One year ago, Steven Fox sat with his father anonymously in a Denver steakhouse with a cold Sam Adams lager on the table in front of him.
He was just an ordinary college golfer — one of many in the Denver area ready to compete for the U.S. Amateur championship at Cherry Hills — with nothing on his resume to indicate he could contend to be the nation’s amateur champion.
Other University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfers had tried to be the champion, only to come up short. Thousands of other collegiate golfers had suffered the same fate of the prestigious tournament.
That night at dinner, after Fox ordered his steak and fixings, a friend joked to him over the phone that they would buy him a case of Sam Adams if he won the tournament.
The debt — in order to comply with NCAA and amateurism rules — has yet to be paid.
He surprised everybody.
Fox won the 2012 U.S. Amateur in the most Hollywood sort of style. He was 2 down with two holes to play against decorated Cal golfer Michael Weaver. Fox won the 35th hole of the day to pull within one. He had his hat in hand on the 36th hole when Weaver’s potential winning putt circled the cup and sent the duo to a sudden-death playoff.
Fox won on the first playoff hole.
“This is unreal,” Fox said moments after the victory one year ago which changed his life.
The win placed him alongside the greats of the game — from Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods — and etched his name on the fabled Havemeyer Trophy.
And it began the most incredible, euphoric year that any amateur golfer — let alone one who grew up in Hendersonville and played for mid-major UTC — could possible dream of.
He went from an unknown golfer to celebrity in the city, complete with a ceremony that included the governor and a state senator congratulating Fox, and earned all the trappings of life as a PGA Tour player.
Fox ate lunch with Arnold Palmer. He played in nine professional tour events including three of four majors. He played in the Masters alongside defending champion Bubba Watson after teaming-up with Phil Mickelson in a practice round.
He competed in the U.S. Open in the same group as defending champion Webb Simpson and British Open champion Ernie Els. He flew to Scotland where he played in the British Open.
He lived a golfer’s dream in a year.
“How it all evolved is pretty crazy,” Fox said. “I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. It’s been awesome for me and my family.”
Fox will attempt to defend his championship this morning when the U.S. Amateur begins at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., just outside of Boston. His first tee shot is slated to be struck at 8:05 this morning. Former Baylor School golfer and Lee University star Matt Emery is slated to start his chase for the championship at 12:25 p.m. Fox will play the Charles River Country Club on Tuesday, just a few days after he claimed the Tennessee State Amateur by five strokes.
“You still have the same emotions when you win whether it’s the state am or the U.S. Am,” said Fox, who missed the cut in each of his professional contests. “You still get that emotion.”
Fox’s plan is to take the same golf swing and putting stroke from last week into this upcoming week. Another part of the plan is to keep the same routine as when he won. Fox and his father in the day, a steak and a beer at night.
“With the experiences he’s had over the last year we’re looking forward to going back and he looks forward to playing in front of a gallery,” said Alan Fox, who handed over caddie duties to Ben Rickett midway through the championship match last year. “We know people are coming to watch him, and I’m excited to go with him even more this year.
“I’m carrying the bag, and unless something happens, I’m going all the way, or at least as far as he goes.”
The U.S. Amateur, barring an unforeseen situation, will be Fox’s final tournament as an amateur. He will become a professional.
But, unlike most golfers who decide to play for their pay, Fox has plans to continue his business studies at UTC. He needs 19 hours to complete his degree.
“I think he has a tremendous amount of game and a good chance to be successful on the next level of golf,” UTC coach Mark Guhne said. “I feel like that education is so important, and if he can get close — if not finish it up — that’s the best thing for him.”
The absolute best for Fox as a golfer is being the U.S. Amateur champion, even if it’s only for a few more days.
“I’ll go into this championship like I did last year when I thought I was an underdog,” Fox said. “That worked. I’ll try to get to match play and go from there.”
He’s already gone from a collegiate Chattanoogan to champion.
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...