In 2017, Ryan Ruffels made his Zurich Classic of New Orleans debut, playing in that inaugural team event with American Kyle Stanley. The duo played well for three of the four days, derailed by a third-round 77 that left them tied for 29th, 13 strokes behind winners Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt. Ruffels is playing on PGA Tour Latinoamerica this season, where he has three starts and a tie for 18th at the Guatemala Stella Artois Open as his best finish. He returns to New Orleans for an all-Australia appearance in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, this time with Jason Day his partner. Ruffels, who is playing in the Molino Cañuelas Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this week, is making his second US PGA Tour start of the season after playing in South Korea at The CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in October 2017. Ruffels recently sat down to discuss team golf, his relationship with Day and how he assesses his team’s chances at TPC Louisiana.
When did you first meet Jason and, considering you play on different tours, how often do you see him these days?
Ryan Ruffels: I met Jason in my first year as a professional, in 2016. We were assigned to the same management group. So, he’s been a mentor to me since 2016. We played for the first time (together) at Pebble Beach in 2016. Because we play on different tours, I spend a bit of time during the winter with him. We spend it in the desert together, and we practice. And then around the Memorial (Tournament), I try and go up to Ohio and spend a little time with him, too. If we get lucky, three, four, maybe five times a year.
When was the last time you played a round together, and when was the first time you played together?
RR: The first time we played together was at Pebble Beach in 2016. The last time we played together? That’s a good question. It would have been a practice round at The CJ Cup in Korea at the end of last year. So, we haven’t played for a little while, although we did play casually in the desert back in January.
How do you think you guys will go as a team?
RR: I think, with the way I’m playing right now – I’m driving the ball very, very straight – I think we’ll combine well. If you tee off on the odd holes in New Orleans, you get three of the par-5 tee shots. I’ll probably take those and try and get us down there and in the fairway. And Jason is just such a great putter and chipper, so as long as I get it close to the green he’s going to be good.
What is your greatest strength as a player?
RR: Definitely when I’m driving the ball well. I drive it really long and really straight. That’s what I’m doing right now. If I can continue doing that, I think my driver and my putter are my two biggest strengths. Everything in the middle is pretty solid, but those sort of stand out as my best attributes.
You’ve played US PGA Tour tournaments before. The difference in size between the US PGA Tour and PGA Tour Latinoamerica is obvious, but how different is it actually playing out there versus playing on PGA Tour Latinoamerica?
RR: Yes, it’s obviously a difference, but the players out here on Latinoamerica are very good, too. Any tour you play around the world, the players are very good. If I shoot one-over like I did the other day, it’s not going to be good anywhere. It definitely is a little more relaxing down here. When you play on the US PGA Tour, there is more media, there are more people, and everything you do is watched. Here you can go about your business a little bit more quietly and you don’t feel quite as much pressure. It’s definitely more relaxed, and you just enjoy everybody’s company a little more here while it’s a bit more businesslike when you get out there.
How do you prepare for a team event where you are reliant on a partner?
RR: It’s actually kind of relaxing because you know that regardless of what happens next week, you’ve only got half the say in what’s going to happen. Especially in the four-ball format, it’s almost like you have a mulligan every shot. If I hit one in the trees, Jason’s got a chance to hit one in the fairway and be OK. So, it’s actually not as stressful – at all – playing as a team, especially in the four-ball format. In the alternate shot, you’re kind of saying sorry all day. Because you hit one in the trees and you’re like, Oh, I can’t believe I did that. But the four-ball format is very relaxing, and it’s nice to, like I said, almost have a mulligan every shot.
What was your experience like last year in New Orleans with Kyle Stanley as your partner?
RR: We played great other than the third round. We both putted terribly in the third round, and that’s what cost us. If we could have kept that around even or so, we could have really been in contention. Kyle is such a fantastic player. Ball-striking, he is just so solid. Especially in that alternate-shot format, which is the hard format of the two, he just gets it in play every time. The tough par 3s, Nos.9 and 17, he had those tee shots and every day hit them great, straight at the hole. Kyle was such a great partner, and it was so much fun playing in the team format because you never get to do that. You never get to actually cheer for another player, so that’s going to be fun. Now with the walkup music on the tee, where they play songs we choose, that’s going to be even more fun.
Do you have any anecdotes from team events, even as an amateur, that were memorable to you?
RR: Yeah, we play a lot of team golf in Australia. We play as Team Australia a lot in the Eisenhower Cup, which I played, the World Amateur teams. And then inside Australia, we played interstate series matches, so when you play on a team it’s so much fun. I think golf is a weird sport in terms of every little bit of success you have, you have it on your own. You’re out there on your own, you’re responsible for everything. And it’s nice if you have success on a team, to share that with someone. So, hopefully, if we have a great week, it would be so much fun to share a great week with Jason as my partner.