Ryan Ruffels was playing a tournament across the other side of Australia in Perth when Adam Scott rolled in that most famous of 10-foot putts to win the Masters at Augusta National a little more than two years ago.
But he has never forgotten the collective roar of exultation that emanated from the clubhouse as Scott became the first Australian winner of the Masters, breaking a 68-year hoodoo personified by Greg Norman’s travails.
“I knew he (Scott) was in a playoff (with Angel Cabrera) but I had to tee off,” recalled Ruffels, now one of Australia’s most promising golfers. “The clubhouse (was) going absolutely nuts, as soon as he holed that putt. I was just trying to get the match finished as quickly as I could so I could watch the replay.”
Every Australian golf-lover is the same. The 10 young amateurs who tee it up tomorrow in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne’s composite course each has memories of waking up in the early hours to catch the television coverage from Augusta National, and it is why the AAC is so special, with its offer of a spot in the following year’s Masters tournament on the line.
Lucas Herbert, the top-ranked player in the field this week, remembers his father waking him early to see Chad Campbell tear up Augusta in the first round in 2009. Antonio Murdaca’s first memory is of Tiger Woods’ amazing chip-in at the 16th green in 2005. Geoff Drakeford remembers waking at 4am to watch. “It’s a crazy time watching that, you get to an airport, halfway through (a round of the Masters), you’re running through the airport and people think you’re missing a flight but you’re just trying to follow the TV.”
Ruffels, who grew up in Florida before his family returned to Australia a few years ago, said this week that it was impossible for players not to think about the prize. “It (Augusta) is probably one of the only golf courses in the world that every one of us can tell you what every hole does. I think we watch it every year. We’ve played the video game on Tiger Woods, we’ve done everything I think. So I think we all we know it pretty well for someone who has never been there.”
As the host nation, Australia is allowed 10 players in the 117-player field this week, but the advantage runs deeper than that. Half of the 10 live in or around Melbourne, and play their golf on the sandbelt area where Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath and a handful of other world class courses are located. Ruffels is a Royal Melbourne member, and both he and Herbert have been out on the course until nightfall in recent weeks, using the torches in their cell phones to help them.
Their coaching staff from Golf Australia’s elite amateur program have mapped out diagrams of every possible pin position with shaded areas for the best areas to putt from, a key at Royal Melbourne. Those diagrams will be in their yardage books this week.
Asked if there was a pressure in playing at home, Lucas Herbert said he felt the support of family and friends. Ruffels agreed: “For sure there’s added pressure, but I don’t think it outweighs the advantage that we have being able to play here all the time.”