and fit again after back surgery, former junior prodigy Ryan Ruffels is primed to embark on “phase two” of his golfing career.
And he’s still only 24.
Back home in Australia for the first time in four years, US-based Ruffels will tee it up at the Vic Open at 13th Beach beginning on Thursday.
Then it’s a few weeks of down-time in Melbourne before making the switch to Europe, where he will split his time between the DP World and Challenge tours.
Close friends and countrymen Min Woo Lee and Lucas Herbert — both ranked inside the top 50 in the world — have made giant strides in Europe in recent years.
That helped sway the mind of Ruffels, who has spent the past three seasons off Broadway on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour in the US.
It’s a far cry from his halcyon early days, which included winning the 2014 world junior championship, finishing in the top 30 in the Australian Open as a 15-year-old and getting a swag of starts on the US PGA Tour shortly after turning pro at 17.
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“I don’t think I every really sat back and understood what a professional career entailed — the ups and downs, the jump up in competition,” the son of former tennis pros Ray and AnnaMaria Ruffels — and brother of golf pro Gabi Ruffels, who will play on the Ladies European Tour in 2023 — said on Tuesday.
“I just tied my identity so closely to my performance and I never saw myself as a 17, 18 or 19-year-old golfer, I just saw myself as a golfer.
“At 17, I was top 20 in PGA Tour events and berating myself because I didn’t come top 10 or top five.
“When I look back now at what I was doing then, it was pretty impressive and I didn’t see it in that way at all.
“Then I lost my way for a bit and lost confidence because I held myself to such a high standard.
“If I channel that the right way it’s an awesome skill to have, but in the wrong way, you can lose track of things.”
The most recent setback came in October, when Ruffels was diagnosed with a cracked disc in his lower spine.
“It pretty much froze up my lower body and for six or eight weeks I wasn’t able to twist or bend,” he said.
“(Olympic gold medallist and former world number one) Nelly Korda, who’s one of my good friends in the States, had a similar injury.
“She referred me to a doctor and we got it sorted.
“She got her procedure done and then won the Aussie Open as her first event back.
“We’ve been joking that she got it done and won and now I’m back playing in Australia so maybe there’s some good karma there.”
Despite the Vic Open being Ruffel’s first tournament since September, he fully expects to contend this week at 13th Beach.
His best finish in the tournament was third as a precocious teenage amateur in 2015.