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.”

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x