Ryan Fox and Espen Kofstad arrived at Golf Club de Genève for the Rolex Trophy after enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime experience of representing their countries at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
New Zealand’s Fox and Norwegian Kofstad both earned qualification in dramatic fashion at the D+D REAL Slovakia Challenge in July – won by Kofstad in a play-off – and they flew to Switzerland still in awe of their week as Olympians.
“It was unbelievable,” said Fox. “Words can’t really describe it, it was just something I’ll never forget and the best week of my career.
“It was one of those where it was a little bit of an unknown going out there for everyone from the golf side of things and it was even better than I could have imagined – being part of that environment and being part of the New Zealand team was just fantastic.
“It was a privilege and an honour to represent my country, and to be one of the first three golfers to represent New Zealand at the Olympics was very, very special.
“We don’t get to represent our countries very often in golf. Even though I’ve got the New Zealand flag by my name on the leaderboard every week, I still feel like I’m representing myself more than my country whereas last week was the complete opposite.
“Being part of a team, in team colours and uniforms and everything like that, was great – I love that side of it, I grew up playing team sports and still love that aspect of sport, and after not having it for a while and having it again last week, I’ve missed that side of sport a lot.
“To be able to walk around the Olympic Village with 12,000 other athletes was incredible, to walk past Michael Phelps going into the dining room, you don’t ever really get that – you get it a bit with a few golfers at some of the big events, but you don’t get superstars in other sports, so that was a cool experience to be able to do that.”
Fox’s final round of 68 saw him finish in a tie for 39th, one shot better than Kofstad, who was equally effusive about his time in Brazil.
“It was just enormous,” said the 29 year old. “It was an absolutely amazing experience to be there, along with all the best athletes in the world – they’re unbelievable up close, it’s so different to seeing them on TV.
“It was incredible to be a part of that whole circus, with 17,000 people living in that village, all eating and training together, all the biggest names just wandering round – it was pretty cool.
“I was part of the first few golfers who got to compete in the Olympics – it was quite an honour and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“The atmosphere was amazing – there were a lot of spectators, and I played with Adilson da Silva the Brazilian on the last day, and they cheered so much for him he started crying on 18.”
A third Challenge Tour Olympian, José-Filipe Lima – winner of the Najeti Open earlier in the season – will also tee it up this week after representing Portugal in Rio, where the gold and silver medals were won by Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson respectively – both Challenge Tour alumni.
Fox has fond memories of his previous appearance in Geneva after starting with a ten under par 62 last year, ultimately finishing third, and he feels in good form, having won on his last Challenge Tour outing at the Tayto Northern Ireland Open in Partnership with Ulster Bank.
“I have good memories around here and I’ve been playing pretty good,” said the 29 year old. “A couple of days I struggled last week but I finished really nicely so the form hasn’t dropped away too much.
“I love playing this golf course and it should be a lot of fun this week – the format’s a whole lot of fun and I’ve got my girlfriend out here now, so we’ll both enjoy this special tournament.
“Northern Ireland was by far the best I’ve played all year, and you don’t do what I did in the last round very often, in any round let alone on the final day to win.
“Unfortunately I didn’t quite carry that form on into Rio, though I guess the conditions were quite a lot different, but I played some pretty nice golf there.
“I’ve got a fair few events left on the Challenge Tour this year and I’m going to push pretty hard to stay in that top 15 and hopefully finish even higher than that.”
The prestigious Rolex Trophy is unique on the Challenge Tour schedule for its format, with the 42 professionals competing in a week-long Pro-Am.
All 17 tournament winners are present in Switzerland, with no player having won twice in an extremely competitive season on Europe’s top developmental tour.