New Zealand’s Ryan Fox harnesses family’s sporting lineage in third Olympics appearance

Ryan Fox didn’t have to look far for sporting icons to emulate when he was growing up in New Zealand. Across the dinner table at night. Or settled into an easy chair in the living room of their home in Auckland.

His father, Grant Fox, was the primary goalkicker on the All Blacks team that won the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, the year Ryan was born. The elder Fox was later honored as a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to the game. And Ryan’s maternal grandfather, Merv Wallace, was preeminent among New Zealand cricketeers, as well as a former Test match captain.

While he played both sports well into high school, Fox was increasingly drawn to golf as a teen. He learned to play when he was about 3 or 4, whacking balls around in the backyard, and as he grew older, he leaned on the counsel of his dad, who caddied for him as an amateur and early into his professional career.

“I felt like I had an on-course psychologist for a long time,” Fox says. “I think top-level sport, the mental side translates pretty well between different sports, and I was very lucky in that respect.

“My dad was also a goal kicker, so for Americans, kicking field goals and I think the routine of that is very similar to golf, very process driven. The ball doesn't move, it's a lot of routines and a lot of trying to get out of your own head. So, I learned a lot from Dad in that.”

Fox has been a professional golfer for more than a decade and has eight international victories on his resume. He’s also playing his first full season on the PGA TOUR this year after finishing in the top 10 on last year’s DP World Tour Eligibility Ranking.

One of Fox’s proudest moments, though, remains when he was tapped to represent New Zealand – just as his father and grandfather had done – on the global stage at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It was pretty cool,” the 37-year-old recalls. “I think when I made it, Dad said, ‘You now officially have represented New Zealand.’ And I'd done it at amateur level. And I know technically you do it as a pro, but it feels a little different when you get picked for a team.

“And that was me being the third generation of my family to play for New Zealand and three different sports. ... So, it was a pretty cool achievement. I think Dad was pretty chuffed when he could say that.”

Fox, who is ranked No. 49 in the world, is poised to play for the Kiwis again this year, which would make the Paris Olympics the third Games of his career, a prospect that he calls “still a bit surreal.” Also likely representing New Zealand in her third Olympics – and looking for a third straight medal – will be Lydia Ko, who Fox calls a “great inspiration.”

“I would like to try to follow in her footsteps a little bit with the Olympic medal and look forward to catching up with her over in Paris as well,” he said of the 20-time LPGA Tour winner and former world No. 1.

Each of the previous Games has had an identity of its own. When golf made its return in Rio, many athletes stayed away due to the threat of the Zika virus, while the Tokyo Olympics were held without spectators thanks to the reality of COVID-19.

“Tokyo was, it was tough with the COVID rules and everything from the New Zealand team point of view, we had to stay in the village,” Fox recalled. “And the village in 2021 was very different than the village in 2016. It was a lot of controls there.

“The thing I enjoyed most about Rio was sitting in the team room with the other athletes and watching other sports and having them talk through with their expertise, how everything worked. And we weren't allowed to do that in Tokyo. And so, it was a pretty long week there. A long commute to the golf course. The golf course was absolutely phenomenal, but with no crowds or anything, it was disappointing.

“I think Tokyo would've done a great job without those COVID restrictions and they did a great job with them, but it was just kind of felt like it had no atmosphere,” he added. “But it was unfortunately the sign of the times, and it was a frustrating week. But hopefully we don't have anything like that in Paris.”

In Rio, Fox did manage to get to a few other events. He saw Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah grab the gold in the 100 meters and Mo Farah – the Somali-born Brit considered one of the greatest distance runners of all time – win the 10,000 meters.

“We were right on the finish line for that, so that was a pretty incredible moment,” he said. “And we went to the swimming one night as well, saw Michael Phelps swim, which wasn't in a final, it was in a semi, I think, but pretty cool to be able to see him swim.

“And one of my mates from school was actually the captain of the New Zealand field hockey team. So, I went and watched them play one night.”

Fox wasn’t able to participate in the Opening Ceremonies at either of his prior Olympics – and that’s something he plans to change this time around. The athletes will be transported down the Seine River via boats in what will mark one of the most unique Olympic kickoffs yet.

“I don't really want to miss that,” Fox said. “I'm 37 now. I don’t know if I'll get another chance to qualify again in four years’ time. So yeah, I've been a bit disappointed to miss the Opening Ceremony the last couple of Olympics. I'm definitely not going to miss this one.”

Unlike in his first two Olympics, the golf venue will be a familiar one for Fox. The competition will be held Aug. 1-4 at Le Golf National. Located just outside Versailles, the course has hosted the DP World Tour’s French Open 31 times, as well as the 2018 Ryder Cup.

“Playing in Europe the last almost nine, 10 years, we've played that course a lot, and it's a fantastic golf course and playing it in early August, it'll be in great condition,” Fox said. “… If you play well, you can score. I've had a couple of good results around there and I've had a couple of nightmare results around there when the golf game hasn't been good.

“It tests every part of your game,” he continued. “(There are) a lot of intimidating shots, a couple of island greens coming down the stretch, and it rewards good golf shots and it punishes bad golf shots. So, I think it's going to make a very interesting tournament and hopefully I'll be in form that week and can give one of the medals a run.”