published Friday, April 12th, 2013

Greeson: Fox shakes butterflies for memories

  • photo
    Amateur Steven Fox hits on the driving range during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Tuesday.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Milling about on the practice green, rolling TaylorMades and doing everything in his power to enjoy the moment and forget the massive magnitude of it, Steven Fox knew it was time.

Time to live the dream and put a peg in the ground at Augusta National. Time to test his skill and his will against golf's greatest at the place that has affirmed the game's legends with that status. Time to step onto the grand stage and see if his hopes could be his future.

"They were there," Fox said of the butterflies.

It's the Masters. Of course the butterflies are here. They are big and bad and wear green jackets and bright pants and have nice manners, but they are undoubtedly here.

Before he made his way through the growing crowd behind the first tee, Fox stopped, turned and hugged his father. The cloud-covered sky could not hide the moment that will forever live in the Fox family.

"It was such a special father-son moment," Alan Fox said of the embrace, a gesture that screamed of job-well-done-getting-here and go-get-them in equal decibels. "After that moment and then making par [on No. 1], I don't care what happens the rest of the day."

Alan Fox's nerves were countered by Maureen Fox's ease. Wearing a white golf shirt with "Team Fox" in print letters, Steven's mom was calm and collected. Her nerves in this unforgettable moment were caused more by traffic stops than tee shots, making it clear where Steven got his unflappable nature.

"He sure didn't get it from Dad," sister Ashley said when the question of Fox's on-course calmness was asked.

The loudest whisper in all of sports -- "Fore please, Steven Fox now driving" -- signaled the moment was officially upon him. As his parents and his siblings and his aunts and uncles and friends and everybody else who were wedged around the first tee box waited for his swing, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior fought the nerves of the moment and the weight of the pressure.

How cool was Fox to start his Masters debut? A hooked tee shot forced him to punch out to the fairway. From there -- after calmly walking the 80 or so yards to the front of the green, Fox got up and down to make par on his first hole at a major championship. When his slippery 12-footer rolled safely into the hole, Fox stuck out his right arm at a 45-degree angle, extended his fingers slightly in expectation of the applause that was milliseconds behind and waved.

This game looked old hat for the newcomer. Augusta National is the grandest stage, but the game is not different. Great shots and one-putts trump hooks and butterflies every day.

"He's a difficult person to read, and really does an excellent job of keeping his emotions under control, but yeah, I think he was a little tight," caddie Ben Ricketts said. "He may tell you different, and he seemed relaxed but it's a little overwhelming with all the people.

"We had Tiger Woods hitting balls behind us on the practice range. Tiger Woods."

A great par was followed with an equally impressive bogey after Fox hooked his tee shot into the creek along the left side of the second fairway.

"Then, again on 2, I hooked it left," he said after finishing his 4-over-par 76. "But fortunately after the first two holes, to be 1 over and then the swing came back around on 3, and I was good from there."

This whirlwind spirit of golf's holy cathedrals is the sweet reward of his U.S. Amateur victory. It's also the summer internship of a lifetime for a potential professional golfer.

The lessons were everywhere Thursday morning. From the obvious to the obtuse and the minute to the major, the moments and the memories are everywhere here.

Fox knows this. He relishes it, in fact.

There were those bowling-ball-sized butterflies that bounced in his belly hours earlier that ultimately were replaced by the "what-if" recollections of lipped-out putts and early loose swings.

That's the difference from those who are pleased to be here and those who expect to contend.

"Oh, yeah, absolutely," Fox said about still believing he can make the weekend cut. "I missed multiple, multiple birdie opportunities. I struck the ball well, played the par 5s even, and then I played the par 3s well, and the par 4s weren't too bad.

"Just got to make those birdie opportunities."

That's the most important lesson -- enjoy the chance and get better for the next trip. Sure, it will take work for Fox the professional to get back to the heights Fox the amateur has hit. He knows it, too, and he seems prepared for the challenge.

"I'll probably remember just those butterflies on 1, but then also those great shots that I hit out there," Fox said. "It's awesome hitting some good shots and having the crowd roar. I had a putt on 9 that took it 25 feet left of the hole after Bubba [Watson] gave me a great read and having the crowd get a little louder and louder, and then you get the 'Ahhhhh' right out there, which is a disappointment."

It was arguably the only one.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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