U.S. Amateur champ Fox heading to Augusta

By Ryan LavnerApril 7, 2013, 1:39 pm

A 14-year-old will tee it up at the Masters, which figures to obscure every other amateur achievement next week. Surprisingly, that sits well with Steven Fox, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, who most years would assume a starring role among the Crow’s Nest contingent. Instead, he likely will be relegated to chaperone duty.

“Getting rid of that added pressure, it could help me,” Fox said recently. “I mean, wow, 14 and playing in the Masters. I wouldn’t be able to stand on the first tee. Heck, I probably won’t be able to stand at 22, either.”

Last week, the senior at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga finished second in his last regular-season start, held at Reunion Golf and Country Club in Madison, Miss. (The hallowed grounds of Augusta National, it is not.) But a few weeks from graduation, Fox is primed to begin a crash course in major-championship golf, and only the world will be watching.

That’s a scary proposition for any amateur, but especially for a player undergoing a swing change. After eight years Fox changed instructors this winter, moving to Brad Rose, the swing coach to PGA Tour winner Scott Stallings. Fox said he was “perfectly fine making the switch,” which has helped lower his hands at impact, and that now he has “complete trust with Brad.”

Still, it hasn’t been a seamless transition for Fox, who for the first time arrives at college events as the man to beat. But with expectations mounting, and his game suffering, he recently tapped out a note on his iPhone and saved it to his background.

The message reads: Believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities. Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers, you cannot be successful or happy.

“I wrote it to show that I belong out here,” he said. “I get a little nervous at times. So I want to make sure I know that I belong here and to calm the nerves a little bit.”

Each start is scrutinized now, his name essentially boldfaced on any entry list.

Such is life for the reigning U.S. Amateur champion – especially one who triumphed in such dramatic fashion. 

At the beginning of that magical week in August, Fox merely hoped to reach the match-play portion at Cherry Hills. That itself proved a challenge, as he needed to survive a 17-for-14 playoff after stroke play.

But Fox, of Hendersonville, Tenn., grew more confident and comfortable as the week wore on, defeating the top-ranked amateur in the world, Chris Williams, as well as Cal standout Brandon Hagy.

Then, in the 36-hole final, against Hagy’s teammate, Michael Weaver, Fox erased a 2-down deficit with two holes to play, then made birdie on the first extra hole to win.

So, yes, you can forgive his teammates for keeping the U.S. Amateur in the daily conversation. They have nicknamed Fox “champ.”

“I don’t think they even know my first or last name,” he joked. “It is just ‘champ’ to them.”

In February, at the Bayou City Collegiate Championship, the starter glanced at the pairings sheet, asked another volunteer why one name sounded so familiar, and then, right there on the first tee, gave Fox the only introduction of the week: The reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Steven Fox! He eventually tied for 18th. 

“The players want to beat you so bad, and you obviously don’t want to see that,” said Fox, who had just three top 10s in eight starts this season. “There’s just a feeling that you have to play well all the time. I tried to deny it but there definitely is. I have to get rid of that.”

Fox’s expectations for the Masters are modest, at best. In fact, he’s more looking forward to the Par 3 Contest than the tournament proper. The strongest part of his game is his wedges.

“People say that if you win the Par 3, you won’t win the big one,” he said. “But I’m perfectly fine with winning the Par 3, trust me.”

Already he has lined up practice rounds with Brian Gay and Phil Mickelson, whom he met at Torrey Pines. He’s been working feverishly to set up a round with Brandt Snedeker, another Tennessee kid.

This will mark Fox’s first trip to Augusta since 2010, when as a Chattanooga freshman he received a Monday practice-round badge. Fox watched Tiger Woods hit a few shots, and he toured the grounds, and he snapped dozens of pictures.

Back then, a return visit seemed unlikely for Fox, but so, too, did the prospect of a 14-year-old between the ropes. No matter what happens next week, Fox relishes his role in a historic amateur class.

“All junior players, that’s their dream to play there,” he said. “I get to live it now. That’s pretty cool.”

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."