Southern California’s weather makes it an ideal place to for a golfer to hone his skills.
It’s a bit ironic that Camarillo native Johnny Ruiz heated up his golf career by heading north to compete in chilly Canada.
After playing local mini tour events for a few years, Ruiz decided to go through the Q School for the Mackenzie Tour (PGA Tour Canada). The former Camarillo High star tied for second at the qualifying event to earn full status for the first eight tournaments in 2017.
Eight turned out to be more than enough for Ruiz.
In the third tournament of the year, Ruiz tied for second, putting him seventh on the tour’s money list. The goal for every player on the Mackenzie Tour is to finish within the top five on the money list at year’s end, because all five players gain status on the Web.com Tour for the following year.
A few weeks after his second-place finish, Ruiz rallied from three shots down on the final day of the Staal Foundation Open to win his first Canadian Tour title. It propelled Ruiz to the top of the money list. At year’s end, Ruiz was third on the list with $83,157 to secure Web.com playing privileges for 2018.
While finishing in the top five was his goal when he left for Canada last spring, Ruiz admitted the level success was a bit of a surprise. Two years ago Ruiz played four events in Canada and missed the cut in all four.
“I knew I was playing well going into the season, but I also knew I had to prove I could control my nerves and control my ball flight,” Ruiz said. “So it was really satisfying to go out and play really well.
“In 11 events, I had five top-10 finishes, including a win and two seconds. That’s pretty good playing but it also shows how good the competition is on the Mackenzie Tour because I was still only third on the money list.”
The night before his win, Ruiz was talking with swing coach George Gankas. When Ruiz told Gankas how badly he wanted to win, Gankas told him he had no chance because he was putting too much internal pressure on himself.
One part of Ruiz’s mental game the two have worked on his Ruiz’s willingness to accept any outcome for every shot and every tournament.
“As soon as he is OK with all the outcomes, he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself and that frees him up to go out and play his best,” Gankas said.
About 10 minutes after they hung up the phone, Gankas called Ruiz back and told him he had talked with two psychics and both had guaranteed Ruiz would finish first the next day.
“For some reason that relaxed me,” Ruiz said. “George telling me the psychics predicted I would win allowed me not even think about things the next day. I went out and played and didn’t worry because I knew I was going to win.”
While his win was the highlight of the season, his second-place finish at the Ontario Championship was perhaps the important performance of his season. Going into the event, Ruiz knew if he could post a top-5 finish it would virtually guarantee he would finish in the top five on the money list.
He went out and shot 65-67-65, giving him a two-shot lead heading into the final day. In the final round, Ruiz didn’t play great, shooting and even-par 72, but he did manage to make 25-foot birdie on the final hole to get into a playoff with eventual winner Kramer Hickok.
“I proved a lot to myself by making that putt to force the playoff,” Ruiz said. “I also proved to myself I can do it when I need it.”
During the season, Ruiz was one of three Mackenzie Tour players who played in the PGA Tour’s RBA Canadian Open.
While he said he was extremely nervous on the first tee, Ruiz managed to calm down and shoot an opening round 5-under 67 that left him two shots off the lead. While he shot a 2-over 74 in the second round and just missed the cut, the experience of a successful PGA tour debut provided Ruiz with confidence.
“It was a great experience,” Ruiz said. “I know I can shoot low on a PGA Tour course and hang with those guys out there. And seeing how a PGA Tour event is run makes you want to get back there.”
If Ruiz is able to finish in the top 25 on the Web.com money list, he will earn his PGA Tour card for the following season. It’s the same route that former Westlake High standout Brandon Hagy used to reach the PGA Tour.
Before he makes his Web.com debut Ruiz will compete in the several events, including the Aruba Cup, a team competition with players from the Mackenzie Tour taking on players from the PGA Tour’s South American Tour. It is a Ryder Cup format.
“I’m taking the same approach there that I used last season,” Ruiz said of his next challenges. “I took a little break and now I am back to work. Each step gets harder so I know I need to get a little better at everything in order to get where I want. I know what success this season can lead to and I want to get there.”