Ryan Fox was in scintillating form during June as he made no race of winning the inaugural Briscoes Wairakei Invitational ProAm by 13 shots.
Played over three rounds at the beautiful Wairakei Sanctuary, it provided the perfect shot in the arm for the resumption of professional tournament golf in New Zealand after lockdown because of Coronavirus.
It was also, probably, the first PGA event in the world with no restrictions and spectators allowed. In reality, because of the timing, it was a minor miracle the event got off the ground at all, but more on that later.
The ProAm format meant a field of 28 professionals and 104 amateurs took part. The professional field was a very strong one and there were even some notable names among the amateurs such as Brad Heaven who was in Fox’s winning team.
Ryan Fox provided something of a masterclass class of his own in probably playing one of the best three consecutive rounds of golf in his career, 63, 66, 63 for a 192 total.
He torched the course in the first round with an eagle on the par 5 third hole, eight birdies, and just one bogey on the 13th. Four shots back was Luke Toomey with a tidy 67 while Gareth Paddison and Jordan Loof were tied third on 68.
Fox extended his lead by one in the second round with an excellent 66 following a slow start. He struggled to sink several makeable putts on the first eight holes but caught fire on the final 10 holes with several birdies.
“I played great again today. Probably better than yesterday tee to green but didn’t take advantage till the final 10,” said Fox.
Good weather conditions saw Daniel Hillier make a strong move up the leaderboard with a brilliant eight under 64, five behind Fox. The experienced Dongwoo Kang was two further back after a solid 66. Kang is a former Japan and Asian Tour player making a comeback.
Paddison slipped to fourth one ahead of the improving Michael Hendry and Toomey struggled with a 71.
So to the final round and could someone produce one out of the box to catch Fox. He was in no mood to allow anyone that opportunity and simply streeted the field with another brilliant round of 63 to win by 13 shots.
He mirrored his first round with an eagle and eight birdies although he had to reset his mindset after a bogey at the short second hole.
Obviously very pleased with his consistent form Fox said, “It is so good to be back although I did have a few butterflies on the first tee in the first round. It was quite outstanding the way Richard and the PGA got things together so quickly after going to level one.”
Paddison had the next best round of the day, a 68, to complete three very consistent rounds which was good enough for second one ahead of Hendry who also scored 68. Hillier lost momentum with a battling 73 to finish fourth.
At the prizegiving, Fox received a welcome surprise to go with his winner’s purse. John Street from Lincoln Farms presented Fox with a 20% share in a $125,000 racehorse.
Pacific Golf Management owner and the Tournament Promoter Richard Ellis was thrilled with the success of the event. He had much to reflect with pleasure about after the dust settled.
“I would normally have been in Fiji in June running the Sheraton Golf Classic and the Fiji Legends ProAms. However, with COVID 19 preventing us going anywhere I had many players saying to me for goodness sake please try and get something good organised so we can play some golf.”
“So there we had this event organised at warp speed at beautiful Wairakei in mid-winter. They say you don’t have to be mad to play golf but it helps. The interest was amazing and it sold out in four days. Many thanks go to the sponsors Briscoes, Lincoln Farms and Gemscott.”
Of course, the professionals were very thankful for their amateur team-mates whose entry fees contributed towards the $35,000 professional prize pool. There was also over $9,000 in prizes for the amateurs.
There was one other aspect that Ellis felt worth mentioning. That was the obvious financial benefits of the number of players brought to the Taupo region. A conservative estimate of $250,000 was more than welcome.
The event was such a success that it will become an annual event on the NZPGA Golf calendar and the dates for the next tournament will be announced soon said Ellis.
Josh Geary (Pro), Rod Duke, Tom Phillips, John Bowring.
Ryan Fox (Pro), Gerard Peterson, Brad Heaven, Grant Smith.
Rick Harding won the 54 hole amateur Gross.
Oliver Haydon won the 54 hole Stableford.