New Zealand’s Ryan Fox celebrates victory on the 18th green at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Photo / AP
Ryan Fox is all but certain to miss next year’s New Zealand Golf Open as he pursues his dream of playing on the PGA Tour.
The New Zealand Open at Millbrook from March 2-5, which
returns for the first time since Covid, would up until two weeks ago have been one of the first tournaments the 35-year-old Fox would have penciled into his calendar.
But the world No 23’s triumph at the Alfred Dunhill Masters in Scotland earlier this month, in which he pocketed NZ$1.46m, means Fox is now certain to be ranked inside the world’s top 50 at the start of next season, guaranteeing entry into numerous high -profile tournaments in the US.
Fox will be qualified for the Masters at Augusta (April 6-9), and the Players Championship (March 9-12), but the clash with the New Zealand Open comes with the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, which carries a purse of US$20 million.
While Fox hasn’t made a decision, he’s indicated playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the first time is probably too good an opportunity to turn down.
“I’ve now got the opportunity to take that path to the PGA Tour which has been the more traditional pathway from Europe – get inside the world’s top 50 to play the events that have a top 50 category. If you play well enough in them you can play your way onto the PGA Tour,” Fox said.
Fox will play at Augusta for the first time as he sets his sights on all four majors. With three of them (also the PGA Championship and US Open) in the States, playing more in the US is essential to give him a better chance of success in the sport’s pinnacle events.
Fox indicated he is likely to start the new year playing the DP World Tour’s Middle East swing after a Christmas break in New Zealand, his first opportunity in the US is likely to be at Bay Hill, which would rule out the New Zealand Open.
“To get a chance to play a tournament like that is going to be pretty hard to turn down,” Fox said.
“I’ll certainly give them [NZ Open organisers] plenty of notice. I have sort of hinted that that may be the case to Michael Glading (tournament director) and John Hart (tournament chairman).
“From their point of view they completely understand which is fantastic. And, no, it’s certainly not set in stone at the moment; a lot can change between now and March next year.
“But it’s such a big opportunity and something that I’ve been dreaming of for a very long time. As big as an event the New Zealand Open is for me, it’s hard to turn down that kind of opportunity.
“But I know I will hopefully go with the blessing of the guys from New Zealand and also the New Zealand public if I do happen to skip it to go and play at Bay Hill.”
Hart said they understand Fox’s decision.
“We were delighted to see Ryan win the Alfred Dunhill tournament at St Andrews and we fully understand that Ryan needs to chase his PGA Tour dream. The opportunities that have now opened up for him are not ones we would expect him to pass up on. He has been an enormous supporter of our event for many years, and we have no doubt that he will continue to support us in the years ahead whenever he can.”
The New Zealand Open will still have a recent Kiwi winner in the field with organizers announcing today that Senior PGA champion Steven Alker will play at the event.
This week in Spain, Fox has been grouped with US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, the world No 10, and Aussie Min Woo Lee for the first two rounds at Valderrama, the most high-profile grouping in the field.
It’s something he knows he needs to get used to.
“I’ve had a little bit more of it this year, but yeah, it’s nice to think that’s helpful playing in the big groups, you get used to the big crowds and everything the first couple of days and that can only be good for the golf game going forward. Valderrama is one of those courses I’ve probably got a bit of a love-hate relationship with.
“I hated it the first time I came here and sort of loved it a bit more last year. It’s one of those courses you can get your ass kicked really quickly without doing much wrong.”
Fox is third in the DP World Tour standings, just behind Fitzpatrick, and although Rory McIlroy has a handy points lead, the Kiwi is in a position to claim the Order of Merit title if he can win the DP Tour World Championship in Dubai in November .
The win in Scotland where he held off McIlroy has done wonders for Fox’s confidence and self-belief that he can compete with and beat the best players in the world when he eventually starts playing regularly in the US.
“I think it’s a little bit of getting used to the different conditions and stuff like that. I haven’t played a lot in the States and while it’s golf, it’s very different grasses and very different conditions, different course set-ups. It it took someone like Matt Fitzpatrick, who had won five times in Europe, quite a few years playing on the PGA Tour to get properly comfortable.
“It’s taken me a long time in Europe, not necessarily to feel like I compete, but I should feel completely comfortable in the mix the whole. So yeah, next year it’s going to be getting used to those different circumstances playing in those bigger events . And hopefully I’ve played a few of them now that I know the learning curve isn’t quite as steep as what it could have been a few years ago when I give myself a chance to get on the PGA Tour.”
Fox will stay in Spain next week for the Mallorca Open before taking a week off ahead of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in South Africa with the DP World Tour Championship the following week, November 17-20 in Dubai.
He intends on playing the Australian PGA Championship in Brisbane and the Australian Open at Kingston Heath in Melbourne, along with an exhibition event in Victoria alongside Aussie stars Marc Leishman and Adam Scott on December 6 before heading home for Christmas.