Fox preps for Masters with top pros

Fox preps for Masters with top pros

April 7th, 2013 by David Uchiyama in Sportlocal

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer Steven Fox takes a break from practicing with teammates at the Council Fire Golf Course.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Steven Fox had played about a dozen practice rounds at Augusta National Golf Club in advance of his participation in the Masters.

He said earlier this season that he'll never forget his first round.

"Nothing is out of place," Fox said. "It's perfect."

And it's unlikely that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior will forget the round he played Saturday. He played with some of the biggest names in the game.

Fox, who gained entry into the Masters by winning the 2012 U.S. Amateur championship, played 18 holes with three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley and runner-up Jason Dufner, all of whom are ranked in the top 20 in the world.

"It was pretty phenomenal," said Fox's caddie, Ben Rickett. "These are the top players in the world. They were very helpful, especially Phil."

The original schedule had Fox playing with Mickelson today, but Fox got bumped up a day because Mickelson has a scheduled round with someone who has Secret Service as fore-caddie: President Barack Obama.

Fox traveled to Augusta National several times during the winter to play practice rounds. The first time he played the first hole, it couldn't have been better. He struck a drive into the fairway, then hit an 8-iron onto the green and rolled in a putt of about 15 feet, he said.

"It was a good start to Augusta," said Fox, who will be paired with defending Masters champion Bubba Watson and defending U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson on Thursday morning.

Fox will have had about 18 practice rounds on the famed course by then, when a crowd of thousands and an international television audience of millions will be watching.

"If I were to set a goal, it would be to make the cut and be low amateur," Fox said last week. "But I'm not going to set that goal. I'm going to be playing my game. And if that's enough, then it's enough."

Fox played a few practice rounds with an Augusta National local caddie. Then Rickett joined the sessions last month. Rickett, who was an assistant coach at UTC when Fox won the Am and carried his bag over the final 19 holes of that championship, met with the local caddie who helped develop a plan for Fox.

"The first thing I did was make good friends with his caddie and pick his brains for all the information a local caddie has," said Rickett, the new director of golf at Dalton State. "The first time, I watched and took notes while trying to figure the course."

Fox played practice rounds with members and also played one round with PGA Tour member Scott Stallings, who grew up in Oak Ridge and almost won a Nationwide Tour event in Chattanooga. Fox said Stallings gave him fantastic advice on playing the course and handling the week of events.

Yet there's nothing like experiencing the twists and turns and magnetic pull of the greens toward Rae's Creek for oneself. Rickett said the local caddie helped him mark the yardage book he'll use in the tournament -- with notes marking unseen breaks on the greens.

But Fox must get to the greens first.

"Imagination and creativity are big things, especially when it comes to the short game, and Fox does things you cannot teach," Rickett said. "He'll need to do that, and be smart to aggressive targets. There are little greens within the greens. Unless you hit fantastic shots, you're going to lag and tap it in."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.