Ruan de Smidt: The eternal struggle

Aug 10, 2017 | Features

He’s going back to school, because that’s where Ruan de Smidt 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 victory that doesn’t even count as a victory on his profile on the Sunshine Tour website: He took the honours in November 2011 in Bloemfontein in the Sunshine Tour Qualifying 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 Tour School,” he says. “That was the first win ever for me. I didn’t win as an amateur. I went to Tour 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 that I qualified with – there were some really good players, so I was just happy that I was up there with them,” he says.

In a rookie year in which all that Danie 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 the tour. “Winning as a rookie was also very 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 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 scene in Europe burns bright within him. “I’m definitely going to Europe this year,” he says. “It’s just 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 start playing there as well. It’s always been a goal of mine to get abroad. If you’re a professional, that’s the goal and also 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. But I’ve made the decision, I get into Second Stage so I’m definitely going. I just need to sort out the driver and then I hope the whole game will come together. I’m hitting my irons really nicely and my short game is good.

“I’m struggling a bit with the driving. I think if I sort that out then I should be good again. I’ve been struggling from the beginning of the year with the putter, but it felt a lot better over the last little while.”

He’s built really well on what he has achieved over his five-plus years on the Sunshine Tour, and acknowledges 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 golfers, so every week is always very competitive. The guys coming back from Europe occasionally definitely helps the strength of the fields. Everybody wants to compete against them and see where they stand.”

It hasn’t been the greatest start for him in 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 up on the Order of Merit as he feels he could be. His best finish on that money list came last season, where those victories in the Sun Carnival City Challenge and the Sun Boardwalk Challenge saw him occupy 21dt spot.

The eternal struggle to keep the game in shape is one every player experiences, and De Smidt doesn’t mince 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 then, all of a sudden, it kicks you from behind again and then you’ve got to try and start over.

“It’s just 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 that next week is a different week.”

Part of his process is playing often with his brother Darin, who is also trying to go down the road to turning professional. “My brother is an unbelievable player,” he says. “I play with him at Krugersdorp. He doesn’t take 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 try and force a couple of things, it’s a lot harder than it should be.”

And perhaps, therein lies the way for De Smidt to keep his sanity and make going back to school Europe as successful as his one shot at it back in South Africa was. 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 him, 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 in the European Tour Qualifying School, it won’t be much of a surprise either.

You may also like…