Ruan De Smidt, a multiple winner on the Sunshine Tour, is off to do the hard yards all again, writes MIKE GREEN in Compleat Golfer.
Ruan’s going back to school, because that’s where he first shone. Qualifying School, that is, and this time it will be on the European Tour.
The 27-year-old, who plays out of Krugersdorp Golf Club, has won four times on the Sunshine Tour, and when pressed to evaluate which of those wins means the most to him, he chooses the one that doesn’t even count as a victory on his Sunshine Tour profile: he took the honours in November 2011 at the Sunshine Tour Q-School to earn his playing privileges for the 2012 season.
He went on to finish 30th on the Order of Merit that year, a pretty good feat for a rookie. ‘The best win for me was Q-School,’ he says. ‘That was my first win. I didn’t win as an amateur. I went to Q-School just hoping to get my card.’
His final-round 67 beat out players of the calibre of Danie van Tonder, Michael Hollick and Jared Harvey. ‘The guys I qualified with were really good players, so I was just happy I was up there with them,’ he says.
In a rookie year in which everything Van Tonder did was feted – he did take the Rookie of the Year title ahead of De Smidt – it was De Smidt who came through with that rarest of feats: a win in his first season on Tour.
‘Winning as a rookie was also special,’ he says. ‘After that, I went through two or three years that weren’t great. Then winning at Lost City in 2015 made me realise I can play out here, and getting two wins in three weeks last year made me feel like I belong.’
So, while it seems from the outside that De Smidt is happily ensconced on the Sunshine Tour, the ambition to break into the European scene burns bright within him. ‘I’m definitely going to Europe this year [for stage two of the Q-School],’ he says. ‘It’s expensive – you’ve got living costs here, and then taking out R50 000 or R60 000 to go over is a big risk. Without a sponsor, that’s hard work.
‘I love the Sunshine Tour, but I hope I can get into Europe and play there too. It’s always been one of my goals to get abroad, as it is for any professional golfer. I want to get into the top 50 or 100 in the world.
‘I still need to sort out a lot of things before I get there, though. But I’ve made the decision, I got into Second Stage, so I’m definitely going. I’m hitting my irons nicely and my short game is good. I’m just struggling a bit with driving. I think if I sort that out I should be good again. I was struggling at the beginning of the year with the putter, but it felt a lot better over the last little while.’
De Smidt has done a good job of building on what he has achieved during his five and a half years on the Sunshine Tour, and highlights what he has been able to take from that time. ‘We’re very lucky in South Africa to be able to play on the Tour almost throughout the whole year and stay competitive,’ he says.
‘The golfers here are great, so every week is competitive. The guys coming back from Europe definitely help the strength of the fields. Everybody wants to compete against them and see where they stand.’
De Smidt didn’t have the strongest start to the 2017-18 Sunshine Tour season. A few missed cuts have seen him go home earlier than he would have liked, and he is not as high on the Order of Merit as he feels he could be. His best finish on that money list came last season, where his victories at the Sun Carnival City Challenge and the Sun Boardwalk Challenge saw him occupy 21st spot.
The eternal struggle to keep his game in shape is one every player experiences and De Smidt doesn’t mince his words when he discusses it. ‘It’s a shit game – you can put that in there!’ he laughs. ‘Once you think you’re close to where you need to be, all of a sudden it kicks you from behind again and then you’ve got to try to start over.
‘It’s the love of the game that keeps me in it. All of us know that when it goes bad, it can change in a week. We all hope the next week will be different.’
Part of De Smidt’s process is playing regularly with his brother Darin, who is also trying to go down the road of turning professional. ‘My brother is an unbelievable player,’ he says. ‘I play with him at Krugersdorp. He isn’t taking my money yet, but it’s a close game. I get him down the stretch. I think I’m just more comfortable at the end than he is. He tries too hard to beat me and if you force a couple of things, it becomes a lot harder than it should be.’
Perhaps therein lies the way for De Smidt to keep his sanity and make going back to school in Europe as successful as his one shot at it in South Africa. He is a pretty relaxed player, though, able to keep smiling between shots and then refocusing on the task at hand when the next one needs to be played.
So, keeping his head above water when things seem to be going wrong comes naturally to De Smidt, and no one will be surprised should he win again soon on the Sunshine Tour.
And if he graduates near the top of the class at the European Tour Q-School, it won’t be much of a surprise either.
DE SMIDT BY NUMBERS
4 – Career wins on the Sunshine Tour
17 – Most consecutive cuts made on the Sunshine Tour
25 – Times he has finished in the top 10 at Sunshine Tour events
60 – He came within one shot of joining the fabled ‘59 club’ with a 60
on the Sunshine Tour
3.1m – Sunshine Tour career prize money in rands
SUNSHINE TOUR CV
2012 – Suncoast Classic (1st), Zimbabwe Open (3rd), Big Easy Tour – Houghton (T3rd), Big Easy Tour – Observatory (3rd)
2013 – Investec Royal Swazi Open (2nd), Sun City Challenge (T5th)
2014 – Lombard Insurance Classic (T2nd), Vodacom Origins Final (T4th), Nedbank Affinity Cup (T5th)
2015 – Nedbank Affinity Cup (1st)
2016 – Sun Carnival City Challenge (T8th),Sun Boardwalk Challenge (1st), Sun Wild Coast Sun Challenge (2nd), Investec Royal Swazi Open (5th), Vodacom Origins – Sishen (T3rd)
2017 – Investec Royal Swazi Open (T4th), Sun Carnival City Challenge (T8th)
ORDER OF MERIT
2012 – R496 803 (30th)
2013 – R652 280 (29th)
2014 – R590 124 (31st)
2015 – R415 501 (42nd)
2016-17 – R854 701 (21st)
2017-18 – R113 097 (26th)
– This article first appeared in the September issue of Compleat Golfer