Ryan Fox on his All Black father, New Zealand’s sporting excellence and joining fight to save rhinos

Jack Rathborn
The Independent
Ryan Fox is now a third-generation international sportsman in his family: Getty
Ryan Fox is now a third-generation international sportsman in his family: Getty

Ryan Fox fondly remembers the Auckland backyard of his childhood; a haven for potential sporting greatness and possibilities to follow in the footsteps of his legendary father.

The metronomic boot of Grant Fox established himself as an All Blacks hero, delivering the 1987 World Cup, yet a sporting obsession stretched beyond rugby in the Fox household.

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A first-time European Tour winner this year, Fox recalls the freedom he experienced when sampling a variety of disciplines before belatedly pursuing golf. That backyard would host fiercely-fought table tennis matches, while anybody not involved would have their reflexes tested amid rugby, cricket and plastic golf balls whistled through the air from all directions.

It was the first steps for Fox becoming a third-generation national athlete, with his grandfather representing the Black Caps at cricket.

“My parents encouraged us to play everything,” Fox tells The Independent, drenched in the Antalya sunshine at this week’s Turkish Airlines Open. “We had the cricket and rugby connection, but my Mum was a very good tennis player. There was a table tennis table at home, a snooker table, darts, all of that.”

It was initially a familiar grounding for Fox, who plugged away at rugby and cricket at school before belatedly pursuing golf at university, which saw him reach scratch in a hurry. Previously a blossoming cricketer, his thirst for fours and sixes saw him lean on his raw power and timing on the course. Currently gunning to remain No 1 on the European Tour in driving distance for a third successive year, Fox has since harnessed that initial instinct to just smash it. He responded superbly to disappointment at his runner-up finish at the Irish Open last year, clinching his first win at the Super 6 in Perth this year.

And his success has been aided by the parallels between his father’s craft and swinging the club, with the New Zealander tapping into the idiosyncrasies of place kicking throughout a spell alongside his father as his caddy.

“I think it’s very similar in terms of the process: it’s target practice and a stationary ball, which you don’t get in many other sports,” Fox insists. “Dad caddied for me a lot growing up and at the start of my pro career. He was very good at that. It was like having a sports psychologist by my side.

“Most top-level sportsmen have a good idea on how to deal with stuff mentally. So it was nice to have Dad there but I also had access to some of the guys he played with and he is also friends with (2005 US Open winner) Michael Campbell. I could talk to those guys about what it’s like to play at the top level.”

His father concurs, emphasising the mental aspect, which appears to prove decisive in golf more so than most sports.

Ryan Fox won his first European Tour event this year (Getty)
Ryan Fox won his first European Tour event this year (Getty)

“There are a heck of a lot of similarities, not only mechanically but mentally as well,” Fox previously told the Telegraph.

“A lot of it was about the mental preparation, the rehearsal and visualisation that went into trying to successfully kick the ball over the goalposts. That’s the one thing I have been able to help Ryan with is the mental side of sport.

“You are looking for that attitude where you play like you don’t care; block all the stuff out, irrespective of what happened on your last shot or kick.”

Fox has lauded his father for instilling the work ethic, insisting he was never blessed with the most talent. Having embraced that, it allows him to be at peace on the course, accepting the consequences of bad breaks, though he admits his reaction to adversity is vastly different to his father.

“We’re different personalities,” Fox explains. “He’s very analytical, he wanted to know what went wrong if he missed a kick.

“I’m more relaxed, if I hit it right, I’m not too worried. It took a little while to figure out how that worked together, but we had a lot of good times when he caddied of me and I certainly learned a lot.”

Despite his name, Fox’s bag actually adorns the image of a rhino, representing Birdies For Rhinos, a charity established by Justin Walters and Dean Burmester in order to save the animal’s extinction, which will occur in 10 years at the current rate of poaching.

“We’re in the middle of a rhino fight,” Fox explains when touching on his involvement with the charity, which includes Justin Rose in the collective. “They’re such incredible animals, it’s such a shame to slaughter any animal for effectively nothing.

“I heard what they’re already achieving, connected conservation. The first park has all the technology integrated so they can get anywhere in the park within five minutes. They’re doing such a great job, so it was an easy one to be a part of.”

Fox represented New Zealand at the Olympics in Rio, an honour not bestowed on previous Fox generations due to their sports’ ineligibility. The 32-year-old is excited to make his second appearance at the Games next summer in Tokyo, having embraced the experienced last time out.

“I went to see Michael Phelps swim and watched Mo Farah win the 10,000m, which was pretty impressive,” Fox recalls. “It was a very different vibe for us golfers, we play 30 events per year, four majors and other big events, but the majority there had trained four years just for that event.

Ryan Fox plays out of the trees in Antalya (Getty)
Ryan Fox plays out of the trees in Antalya (Getty)

“It was impressive to see their dedication, when they finished it was four years of everything coming out.

“It was great to be part of the team, sit there and watch sports with other athletes, in the swimming for example, they could break down technique and I was told who was falling back in a race, even if that swimmer was leading. It was cool to be fully immersed in sport.”

With New Zealand routinely at the top of the per capita medal table (third in Rio), years of dominance for the All Blacks and the Black Caps reaching multiple World Cup finals, Fox mulls over the secret formula to a nation of just five million.

“I think it’s that we just love sport,” Fox suggests. “You grow up with it from such a young age.

“It’s not just rugby, we punch above our weight because we love it so much.

“We’re so competitive. You learn to hate losing. You just want to win, a country of not even five million, there’s just innate competitiveness there.”

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