Matthew Ruel doesn't remember when he first discovered golf, but his father, John, sure does. He noticed at an early age that his son had good hand-eye coordination, so he put a toy golf club in his 2-year-old's hands and let him swing away.
"My wife went out and got some of those plastic golf clubs with the oversized heads,'' John Ruel said. "He broke the head off them in an hour. Then we got him some regular-sized plastic clubs and it took him two days to break those.
"Finally I went to a golf shop and got him one of those 'My first club and putter' sets. He was in the back yard swinging that club for hours.''
It didn't hurt that the Ruels live off the 17th hole at East Lake Woodlands. While not members of the club, Matthew would go out on the course near dusk and chip and putt until he could barely see. John Ruel, a decent golfer himself, started to take Matthew to par-3 courses like Countryside Executive and St. Andrews Links in Dunedin.
That led to local junior golf tournaments. Now 11 and a rising sixth-grader at Espiritu Santo Catholic School in Safety Harbor, Ruel has been tearing up the local junior circuit. He recently won the U.S. Kids junior golf tournament at Tampa Palms by eight shots. He teamed with John Johnson to win the Gary Koch Pro Junior tournament at Seminole Lakes. He also had 73 at Belleair Country Club to finish second in another U.S. Kids junior tour event.
"I like the competition more than anything,'' said Matthew Ruel, who played on his school's middle school team despite being in fifth grade last year. "I like the challenge.''
Ruel has kept busy this summer, playing in tournaments just about every week. He will slow down to about two or three tournaments a month once school starts. His next tournament will be at Innisbrook's Highlands Course on Saturday.
Ruel also plays recreational soccer in Oldsmar. But it is on the golf course where he feels most comfortable. One of his bigger wins came against his dad at Lansbrook Golf Course. Both played from the men's tees, and Matthew shot 73 while John shot 75.
"I'm not a bad golfer, but he beat me straight up,'' John Ruel said. "We both played pretty well that day.''
Matthew has his sights set on bigger things than beating his dad. He said Tiger Woods is his favorite golfer, and he'd like one day to join Woods on the PGA Tour.
"I want to be a pro golfer,'' Ruel said. "I think about that a lot.''
Ryan Ashburn of Seminole advanced to the semifinals of the Junior Match Play Championship at Eagle Creek Golf and Country Club in Naples on July 27-30. Ashburn, playing in the girls 13-18 flight, won two matches before falling in a semifinal match. She defeated Callie Kitchens of Tallahassee 6 and 4 in the round of the 16 and defeated defending champion Erica Popson of Davenport in 21 holes. She then lost to Stephanie Carlozzi of Naples in 19 holes.
• The session-ending tournament for Session Two of the Largo Golf Course Junior Golf Program was held Thursday, July 30. A total of 32 boys and girls, ages 6 to 17 participated in the tournament. The boys 6-9 winner was Luis Valdez, who shot 33 for six holes. The girls 6-9 winner was Taylor Mendelsohn, who shot 29. Andrew Tuttle won the boys 10-13 age group with 36 for nine holes. Jordan Bayley won the girls 10-13 group with 48.
• The Florida State Women's Golf Association held a four-ball stroke championship on Aug. 1-2 at Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando. Danielle Jackson and Morgan Jackson of Seminole finished fifth with a two-day score of 141. Tama Caldabaugh of Ponte Vedra Beach and Taffy Brower of Boynton Beach won the tournament with 135.
Jessica Stefan of Pasadena won the 12-year-old age group in Longboat Key. Stefan defeated Sofie Garpered of Sweden in the semifinal 7-6, 6-0. She then defeated Reagan Robinson of Texas in the final 6-1, 6-0.
• St. Petersburg's Jerica Coley won the girls 18 singles championship at the Impact Training Local Back to School tournament at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey on Aug. 1-3. Coley defeated Clearwater's Natalie Boruk 6-3, 6-0 in the final match. In the same tournament, Palm Harbor's Alexandra Kitchen won the girls 16 singles title with a 6-2, 6-0 win over top seed Angela Wellman. Jack Ledford-Stover of St. Petersburg won the boys 10 singles championship.
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8810.