A glance at Ryan Fox’s performances since Covid-19 rocked the world would not particularly nudge anybody towards further investigation. The 35-year-old made 15 cuts from the 20 European Tour events he played during 2021 but recorded just two top 10 finishes.
He came 82nd in the order of merit, 24 places lower than in 2020. His annual prize money remained consistent at just under €400,000, but was still a considerable drop from what he had accumulated in the three seasons between 2017 and 2019. He has slipped outside the world’s top 200.
The New Zealander is keen to insist many people have had it far, far worse during the pandemic but his country’s strict border controls have made life far from straightforward for Fox, his wife, Anneke, and their 13-month-old daughter, Isabel. Or, as he puts it: “Brutal.”
At the end of Fox’s run in the Middle East – he is now at Yas Links, competing in the Abu Dhabi Championship – he will return to New Zealand for a fourth mandatory hotel quarantine. This time it will be for 10 days, at least, as opposed to 14.
“I’m in a good place, I know I’ve got a job,” he says. “There are some Kiwis overseas that are not as well placed as me, that don’t have a job. It was frustrating enough at the start and it’s probably got worse. Our system has got harder and harder. We finally, just before Christmas, had some help. I think we get 22 spots a month as individual athletes trying to get into the country.
“There’s less and less hotel spaces. We went from basically first in, first served to where you put your passport number in a system at a certain time and that number gets randomised. You get in a queue to book a room. They will release dates for maybe three months and if the date you want is gone then you can’t go back at all.
“I spent the whole back end of last year, me and my wife, trying to get in this lottery system to get a space to go home for Christmas. I missed a couple of events at the end of the year because that was the only time we could get home. Hopefully, when we go back this will be the last time that I do it. It’s been an incredibly frustrating 18 months. I find it really, really hard in quarantine by myself.”
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Fox and his wife have a small flat in London as an alternative base. The problem there is the lack of broader family backup with everyone else in New Zealand. The newly named DP World Tour’s span from South Africa to the Middle East to mainland Europe means England is not always a convenient home.
“It was really tough on my wife last year having four months where she was with a baby 24 hours a day,” Fox says. “I was out playing golf. She travelled to some events but just not being able to have any support was pretty tough. We were desperate to get home at the end of the year. Thankfully we did manage to get a spot to do that but it was a pretty messy way to get it.”
Fox is of illustrious stock. His father, Grant, is a famed All Black. The late Merv Wallace, who played Test cricket for New Zealand, was Ryan’s grandfather. Not only is it admirable that Ryan has forged his own sporting pathway, he has always been one of the most engaging individuals on tour. He has been able to compartmentalise life in a tough professional environment and maintain domestic harmony.
“Back home a lot of people think they should just shut the borders,” Fox says. “You don’t get Covid if you don’t let anyone in.
“I’ve personally not caught flak for travelling but there’s an undercurrent of: ‘Why are people travelling in the middle of the pandemic?’ Well, it’s very results driven. If I don’t play or I don’t play well, I don’t have a job and I can’t support my family. I feel like I don’t have a choice.
“If I miss these events, it’s a big opportunity wasted and it puts a lot of pressure on later in the year. You know you’ve got no choice but you’re caught between a rock and a hard place not knowing when you can get back, if you can get back.”
In keeping with his character, Fox supplies broader context. “You look at some of the stories of pregnant woman getting stuck overseas,” he says. “People who are living illegally with no money in a different country, applying for an emergency spot and getting told just to go to another country. These people are a lot worse off than me. People missing dying relatives, funerals.There’s a lot of people who have a lot tougher stories than what I have.”
It just seems fair to wish Fox well. Making the cut here at Yas Links has done him no harm at all.