17 Nov 2022

Ryan Fox excited with NZ golf on brink of history

4:13 pm on 17 November 2022

A golden year for New Zealand golf has the chance to be capped in incredible style.

Ryan  Fox of New Zealand


After Hamilton's Steve Alker won the PGA Champions Tour title earlier this week, both Lydia Ko and Ryan Fox head into their season-ending events with the chance to also finish as the best players on their respective tours.

Ko leads the LPGA player of the year standings ahead of the CME Group Tour Championship in Florida, while Fox is a close second to world No 1 Rory McIlroy going into the final tournament on the European Tour calendar in Dubai.

Fox, who trailed Northern Irish star McIlroy by a slender 128 points, was excited to have the chance to contribute to what would be the biggest collection of moments in New Zealand golf history.

"It'd be a nice trifecta, if we can manage it. But just to have that opportunity is great.

"Lydia's been a phenomenal player for a long time. She probably had a bit of a dip in form, as happens, and it's great to see her bounce back so strongly.

"Steve Alker's story has been unbelievable. To Monday qualify into his first Champions Tour event and turn that into winning the Charles Schwab Cup, four or five wins and probably too many top 10s to count. That's such a cool story.

"It would be nice if we could create a little bit of golf history for New Zealand and win three Order of Merits in the same year but, regardless, golf at home is riding a really nice wave."

A wave that Fox had very much been at the crest of.

Starting the year outside the world's top 200, the 35-year-old Aucklander had picked up two wins, four runner-up finishes and four other top 10s to be ranked 24th.

Those results also had Fox in contention for the Harry Vardon Trophy, which he said wasn't even a blip on his radar heading into what had been a "surreal" 2022.

"The goal at the start of the year was just to get another win under the belt. And the goal for the last five-six years on Tour has been to get into the top 50.

"I've cemented my place in there for a little while now, which is really cool, and to be in this position and have a chance to win the Order of Merit is amazing.

"I've got nothing to lose in that respect. I can go out, give it a crack and see what happens."

Lydia Ko  during the final round of the Palos Verdes Championship Presented by Bank of America at Palos Verdes Golf Club on May 01, 2022 in California.

Lydia Ko during the final round of the Palos Verdes Championship Presented by Bank of America at Palos Verdes Golf Club on May 01, 2022 in California. Photo: AFP

It was an attitude very similar to the one Ko was taking into the LPGA Tour season-finale.

After her game fell away and she went through well-documented struggles in 2019 and 2020, the 25-year-old former world No 1 had steadily climbed her way back to the top.

In 2022, she had bagged two wins, three top three finishes and eight other top 10s to be up to No 3 in the world.

The impressive year had not only put her atop the LPGA player of the year standings with one event remaining, but she also led the race for the lowest scoring average silverware and was right in the mix for the Tour's money title.

But Ko said she wasn't focussed on the potential awards ahead of the Tour Championship.

"When I'm out there playing I just want to shoot the best and lowest score I can.

"I feel like all those awards and season-ending stuff, they are very secondary. If I play well and somebody else plays better and they win all or some, that's totally out of my hands.

"There are so many players where it's close with all of those. It's not just about me. I just want to focus on my game and have a good week.

"If I'm holding a couple of trophies, one trophy or no trophies, they'll be like an added bonus more than anything."

Steve Alker

Steve Alker Photo: ©Icon Sportswire

Speaking of added bonuses, a record winner's cheque of NZ$3.2 million was on the line in Florida.

Fox, who had already amasses $5.4 million this year, was also playing for a hefty prize, with the winner in Dubai taking home $2.7 million.

Securing that pay-day, though, meant getting past the world's best player.

Attempting to win the Vardon Trophy for a fourth time, McIlroy had already lifted the FedEx Cup in 2022 for the best player on the PGA Tour.

Fox and McIlroy were the final pairing off the first tee in round one on Thursday night (NZ time) and, while admitting there would be a few nerves, the New Zealander welcomed the occasion.

"I'm assuming we'll have a pretty big crowd out there, which will be nice. But that's what you play golf for.

"You want to be in those big groups and it's cool that this year I've earned the right to be there. I'll try to enjoy it as much as I can...

"I've played in a few decent groups and been in contention a lot this year, and handled that pretty well, so hopefully nothing changes in that respect [in the first round]."

Whether he finished with player of the year honours or not, Fox insisted he would be proud of a 2022 he described as "a fun ride".

A ride Ko and Alker had very much been along for, too.