News & Opinion

Ryan Fox overcomes COVID quandary to contend at Saudi International

Ryan Fox Saudi International first round
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox already has overcome a huge challenge in simply earning the ability to compete during the European Tour’s annual trip to the Middle East.

New Zealander jumps through COVID-19 hoops in his homeland as he surges into contention in European Tour event

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia – How the world deals with COVID-19 is very different outside of the United States.

Just ask Ryan Fox.

He has been competing on the European Tour since 2016. With only one victory, the 2019 ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, the 34-year-old New Zealander is a journeyman player who ranks No. 208 in the world. During his professional career, Fox has made the trek from his native Auckland to the far-flung golf courses of the world while chasing a dream, but that venture is much more difficult in a COVID world. The journey at times has been put on hold or drastically limited.

Playing in a three-week stretch beginning in early January, Fox left New Zealand to compete in the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, then followed the tour to Dubai last week and finally this week to Saudi Arabia, where he recorded one of his best ball-striking days in a while Thursday. Fox shot 5-under 65 at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club and was tied for fourth, four strokes behind leader David Horsey of England (scores).

The three-week desert swing for Fox involved his first competitive rounds since Oct. 11, when he tied for 20th at the BMW PGA Championship in October. He had to quarantine upon returning to New Zealand.

During the most recent stretch at home, Fox and his wife, Anneke, welcomed the birth of their first child, daughter Isabel, in December, creating more incentive for him to be home. But, New Zealand, an island nation southeast of Australia, is unlike any other country. Not only will Fox have to quarantine for 14 days when he returns home, but he had to book a quarantine spot before he left. Fox choose Feb. 9, and if he misses that window, the next date is sometime in May.

With flights being canceled routinely as the pandemic rages, Fox was looking at skipping this week's tournament in Saudi Arabia. As luck would have it, the Jeddah-to-Dubai flight Sunday was pushed back a couple of hours. With an overnight in Dubai, he can catch the flight to Auckland, with a stop in Kuala Lumpur, and make it back to New Zealand on the ninth, but then the fun starts.

“We don’t know; it’s a complete luck of the draw,” Fox said when asked about where he will quarantine upon his return home. “When you land, you get told where you get to go. It might be in Christchurch; it might be in Rotorua, the majority of them are in Auckland.”

When he returned in October, Fox was confined by government health authorities to a hotel in Auckland. The rub: He must pay for a 14-day stay without getting to pick the accommodations, which range from three- to five-star lodging in the city of 1.7 million residents.

“You’re allowed to get food deliveries from family and the supermarket, and you’re allowed Uber Eats orders if you’re in Auckland, or that’s what the rules when I went home in October,” Fox said. “For the rest of it, you’re pretty much allowed to walk around the car park, if you’re lucky enough to have a car park to walk around in.”

According to Fox, some of the hotels don’t have any outdoor facilities, so guests under New Zealand’s policy of “managed isolation” are confined to their hotel rooms. The exceptions include an escape every few days via bus for a planned exercise session, medical appointment or for an emergency.

Fox travels with his Xbox, and he spent a lot of his time watching the World Series and the NFL. This time, he is preparing to watch basketball, read and work a few crossword puzzles. 

Fox maintains a home in London, and depending upon how his family feels about leaving New Zealand to make the trek to the U.K. will dictate when he will show up again in professional golf. 

He likely won’t return until at least April. He either will play a normal schedule with his family in London or another 10-12-week stretch, as he did last year, before returning to New Zealand.

“It’s obviously frustrating in my position, but for probably 99 percent of New Zealand, it worked really really well,” Fox said.

His homeland, a nation of about 5 million residents, recorded only five new COVID cases on Feb. 3, when the Kiwis marked a seven-day average of only two new cases per day, according to government health officials. Compare that statistic with what is happening in the U.S., where 114,234 new cases were recorded Feb. 3, and the seven-day average was 141,146, according to The New York Times, which cited government statistics.  

“We’ve obviously kept COVID out,” Fox said, “and everything is very normal once you’re at home. On balance, it’s frustrating for me, but for the majority of the country, they are in a good place.”

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