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Ryan Fox: ‘The Masters has always been on my bucket list’

A fine 2022 saw the New Zealander jump from outside the top 200 in the world to a career-high 28th. More importantly, it booked him his dream debut at Augusta. So what is he expecting? And whose brains will he pick? Alex Perry found out

 

When your dad was a vital part of a Rugby World Cup-winning team and your grandfather was your country’s Test match cricket captain, there’s a bit of pressure on you and your sporting prowess as a youngster.

“I always wanted to be a sportsman of some description,” Ryan Fox tells NCG as he tests new Srixon equipment under the Spanish sun. “Growing up, rugby and cricket were my main two, obviously, so I always had a cricket bat in my hand, and I always kicked a ball around in winter. I always played golf as a kid. When I was three or four my grandad built me a set out of bamboo and blocks of wood. 

“I had too many concussions to play rugby, and I didn’t enjoy men’s cricket as much as I enjoyed playing at school with my mates, so I gave that up.

“When I left school, I played off two but hadn’t really played any tournament golf other than as a junior at my home course, which was just a hit and giggle with my mates, so I got some coaching and tried some tournament golf and absolutely loved it. 

“A couple of years down the track I went from full time at uni to part time and I managed to make the New Zealand squad. That’s when I first thought golf might have been an option as a career. Thankfully, I found that I probably made the right choice in the end.”

In terms of his professional career, Fox was a relatively late bloomer. He made the step up from the amateur ranks at the age of 25 and he spent his late 20s playing on the PGA Tour of Australasia, its feeder tours, and the Challenge Tour.

It was a profitable period for Fox that yielded 12 wins – including a first European Tour victory at the short-lived Super 6 match play event in Perth.

But it was 2022 where Fox’s career really started to take off. Just weeks after his 35th birthday, Fox won his second title on what was now the DP World Tour when he romped to a five-shot victory at the Ras Al Khaimah Classic. He then finished a close runner-up to Sam Horsfield at the Soudal Open, before losing out to Victor Perez in a playoff at the Dutch Open. Fox had another second-place finish at the Irish Open before edging out Callum Shinkwin and Alex Noren to lift the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

That win came just days after missing out on Trevor Immelman’s International Presidents Cup team. So was there a bit of extra motivation in it?

“I’d like to say yes,” Fox explains. “But there wasn’t. I was disappointed to not make the team, but I also completely understand why I didn’t get picked. I hadn’t played much, I had taken a bit of a break after The Open so I was perhaps out of sight, out of mind. 

“During Dunhill week I was more worried that I’d hurt my knee two weeks previous, I’d lost my golf bag going to France, and my parents were up for a month to watch four golf tournaments and had only seen three rounds of golf at that point. I was more worried about just getting them some weekend golf! 

“To get a win there, with them watching, and with my wife and little one there, was pretty special. 

“While it was nice to – I wouldn’t say to stick it to anyone – but more if I had made the team that I was still in good form and I would have been able to contribute, as well as play at that level. So for myself, mentally, that win meant a lot, but there wasn’t any extra motivation from missing out on the Presidents Cup.”

Rory McIlroy and Ryan Fox

Fox’s stellar form meant he entered the season-ending DP World Tour Championship behind only Rory McIlroy. A tie for 19th was enough for him to cling on to that position in the Race to Dubai and the player that started the year ranked 213th in the world was now in a career-high 28th.

And with that comes the invite for which they all crave. Fox’s first Masters was on the horizon.

His major career to that point wasn’t really much to write home about. A smattering of missed cuts and top-50 finishes – the best of which was a tie for 16th at Royal Portrush in 2019 – have been the order of the day to date, but now Fox is a top 30 player in the world and with that comes certain expectations at the game’s biggest tournaments.

And there is no golf course on the planet where he would rather get off the mark.

“The US majors were always a lot easier to watch for us in New Zealand,” Fox explains. “They generally finish in the morning the next day so you can watch. 

“The Masters was one I always used to get up for. I’d get up at five or six o’clock in the morning to catch the last groups teeing off, and then you could watch the whole coverage from there on in. 

“The Open was always the hardest one to watch because it was in the middle of the night. When I was a bit older, I pulled a couple of all-nighters, or at least attempted to,  but you would ruin yourself for a week after watching it! 

“Generally I used to watch The Open until about midnight, fall asleep on the couch, then watch a few holes at the end. So it was always the Masters for me. Growing up, that was the one I watched the most. 

“Having it at the same golf course every year generally made it easier to get involved in, and there was always something about the coverage that just felt special.”

Fox describes himself as “pretty pumped” ahead of his Masters debut.

“But,” he adds, “I’m not sure who’s more pumped – me or my mates who I promised tickets for when I qualified! There has already been a fair bit of chat about that in our WhatsApp group.” 

Joking aside, Fox says “it will be pretty cool to share that experience with mates and family”. 

“I’ve played a few majors now,” he explains. “But the Masters is the one that I’ve had on my bucket list for a long time.”

So who will caddie for him in the Par-3 Tournament? “My wife and dad can fight over that,” he jokes. “I’m not sure who will win that, actually…”

As for the United States’ most famous 18 holes, Fox says “it’s hard to know” if Augusta will suit his game.

“I’ve heard it’s very different in real life to how it looks on TV – there’s a lot more elevation change,” he says. “I was talking to Min Woo [Lee] and he said Augusta felt like it a bit more room, so it might suit my game more than, say, a US Open venue, but hopefully I get a chance to see it before the actual week of the Masters just to get a feel for it and maybe get rid of some of those jitters beforehand. 

“I’m just super excited.”

Steve Williams and Ryan Fox

One could argue that the New Zealander who has tasted the most success in the majors is Tiger Woods’ long-term caddie, Steve Williams, who won four Masters alone – three on Woods’ bag and a fourth alongside Adam Scott in 2013. 

And Fox says Williams is “the one guy whose brains I will pick a lot”. 

“He’s got a fair bit of experience around there!” he adds. “I’ve had him caddie for me a few times at home and I know him really well. He’ll definitely be happy to help out and impart as much knowledge as he’s got. There’s a fair bit! 

“In terms of practice rounds, I’ve never been one to chase them. I did at the first couple of majors I played, and almost got a bit too hyped up for who I played with. I was happy to just play with whoever, or guys that I know well, and just try to have a bit of fun. I find if you take it a bit too seriously, you wear yourself out for the week. 

“I’ll try and play with a couple of the Aussie guys. I’ve played a bit of golf with Scotty so we’re looking at if I could get a chance to have a practice round with him. That would be great. 

Speaking of “Scotty”, where was Fox a decade ago when he became Australia’s first and – to date – only Masters champion?

“I was actually in Australia when he won,” he reflects. “We were at a friend’s house on the Gold Coast and we were supposed to be leaving to go to the airport – but we were all hanging on to watch the end of the playoffs and hope he got it done. 

“Obviously there was the Kiwi connection there as well with Steve caddying for him, so I watched every shot and it was pretty cool to be in Australia for it. 

“It was huge when it happened.” 

So what will 2023 bring for Fox? Is a permanent move to the US on the cards?

“I’m going to get the opportunity to play a bit more over there this year, which I’m looking forward to,” he says. “There will be a few tournaments I’ll get to play that I watched growing up as a kid – obviously the Masters being one one, as well as The Players and a couple of others too. It’s pretty cool to be able to do that. 

“I still see myself playing on the DP World Tour going forward, but if I got the chance to play on the PGA Tour full time I’d also definitely take that. That was the dream growing up. 

“In an ideal world, I’d be like Tommy [Fleetwood] or Tyrrell [Hatton] and play both tours and get to travel the world, because that’s what I really enjoy about being out here – the different cultures, playing in lots of different countries and lots of different styles of golf. The DP World Tour is great for that and I certainly don’t want to give that up.” 

For now, though, the focus is on Augusta.

“In terms of goals, I’ll probably just be happy to be there,” he jokes. “But with how I’ve played this past year, I feel like I can compete with the best players in the world if I play well. 

“But the majors are a different kettle of fish and I’ve always heard Augusta is a pretty tough golf course to go to first up as well. 

“I’m not going to change anything or try to put too many expectations on myself. Just to be there and experience it and be a part of the history of the game is going to be pretty cool.”  

And perhaps a Green Jacket at the end of it?

“It would be nice!”

That’s one way of putting it.

Quick-fire Masters quiz

How many of Augusta’s holes can you name?

“Not many! I know there’s Azalea… there’s Holly. I’m not good with that, to be honest.”

What is the famous sandwich served at Augusta?

“Pimento cheese.”

Which holes make up Amen Corner?

“Eleven to 13.”

What are the fans called?

“Patrons.”

What are patrons banned from doing on site?

“Using cell phones, I know that. You can’t take your own chairs in. And I think they banned running, too? Which is fine, because none of my mates can run anyway…”

What’s in Ryan Fox’s bag?

Ryan Fox was talking to NCG as a Srixon ambassador.

“I’ve always had a very similar setup in my bag. I’ve got new stuff in at the moment with the driver, 3-wood, and irons, but it’s more of a natural change with the new models coming out and stuff being better than the previous models. 

“But I’ve never been one to change the bounce on my wedges or do anything funky like that. 

“It might be one for when I get to play in the States a bit more, potentially taking out the 2-iron and putting something else in for the longer rough and trying to get some height into the far-5 holes. I know Matt Fitzpatrick has a seven-wood in than the bag and that seems to be relatively common in the States. 

“But it would have to take something pretty drastic for me to change my set-up!”

Driver: Srixon ZX5 MKII
Fairway woods: Srixon ZX MKII
Irons: Srixon ZX7 MKII
Wedges: Cleveland RTX Zipcore
Putter: Fine Tuned Prototype
Ball: Srixon Z-Star XV
Apparel: Peter Millar
Shoes: FootJoy

Alex Perry

Alex Perry

Alex has been the editor of National Club Golfer since 2017. A Devonian who enjoys wittering on about his south west roots, Alex moved north to join NCG after more than a decade in London, the last five of which were with ESPN. Away from golf, Alex follows Torquay United and spends too much time playing his PlayStation or his guitar and not enough time practising his short game.

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