Ryan Fox returns to a happy hunting ground in France this week looking to rediscover the form that made him one of the top players on the European Challenge Tour last season as he tees it up at the Najeti Open.
It is fitting that the New Zealander is making his first appearance on this year’s Road to Oman at Aa Saint-Omer Golf Club as this was also the venue of his maiden Challenge Tour event 12 months ago, when he finished in an impressive tie for fifth place.
The 29 year old found France even more to his liking a few weeks later as he won Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge, but this season, playing mainly on the European Tour, he has struggled to find enough consistency in his game to put himself in contention.
Now, back in a country that has treated him well in the past, Fox is hoping that a return to Europe’s top developmental tour this summer can inspire him to similar heights as 2015, when he finished 16th in the Road to Oman Rankings.
“It’s a nice confidence boost to be back somewhere I’ve done well before,” he said. “I’ve got good memories around here, I played some really nice golf round here last year, and hopefully I can draw on that and put together a good tournament.
“Last year I didn’t really know what to expect, but I never expected to do so well so early. It was not only my first time playing here, it was my first time to Europe, at all.
“It was a bit of a surprise to do so well, I’d been playing well at home and it was obviously nice to bring that form over, but coming to a new environment you never quite know what to expect and it was nice to hit the ground running.
I've got good memories round here - half the field has probably psyched themselves out before they start and hopefully I'm not one of them
“I really enjoyed the French events, winning Le Vaudreuil, and I’ll certainly be back there again this year to defend. I don’t know what suited me with France – I know my dad [former All Blacks fly-half Grant Fox] always liked touring here when he was playing rugby and I guess I got the same thing with golf.
“I’ve got good memories round here, but it’s a tricky golf course – it’s one that, especially when it starts playing firm, you get a few dodgy breaks here and there.
“The mental side of the game is really important round here and patience, and I like to think that’s a pretty strong part of my game – half the field has probably psyched themselves out this week before they start and hopefully I’m not one of them.”
Father and son: Grant Fox caddied for his son in New Zealand last year
Fox’s incredible 2015 summer included qualifying for the Open Championship at St Andrews, where he made the cut and finished inside the top 50 after playing with Bernhard Langer in the final round.
Mixing with the best seemed a natural fit for the man from Auckland, but he concedes it is more his own form than the tougher level of competition that has made it difficult for him to make an impact on the European Tour this year.
Winning would be nice but if not it would be good just to be up there shooting some low scores
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle,” he said. “I’ve played eight or nine events and I’ve made the majority of my cuts but not featured on weekends.
“I’ve got a run now of six or seven weekends in a row where I won’t get into the bigger European Tour events so I’ll be back on the Challenge Tour.
“On the European Tour there’s a lot of competition out there and if you’re not generally shooting low scores you’re going backwards and unfortunately that’s what’s been happening to me.
“It’s a step up for sure, in terms of the depth of field and I think some of the golf courses are tougher, but I didn’t feel out of my depth, I just struggled with my golf game.
“My putter went a bit cold for a while and that sort of leaked into everything else. I ended up making a lot of cuts on the number or by one, and missed a couple by that as well, and never really got it going on the weekend.
“Winning would be nice but I’d just like to find some form really. It’s been a bit of a struggle this year and it would be good to be in the hunt a couple of times – if I can then get the job done, great, if not it would be nice just to be up there shooting some low scores.”
Fox's distinctive head cover on his driver
Last year’s Najeti Open saw a home winner as Sébastien Gros – now a European Tour player – sealed an impressive six-shot victory, the springboard for him to finish second in the Road to Oman Rankings.
Such has been the strong French start to this Challenge Tour season that local crowds will be filled with high hopes of a repeat Gallic triumph, with Romain Langasque, Matthieu Pavon and Joël Stalter all inside the top 15, and Damien Perrier and Clément Sordet both already tournament winners this year.
Also in the field is 2014 Najeti Open champion Jordi Garcia Pinto, while Lorenzo Gagli and Scott Henry – both tied for third two years ago – will look to draw on that past good form this week.