By Matt Brown in Queenstown
Winning the New Zealand Open starting in Queenstown this morning would rank up next to winning a major for Kiwi number two Ryan Fox.
The 33-year-old world number 125 is one of the favourites to lift the Brodie Breeze Trophy after finishing tied for 29th at the World Golf Championship tournament in Mexico on Monday.
"It would mean a lot," Fox said. "This is the one event maybe bar a major I would love to have on my rap sheet at the end. This is one I really would like to win. I have tried my heart out the last few years and it hasn't happened. I will keep trying as long as the body and tournament lets me come down and try. I feel like I am playing good this year and I have got a chance."
Fox is one of the early starters at The Hills (8:13am) and is pleased to be starting at The Hills rather than Millbrook.
"I don't really mind but it is nice to start at the Hills and not have to have a practice round there because I have played there a few more times than I have at Millbrook. It's a golf course I think tells you what shot to hit. There are not too many holes you stand there not knowing what club to hit."
Jet lag is the main issue confronting Fox who got through nine holes shortly after arriving in Queenstown after more than 24 hours of travel from Mexico City via Houston and Auckland.
"It's the second time I have done the long journey back from Mexico to here and I am used to the travelling over the last few years as well so it's just something you have got to do. I felt a little bit better than I thought I would this morning, got through a practice round (9 holes) pretty easy and starting to fade a bit now, but I have done all my work and I can go and relax and get ready," he said.
Fox says he putted well on tricky greens in Mexico and it's that aspect of his game that will need to be firing to be in contention around The Hills and Millbrook.
"If you go on the last couple of years you must putt well around here, there are a lot of chances and the scoring has been low and you don't shoot low without holing some putts. I have gone close the last couple of times, had some decent scores but never quite got it done. But I feel I am in pretty good form and the putter has been going alright so hopefully that holds." Fox said.
Fellow Kiwi former US Open winner Michael Campbell has been critical of the state of professional golf arguing the finesse and creativity has gone out of the game due to the emergence of the power hitters, Fox being one of them.
"The technology is different than when he (Campbell) played. I mean he grew up with balata balls and probably wooden woods as well and everyone who has used balata balls know they move a tonne in the air, and so you could be a bit more creative and move it more in the air," Fox said.
"But you can't tell me someone like Bubba Watson who moves it 30 yards in the air most of the time isn't creative. It's just a little bit different."
Fox can understand Campbell's frustration at not being able to get the length in his game required to be competitive anymore but isn't prepared to say the game is worse today.
"I think technology, golf course design and everything has encouraged guys to hit harder and harder. You have lighter, stronger graphite shafts, slightly bigger heads and you've got longer, probably wider golf courses and since the Tiger Woods days everyone is now an athlete," Fox said.
"So, it's just encouraging guys to hit it hard, and look it's certainly going that way and whether it's detrimental or not I am not one to comment on that. But I still think golf is pretty fun to watch and I still love to watch it."
Fox has had to change his early season schedule due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus. Originally scheduled to play tournaments in Malaysia and China at the end of March, those tournaments have been cancelled.
It means his next event will be the Indian Open in New Delhi from March 19-22 as he chases valuable ranking points to try to get inside the world's top 100 and earn direct entry to the PGA Championship in June.
There are 26 New Zealand professionals in the 156 strong field this week including promising Kiwi youngsters Denzel Ieremia and Nick Voke. 2017 champion Michael Hendry is one of three New Zealanders in the field who have won the trophy alongside veteran's David Smail and Campbell.
Hendry is feeling confident.
"I am coming into this tournament playing better than I have over the last few years. That does not guarantee a good week-week to week form changes."
Australian Zac Murray is the defending champion and he has also arrived late having played with Fox at the WGC in Mexico. However, after a strong year which saw him earn his European PGA Tour card, the 22-year-old is exuding plenty of positivity and starts his campaign at Millbrook this morning.
The field has also been boosted by the addition of Swedish women's star Pernilla Lindberg on a sponsors invite. The ANA Inspiration major winner fell in love with Queenstown where she and her husband David celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary last year.
The tournament is played at The Hills and Millbrook for the first two days with the final two rounds featuring the top 60 players and ties at Millbrook.