In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Ryan Fox reflects on his first year as a father and how he has dealt with uncertainty as he prepares to play his final event of the season.
This year has really involved a lot of uncertainty for me, so it’s a nice way to finish my season this week knowing that I’ve got my card for next year and that my family and I can go home to New Zealand for Christmas. There’s a very slim chance our government might change the rules at the end of this week as they’ve got some kind of announcement, and if they do then maybe I can stay a bit longer, but at this stage I’m about 99 per cent sure I’ll be finishing up my season in Mallorca.
We found out that we had an MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) spot to go home a few weeks ago at the Dunhill, and it’s amazing how that has really freed me up a bit on the golf course. This year I think my golf has been affected by so much that’s happened off the golf course, and that was just such a big thing not just on my mind but on my wife’s mind to be able to get home. Originally we found a spot to fly home after Wentworth, but I wasn’t completely sure if I had enough points to keep my card for next year, so we decided to take the gamble in the hope that something would change and we’d get a spot later on. It was around the Dutch Open I had enough points and I’m glad we made the decision because I think at this stage I’d be sitting at home pretty nervous and wondering if I should come back, but the only downside was that trying to get home became harder.
It’s still so difficult at the moment for New Zealanders to get back, and it was only about six weeks ago they changed how you are able to book a flight home. There is still a 14-day hotel quarantine, but it was originally first come first served and you just had to be early enough to get a spot – or be online when there was a cancellation. But they decided to change it to a lottery system where they release all the rooms for a certain period of time – up to three months – on a certain day at a specific time and you’ve got to enter your passport number in a system an hour before the rooms are released. From there you get randomised and it’s basically a lottery to see if you’re high enough up to get a spot. They release around 2,500 – 3,500 rooms in each lottery, and in four attempts the best number we had on three passports was 5500, with the others over 10,000. I think there were 30,000 New Zealanders each time we were trying to get a spot – and there’s no exemption policies in place for athletes so it’s very much a lottery where probably about 1 in ten people are getting a spot, so it’s been pretty tough.
When we finally managed to get a spot the week of the Dunhill, which was such a weight off our shoulders, and we took the only spot we could get, which was October 27. It allowed us to play these weeks in Spain, and after this we’ll rush back to London and fly out on Monday night to arrive back home on Wednesday, which is the 27th. We’ve continued to try to get a spot for the end of the season with no luck, so unless the announcement changes things on Friday, that’s when we’ll leave.
The lottery system also means your quarantine hotel is luck of the draw. Through the system you’ve booked a quarantine voucher, which you’re not allowed on the plane without, but it’s only when you land that you get told where you’re going. We could end up in Auckland where we live, and then family can drop stuff off and we can see them through a fence, or we could get shipped on a bus to Hamilton or Rotorua a few hours away, or we could get put on a plane to Christchurch.
I’ve already done the two weeks quarantine twice, in October last year and in February, but that was by myself and this time I’ll have my family – and I’m not sure if that’s going to be harder or easier. I lost the plot in October last year after being away for 12 weeks and I couldn’t find anything to do. Obviously this time there will be much more distraction, but we’ll also be trying to entertain a ten month old in a hotel room for two weeks. We’re hoping we’ll get lucky with Auckland and get a decent room and hotel, but just being home will be the positive part. And even though afterwards we’ll be going back into a form of lockdown, it looks like I’m still able to golf and fish, and we’re hopeful that things will open up soon so that we can see family again.
I obviously had goals at the start of the year that were loftier than just keeping my card and expecting to be able to get home before Christmas – but as it turned out those were the biggest things for me to tick off this year, and it was a relief when it happened. I think that’s showed a bit in the last couple of weeks, and I’ve played a lot better. It was particularly satisfying to show that at Valderrama, because that place ate me alive the last time I was there in 2016 and I was apprehensive about coming back, but I played great all week. I just stayed patient, and I think having everything sorted helped because I wasn’t too worried if I played well or not. All the pressure – of wondering whether I’d have a job or be able to get home - was kind of gone, and that’s a place and mindset you want to be on a course like that because it can hurt you pretty quickly.
It’s the uncertainty that’s been really tough this year, because there were times when I wasn’t sure when I’d next see my wife and daughter. I originally left for Abu Dhabi when Isabel, my daughter, was just one month old, and after a bit of a struggle I managed to secure a quarantine spot after the Saudi International on February 9. But then, all of a sudden, they were stopping flights between Saudi and Dubai where my connection was, and if I had missed that flight the next time I would have been able to get home was May. Luckily things worked out that time, but there was a real, stressful possibility that I was going to be stuck away for four or five months when I originally had planned a three week trip.
Then by the time it came to May, I had no choice but to come out again because I couldn’t miss more events, but the rules hadn’t yet changed on families attending events. That was tough, and I’d say I was in a pretty bad place in late May because there was just so much uncertainty and there was no way I could get back even if I wanted to because quarantine was booked. But I was still hopeful they’d be able to join me at some point. Originally my in-laws were supposed to come over with my wife to help out, but it became pretty obvious that wasn’t going to work, and then thankfully things got more relaxed so they decided they could finally join me for The Open. It worked really well, and to be honest my mental state changed pretty significantly the week of The Open.
Having them with me, and able to travel with me, made a massive difference to my year. We’ve had a place in Addlestone in Surrey, England, for four years, which has been a godsend this year and last, and when they first came over they would stay there and it was great because even if I was away it would only be for a week. Then for some events I could drive and stay at home, so they travelled to a couple of events in the UK, and now as Isabel has gotten a little bit older we’ve been to go to Holland, to the Dunhill and now Spain. It’s made the mental side of things a lot easier for me, but it’s also made the travel a bit harder. It’s surprising how much someone so small needs to take with them, but we’re getting the hang of it, and so far haven’t had any issues as she seems to be very social and likes waving at people at airports. It’s been great, although she’s just started crawling so it’s going to be interesting on the 30-hour journey back home on Monday, trying to stop her moving around too much. And my wife did the whole trip over here by herself in July, so I think I’m going to be on duty for the majority of those flights as payback!
I’ve loved every minute of becoming a father, and it’s also helped put a lot of things in perspective for me too. We’ve always been pretty family orientated, but this year has just reinforced to me how important family is. She’s ten months old now and our family hasn’t seen her since mid-July other than on FaceTime, and we really wanted to be able to get home for Christmas, which is why finding out we got that spot was even more of a relief.
But also personally, it’s a bit harder to spend time away now too, and I’ve found having them out on Tour to be a change in routine but a good one. Sometimes when you’re on your own you can get stuck in a place where you feel like you should be practicing or you’re at the golf course because you’ve got nothing else to do, whereas now I know I can go back to wherever we’re staying for the week and spend time with them. But also, it’s amazing how quickly she can turn my mood around. She would look at me exactly the same if I shoot 80 or 60, and I think it just helps you forget about anything on the golf course. I’ll walk in the door and I could have had a terrible round or missed the cut and then I look at her and she smiles and waves or I read her a story and suddenly forget how I played. And while it’s been a very different year than I imagined parenthood would be, it’s been a great experience, and I think at ten months she’s probably better travelled than the majority of New Zealand in the last year.
My year has been a bit like that too; different, but full of experiences. To say I’m a double Olympian is amazing and also sounds quite strange, but to have been able to be a part of the New Zealand team this year is something I treasure greatly. It was a very different experience than we had in Rio, because last time I was watching Mo Farah win the 10km and watching one of my mates play as Captain of the New Zealand hockey team, whereas in Tokyo we really couldn’t do that. It felt much more like a golf tournament than an Olympics, but you still had the village experience and I shared an apartment with our tennis players who got a bronze medal so I got to congratulate them. As someone who grew up playing team sports, being part of the New Zealand team was very cool to be a part of, and I’m grateful that in a difficult year I was also able to have an experience like that.
As it comes to the end of my season now, I’m looking forward to spending a couple of months at home between this event and the next one. I’ve got a bit of time to debrief with my team here and at home about the year, and we’ll probably sit down and look at resetting my goals in the lead up to next season. Obviously I had loftier goals at the start of this year and I’ll certainly have loftier goals next year than keeping my card, but I’m also hopeful that next there will be less travel issues and restrictions. For now though, I’m just happy to be able to get home.