Australian teenager Ryan Ruffels and his teammate Kyle Stanley have soared to a share of the lead in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on the United States PGA Tour, giving the 18-year-old from Melbourne a chance at securing a playing card.
Ruffels and Stanley made eight birdies and two bogeys in an opening 66 at TPC Louisiana today to take the lead in the alternate-shot format, only to be tied at the top by Jordan Spieth and Ryan Palmer late in the day.
Playing on invitation, Ruffels is toying with big stakes – and a shot at history.
Although the event has a different format – foursomes on Thursday and Saturday and four-ball on Friday and Sunday – the tour has chosen to offer up full rights, meaning that Ruffels would earn a playing card and a two-year exemption if he and Stanley held on to win.
While that is a way off, it is an alluring prospect for the Melburnian, who is now based in Florida.
He had seven sponsors’ invitations last season on the main tour in a bid to earn his playing card that way, but missed out by the narrowest of margins, and recently has been playing on the PGA Latino Tour.
Ruffels is a member of the Golf Australia rookie squad of young professionals and had a great amateur career, winning the world junior championship in 2014 and the Australian boys’ amateur in 2015 as well as the Riversdale Cup.
Leaderboard at @Zurich_Classic
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 27, 2017
A champion junior tennis player whose parents Ray and Anna Maria Fernandez are both tennis professionals, he was born in the US but moved to Australia with his family as a boy and turned his hand to golf.
His younger sister Gabriela is a member of the Victorian state golf team and also shows incredible talent.
Ruffels turns 19 over the weekend and would the youngest winner on the US Tour ever. The record, held by Harry Cooper at the 1923 Galveston Open, is 19 years and four days. Spieth was a couple of weeks shy of 20 when he won the John Deere Classic in 2013.
Another young Australian, Queensland Cameron Smith, is sitting tied-third in the tournament at five-under after a great start alongside Jonas Blixt of Sweden. Geoff Ogilvy, who carded three-under with his partner Ian Poulter, also is in the top 10.
Jason Day shot 1-under with Rickie Fowler.
YOUNGEST PGA TOUR WINNERS (SINCE 1900)
(Ruffels will turn 19 on April 29)
|19 years, 4 days||Harry Cooper||1923 Galveston Open|
|19 years, 8 months, 3 days||Ralph Guldahl||1931 Santa Monica Open|
|19 years, 10 months, 14 days||Johnny McDermott||1911 U.S. Open|
|19 years, 11 months, 17 days||Jordan Spieth||2013 John Deere Classic|
|20 years, 5 days||Gene Sarazen||1922 Southern Open|
|20 years, 1 month, 15 days||Charles Evans, Jr. (amateur)||1910 Western Open|
|20 years, 2 months, 9 days||Ralph Guldahl||1932 Arizona Open|
|20 years, 4 months, 12 days||Francis Ouimet, (amateur)||1913 U.S. Open|