Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Strictly in terms of physical stature, the Jeff Osberg-Steve Fox first-round match Wednesday afternoon in the 112th U.S. Amateur resembled the beach bully against the 98-pound weakling.
Not that Fox, a senior at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, doesn’t have sufficient power or strength. But the wispy build of the 21-year-old was in sharp contrast to the tall, muscular Osberg, a 28-year-old certified public accountant from Philadelphia, who looks like he spends his weekends scrimmaging against the hometown Eagles.
Sure enough, Osberg held the advantage off the tee most of the day. But after opening with three straight bogeys, Fox was one sly player, particularly on the greens, and he rallied to post a 3-and-2 victory at Cherry Hills Country Club.
“I had to give him all respect, given what he’d done here the first two days, so I feel pretty fortunate to get the win,” said Fox, alluding to the fact that Osberg had finished tied for second with Cheng-Tsung Pan in stroke-play qualifying, while Fox survived the 17-for-14 playoff Wednesday morning just to get into the draw.
Fox, competing in his first USGA championship, was the second-to-last to qualify for the 64-player match-play stage. On the fourth playoff hole – the par-4 13th at Cherry Hills – he got up and down to save par, holing a 10-footer, to claim one of the last three spots among the four players remaining.
That kind of putting performance continued in his match against Osberg. But first he had to survive a horrible start. Those three bogeys translated into a quick 2-up lead for Osberg, playing in his third U.S. Amateur.
“It was a very tough start,” Fox agreed. “I was nervous in the playoff, but I felt fine at the start of the match. I just didn’t hit any good shots. I didn’t know where the day was headed, but it turned out OK.”
The match turned at the par-5 fifth when Fox converted a 15-foot birdie putt after coming up short in the greenside bunker in two. When Osberg bogeyed the par-3 sixth, the match was even.
“I should have taken more of an advantage in those early holes,” said Osberg, who played collegiately at Guilford College and was a member of the 2005 team that won the Division III national championship. “He was able to hang around and then he started making a few putts. He played well, and I didn’t play as well as I had the first two days. I hit a few bad shots that really cost me.”
Fox earned his first lead with another big putt, this one from 12 feet to save par at the ninth hole while Osberg missed a 5-footer after chipping from the back fringe.
But the match truly turned on holes 10-12. Osberg saved par at No. 10 with a 25-foot putt from off the green after his drive went left and ended up against a fence, forcing him to take a one-stroke penalty for an unplayable lie. Fox could have won the hole, but lipped out from 2½ feet.
Fox retaliated on the par-5 11th. He drove into the left bunker, put his second into another fairway bunker, and then blasted to 25 feet, while Osberg set himself up with a 4-foot birdie look. Fox rolled his in, and this time Osberg lipped out to let Fox nose ahead by two holes.
“Karma kind of gave one back to me,” Fox said.
“That was unbelievable how that just turned around. That one probably hurt the most,” said Osberg, who then hit short into the water and lost the par-3 12th with a bogey.
Fox won the 14th to go 4 up and dormie when he got up and down again, this time from behind the green. Fox lost 15 with a sloppy double-bogey 5, but his two-putt par from 8 feet sealed it at 16 when Osberg let one more 5-foot birdie try get away from him.
“A lot of matches it comes down the guy who gets it in first,” said Fox, “and, fortunately, I was able to do that quite a few times. That helped me a lot.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.