Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Somewhere between lunch and the walk to the practice range on Sunday afternoon, Alan Fox made a decision.
Having caddied all week for his son, Steven, through two practice rounds, two stroke-play qualifying rounds and 104 holes of match play, including the first 18 of the 36-hole championship match of the 2012 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club, the 53-year-old not only was a bit fatigued; he also realized Steven needed someone with more golf experience on the bag.
Two down to Michael Weaver at the midway point, Steven Fox felt that he had made some tactical errors during the morning 18.
Fortunately, the 21-year-old Fox had some alternatives. His coaches from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga – where he will be a senior this fall – had flown to Denver on Saturday after his 2-up semifinal win over Brandon Hagy.
Steven chose assistant Ben Rickett, an ex-UTC golfer who had returned to the program full-time this past spring.
Ben’s walked with me a lot, said Steven Fox. We get along. We were smiling the whole day, laughing and making jokes and enjoying the crowd. It was awesome.
The change paid off. It didn’t hurt to get a major break on the 36th hole when Weaver lipped out a 5-foot putt to win the match. But Fox said without Rickett and his coaches showing up for the final, he would not have pulled off the dramatic 37-hole victory.
We did talk about every shot, said Steven Fox. And Ben was perfect for the job.
Rickett, who completed his eligibility in 2009, has been around Fox since his freshman season in 2009-10. He was first a graduate assistant and then a full-time assistant before returning to England for 11 months due to the visa issues. Rickett, an Englishman, married an American (Shelley Rickett), a former UTC track and cross country runner, and thus gained permission to return to the U.S. as a coach.
He was warming up when I heard someone asking me, ‘Can you caddie?’said Rickett, who returned to the golf team last spring, right before the team’s postseason run to the NCAA Division I Championship at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. I [told Steven] I’d be honored. I would love to do it.
Being around him since he was a freshman … I’ve never seen someone so clutch down the stretch.
Added Alan Fox, who said blister issues on his left foot and fatigue were taking its toll: It made sense. Ben has caddied for him before. It obviously worked out. He knows a lot more about golf than me.
In the second 18, Fox took more time over shots and putts, talking through each play with Rickett before pulling the trigger. Fox already had a solid game plan of how to play holes, especially the par-5 17th, where he laid up short of the island green in both the morning and afternoon round. Despite being down two holes with two to play, Fox stuck to his strategy and managed to hole a clutch 10-foot birdie putt at the 35th hole to keep the match going.
When Weaver missed the 5-footer to win the match at the 36th hole, Fox stayed with his plan at the 37th hole, the par-4 first at Cherry Hills, by hitting iron off the tee. His approach stopped 18 feet above the hole and he sank the putt to claim the championship.
Down the stretch, it was all about playing the percentages, said Rickett.
Said Alan Fox: He has a flair for the dramatic and he turned it on when he needed to.
Fox’s next dilemma will come next spring and summer, when he has to choose a caddie for his likely Masters invitation, and his 2013 U.S. Open and British Open exemptions.
I’ll caddie a practice round and maybe the Par-3 [Contest at Augusta National], said Alan Fox. But we’ll get him someone who knows the course.
From A 64 To A 63
At U.S. Amateur sectional qualifying on July 24 at Willow Creek Golf Club in Knoxville, Tenn., it looked as though Fox might not earn one of the three available spots after a first-round 73. In fact, of the six UTC golfers in the field that day, Fox was in last place.
Then he shot a second-round 64 to finish second behind medalist Keith Mitchell, of Chattanooga.
When he arrived at Cherry Hills for his first U.S. Amateur after a round-of-16 showing at last month’s U.S. Amateur Public Links, Fox knew he was among the game’s elite. He was competing against the likes of University of Alabama All-Americans Justin Thomas, Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett, along with world No. 1 Chris Williams, top international players such as Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (world No. 2), 2011 USA Walker Cupper Patrick Rodgers from Stanford and 2012 North and South Amateur champion Peter Williamson, to name a few.
Fox’s two-round total of 2-over 143 at Cherry Hills and CommonGround Golf Course, the companion stroke-play qualifying venue, put him into a Wednesday morning 17-man playoff for the last 14 match-play spots. As it turned out, Fox needed to go four holes to garner the No. 63 seed.
And en route to the final, he took out Williams, a 2011 USA Walker Cup member, in the quarterfinals, and University of California-Berkeley standout Brandon Hagy in Saturday’s semifinals.
His win on Sunday made him just the second No. 63 seed to win a USGA championship, joining 2005 APL winner Clay Ogden. And he is the lowest-seeded player to ever win the U.S. Amateur, since the USGA began seeding stroke-play qualifying in 1985.
We weren’t sure he was going to make match play, said Mark Guhne, who is entering his seventh season as UTC’s head men’s golf coach. He was playing so well and all of a sudden he gets into match play. We knew if he got into match play, that would be good. He’s like this. Nothing bothers him.
He’s one of those guys who can play a bad hole and then play a great hole. The kid can shoot 85-65 in a heartbeat. He can forget what happened the day before. I’ve never seen him mad on the golf course in five years of recruiting him and having him play for me.
Fox said the last month has been surreal. Going from barely qualifying for the Amateur, to barely getting into match play, to beating the top-ranked amateur in the world and eventually hoisting the Havemeyer Trophy has been a dream.
I can’t even explain it really, said Fox. It didn’t’ seem like it was coming true. My goal was just to make it to match play, [this] being my first U.S. Am. And I just kept fighting and fighting. This is awesome.
A Passion From The Start
Alan Fox, who grew up in Brooklyn and attended Brooklyn College, didn’t take up golf until he was 26 and working for a tire company in South Carolina. Alan, in fact, played one season of professional basketball in Israel. His wife, Maureen, played collegiate hoops at Long Island University and Brooklyn College.
Playing golf three times a year while working in South Carolina, and later after moving to North Canton, Ohio, Alan eventually grew to like the game, getting his handicap as low as 12. He bought a junior set of clubs for his oldest daughter, Ashley. She never took to it, but Steven started playing with the clubs in the backyard, eventually transitioning to a nearby driving range and then junior tournaments.
I very quickly saw some hand-eye coordination, said Alan.
Steven Fox was never an elite junior or American Junior Golf Association All-American, but he did win some 100 local/regional events, said Guhne. A dozen or so colleges showed interest before Steven chose UTC.
For the past three years at UTC, Fox played in the shadow of Stephen Jaeger, a German who reached the second round of last year’s U.S. Amateur. Jaeger turned pro this summer, so Fox, a two-time All-Southern Conference performer and winner of one college tournament, is expected to be the team’s leader in 2012-13.
This U.S. Amateur triumph certainly will raise expectations.
It’s huge for him, said Guhne. It’s going to open up a whole new life for him.
You don’t ever expect one of your guys to win a tournament like this. Did I think he was as good as anybody here? I thought he was at that level. But it takes so much to win. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a great [senior] season.
UTC On Map
Up until Sunday, the two biggest sports stories for UTC were the school’s run to the Sweet Sixteen in the 1997 NCAA men’s basketball championship, and wide receiver Terrell Owens becoming an NFL star with the San Francisco 49ers, and later with the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. He has also played for several other NFL teams as his career reaches its twilight.
But Guhne said Fox’s U.S. Amateur win tops the list in terms of achievements by someone currently at the school.
It’s huge, said Guhne, who attended the school in the early 1980s. It’s huge for our program. I don’t think anyone has done anything like this.
Odds and Ends
Fox and Weaver attended the Broncos-Seahawks NFL exhibition game together on Saturday night with their dads as guests of John Elway, the team’s executive vice president of football operations. Alan Foxsaid he got to know Weaver and his dad/caddie, Bill, at the game… Fox wasn’t the only UTC golfer to make USGA headlines this summer. At last week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, Donnie Green (Class of 1979) caddied for his daughter, Jaye Marie Green, who was the runner-up to world No. 1 Lydia Ko at The Country Club in Cleveland. Green played at UTC with current volunteer assistant David McKenna… When asked about the likely 2013 Masters invitation and U.S. and British Open exemptions, Fox said: I mean none of it has sunk in. I guess I’ve tried picturing myself on the first tee at Augusta [National], and it doesn’t seem real. Going to the U.S. Open [at Merion Golf Club] … I can’t even picture myself there.… Fox’s dad said Steven has never traveled overseas, but that will change in the next month. He’s all but assured a spot on the three-man USA Team for the World Amateur Team Championship in Turkey this fall, and the 2013 British Open will be at Muirfield in Scotland.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.