Steven Fox Shines for UTC

U.S. Amateur Winner Steven Fox

His golf coaches call him a leader, his teammates call him the golf comedian, and one professor describes him as one who truly enjoys the academic experience. But everyone calls UTC senior Steven Fox one thing: a champion. Winner of more than 100 junior tournaments since the age of seven, the 21-year-old Fox won amateur golf’s top prize—the U.S. Amateur—in mid-August, putting him and his university front and center in amateur golf discussions. In a life-changing eight weeks, Fox would go from being an unknown and 127th in the world to becoming the U.S. Amateur champion, a U.S. team world champion, and ranking 13th in the world.

By B.B. Branton

 

THE AUGUST U.S. AMATEUR WIN

In a whirlwind, 10-day links journey of a lifetime at Cherry Hills (Colo.) Country Club, Fox didn’t bring enough clothes, but did bring his “A-game” to win the Havemeyer Trophy—the Heisman Trophy, the Holy Grail—of amateur golf.

Along the way, the Hendersonville, Tenn. resident disposed of the world’s top-ranked player in the match play formatted quarterfinals (Chris Williams of the University of Washington), and then in the 36-hole final, he rallied from two-down with two to go to defeat Michael Weaver (University of California – Berkeley) on the first extra hole.

“I packed enough clothes for four or five days, not knowing I would make the finals, so I had to buy a few things while in Colorado,” says Fox, whose newly purchased pink U.S. Amateur shirt sold out in 15 minutes from the clubhouse during the day of the semifinals.

“Nothing seems to rattle him,” says UTC assistant golf coach Ben Rickett, who caddied for Fox the final 18 holes on championship Sunday. “He and I were telling jokes walking down the fairways during the final round at Cherry Hills, talking about anything but golf, and then in an instant he was able to re-focus on his game and hit a great shot.”

Fox certainly had more than one great shot in his bag while vying for amateur golf’s most prestigious title. In the semifinals, he stuck a 4-iron shot from 205 yards to within seven feet of the pin on the 18th to seal the victory. And in the finals, he showed even more finesse. “Using my 60 degree wedge, I hit the green from about 80 yards out on the 35th hole—I was two-down at the time—and again on the first playoff hole. I made the putts and won the championship,” he says.

“I love match play golf as every hole is a match within itself. Once we got to the final 64, anyone could have gone on a hot streak and won it all,” Fox says.

 

THE OCTOBER WORLD AMATEUR WIN

Maybe anyone could have gotten that “hot streak,” but Fox proved himself again with his October performance at the World Amateur Team Championship in Antalya, Turkey (Oct. 4-7). Fox, Chris Williams (U. of Washington) and Justin Thomas (U. of Alabama) combined for a rain-shortened 54-hole total of 24-under 404 (a record score) to win the 2012 world title.

The American trio—all ranked in the top 15 in the world—beat runner-up Mexico by five strokes, leading team USA to win the Eisenhower Trophy title for the first time since 2004.

 

THE MAKING OF A CHAMPION

Born in South Carolina, Fox lived in more red and blue states before the age of 14 than a politician can visit on a whistle stop tour just prior to election day (six).

Age 7: Fox wins his first golf tournament and can beat his dad—a former pro basketball player in Israel—in an 18-hole match.

Age 14: At 5’2”, 100 lbs., Fox earns Hendersonville (Tenn.) High School’s No.1 spot in his first practice round. He would go on to earn All- American Prep honors during his high school career Age 21: Fox wins the U.S. Amateur to give UTC its greatest sports victory in its history.

 

COOL & COLLECTED

So where did Fox come from? Who is this guy, who’s not the game’s longest hitter, but comes up with the big shots when needed?

According to his coaches and teammates, Fox is a quiet leader, yet one who keeps everyone on the team loose and laughing—Jeff Foxworthy in spikes, but also Superman with a 60-degree wedge in his hand.

“It’s not the job of my team captain to carry the team by shooting a low score every round, but to keep the team loose, relaxed and have a positive attitude,” says UTC head golf coach Mark Guhne. “Steven does that better than any other captain I have ever had.”

“He’s a different type of leader, not at all pushy,” says Rickett. “People enjoy being around him and respect him for his work ethic, how he carries himself.”

While the 21-year-old was calm under fire, coach Guhne was just the opposite. “I was a basket case, mentally,” Guhne says. “I was so nervous during the championship match at Cherry Hills, but Steven was able to make people relax and laugh and still play championship golf.” Coach Rickett further notes, “He’s the best I have ever seen at focusing on the present and having belief in his short game to get him out of trouble and make the key shots.”

 

MENTALLY TOUGH

“I want to win as much as the next player, but if I didn’t have fun on the course I would be doing something else besides golf,” Fox says. “My parents taught me early on about mental toughness, never giving up—the philosophy of refusing to lose—as well as staying humble while striving for success. You will never see me get emotional on the course.”

But Fox has not always had the Chris Evert-Gary Player all-business type persona from tee to green. “I threw some pretty big temper tantrums in middle school when I would play bad,” he says.

A cooler approach to the game, along with mental toughness and a talented short game, came from his father, Alan. “As a young golfer, he would get upset after making some bad shots and we talked about leaving the bad shots in the past and just focusing on the next one,” says Alan, who was his son’s caddy throughout the U.S. Amateur except when coach Rickett toted the bag the final 18 holes. “In one tournament, he triple bogeyed the first hole and went on to win it.”

 

DRIVEN TO ACHIEVE

“I must have something to play for whether it is in practice or in a match,” says Fox. “I despise practice rounds so I must have something on the line with my teammates to make it interesting— whether the loser has to clean the bathroom or his teammate’s spikes…I have never had to clean the bathroom because of losing a golf bet and I don’t plan on ever having to do that.”

Along with desire to win comes smarts and discipline. “Steven has matured during the past three years of college and has learned how to handle himself more in all aspects of the game now than in high school,” says coach Guhne. “A college player has to think his way around these courses.”

“Steven set the bar high on work ethic while he was here for four years,” says Hendersonville High School golf coach Andy Gilley, whose team won back-to-back state titles in 2010-2011. “The younger players modeled their game and practice schedule after Steven’s.”

This aptitude and focus is also evident in the classroom. “Steven is a wonderful student who is focused and thought deeply about the controversial topics we covered,” says UC Foundation Associate Professor Dr. Cheryl Robinson. “He was always prepared for class and seemed to truly enjoy the academic experience. I would love to have a classroom full of Stevens!”

“I have always been a good student,” says Fox. “I get some of that discipline to stay current with academic assignments and study hard from my older sister, Ashley, who graduated cum laude from Florida State with an advertising degree.”

 

THE ROAD AHEAD

While his teammates say that Fox is the same person now as he was as a freshman, there’s no doubt the new title has also been a life-changer. With his name etched on the Havemeyer Trophy, Fox is now ranked among some of golf’s greatest names, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods. “There’s no way winning the U.S. Amateur doesn’t change your life,” says Fox, who had to turn down a lunch invitation with the king (Palmer) in Latrobe, Pa. due to an NCAA rule forbidding studentathletes from receiving complimentary airline tickets.

The “perks” which come with being called the U.S. Amateur champion are also “something to play for,” Fox says. And that will be seen in 2013 when Steven will tee it up with the best in the world. As the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, he will play in three of golf’s four Majors next year (The Masters, U.S. Open and British Open) and be paired with the defending champions of those three Majors for the first two rounds (Bubba Watson at The Masters, Webb Simpson at the U.S. Open and Ernie Els at the British Open).

“It’s every golfer’s dream to win the U.S. Amateur and play The Masters at Augusta National and after next spring I will have done both,” says Fox. “I am thrilled and humbled to know that I will be playing with some of golf’s great pros.”

Good luck Steven Fox! Your school, community, coaches and teammates are all proud of you and wish you the best for a fabulous golf career.