Ryan Fox: Heir to cricket and rugby excellence, the New Zealand golfer is charting his own course



CNN

Pursuing a career in professional sports is difficult. Following in your family’s footsteps is difficult.

Now imagine doing both at the same time.

For Ryan Fox, assuming the legacy of two generations of New Zealand sports greats were a daily occurrence long before he became one of the best in the world golfers.

First, there was Merv Wallace. To Fox he was a grandfather, but to the rest of the country he was a renowned former national team cricketer and later coach.

Although a prolific batting career in Auckland was disrupted at international level by the Second World War, with Wallace only playing 13 Test matches, his legacy in the sport was still remarkable. When he died aged 91 in 2008, an obituary described him as “one of the finest drummers New Zealand has ever produced”.

Then came Wallace’s son-in-law Grant Fox, a name that needs no introduction to anyone who knows rugby.

Winner of the first World Cup in 1987, the legendary fly-half played 56 times for the All Blacks, earning a reputation as one of the game’s greatest goalscorers before retiring as their best country test point marker.

Both Wallace and Fox were individually honored during Queen Elizabeth’s reign for services to their sports.

If that wasn’t enough for the family sporting heritage, Wallace’s brother and son – George and Gregory – both played top class cricket for Auckland.

Grant Fox kicks the ball during the All Blacks tour of Britain in 1989.

Now there’s Grant’s son, Ryan. It’s a tough family act to follow, but with a 26th place in the world and three DP World Tour wins under his belt, the 35-year-old is looking pretty good.

“It’s pretty cool to be the third generation in my family to represent New Zealand,” Fox told CNN’s The Jazzy Golfer. “I don’t think there would be many other families who could say that.

“I’m sure there are families who have done it on the same sport, but different sports, that’s pretty cool.”

Growing up, cricket and rugby seemed natural choices to Fox, and he played both during his school years.

He didn’t even pick up a club until he was 10 years old. In true family tradition, it was to play a game in Auckland among sporting royalty; dad Grant plus cricket trio Ian Botham, Martin Crowe and Mark Nicholas. Soon after, Wallace made his grandson his first wooden clubs, and Fox was hooked.

Weekends and school holidays would be consumed by golf, and when the teenager skipped parties to hit the fairways, he found he was in deep.

By the time he was at the University of Auckland to begin a law degree, golf was rapidly overtaking studies, along with other sports.

Men’s cricket didn’t offer the same fun, and like rugby, “too many concussions”.

“Looking back, golf was the sport I loved the most,” Fox said.

“I always wanted to be a professional sportsman, it just took me a while to figure out what sport it would be.”

Fox lines up a putt at the 2008 New Zealand Amateur Championship.

Not playing his first tournament until he was 18, Fox was a late bloomer, but has largely made up for lost time. Two years later he made the national team and, aged 24, in 2011 he won the New Zealand Stroke Play, with none other than dad as his caddy. Within a year, he had turned professional.

Having started on the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Challenge Tour, in 2019 Fox was a regular face on the European Tour, floating around the world No. 100 mark. Yet after his maiden Tour win at World Super 6 Perth in February, that ranking had slipped steadily to No. 211 at the start of 2022.

The travel implications of New Zealand’s strict pandemic response have seen Fox’s tournament appearances plummet, with the birth of his daughter in December 2020 having a similar impact on his playing mindset.

“When you add that on top of all the travel restrictions and not sure if I could get home to see them [family]I would have left the house not knowing when I would see them again,” Fox said.

“I think it’s pretty hard to play good golf on the course with all of that in mind.”

Grant Fox caddyed for his son at various tournaments early in his career.

To say Fox has bounced back since is, even in his own words, an understatement.

After taking a dominant five-stroke win at the Ras Al Khaimah Classic in February, he earned seven top-10 finishes before claiming more silverware at the famous Alfred Dunhill Links Championship earlier this month.

His earnings of around €2,621,000 ($2,627,000) from 22 European Tour events this season mark an increase of nearly double the purses earned in the previous three campaigns.

Fox celebrates winning the Ras Al Khaimah Classic in the United Arab Emirates.

Only Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick sit above him in the European Tour rankings and ranked 26th in the world, he is the only New Zealand golfer in the top 250. Overall, Fox thinks he comfortably plays the best golf of his career.

“When you take the elements off the golf course, it definitely makes it easier to play well and I think that’s been the biggest thing this year,” he said.

“I’ve had patches where I’ve fought in tournaments and felt like I’ve been up against the best players in the world, but it certainly hasn’t been consistent.

“I felt a lot more comfortable there, a lot more comfortable wrestling and I felt week after week that the game of golf is never that far away, which has definitely been a a pleasant place.”

Fox poses with the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship trophy with his mother Adele Fox, father Grant Fox, wife Anneke Fox and their daughter Isabel Fox on the Swilcan Bridge in St. Andrews.

Given his form, a few eyebrows were raised when Fox didn’t receive a Presidents Cup summoned by the captain of the international team Trevor Immelman before the September tournament.

The New Zealander has since expressed his disappointment at missing out on the opportunity, although he is determined to use the injury as motivation to pursue other goals – most importantly, stamping his ticket to The Masters at Augusta in April. .

“I checked off the goal of getting into the top 50, but the most important thing would be to stay in the top 50 for the end of the year and get that invitation to the Masters for next year. Another win would definitely help secure that,” he said.

“Obviously there are a lot of good players and a lot more golf to come, but hopefully the good form this year will continue.”

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