Steven Fox, 21, of Hendersonville, Tenn., made an 18-foot birdie putt on the 37th hole to defeat Michael Weaver, 21, of Fresno, Sunday and win the 2012 U.S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado.
Fox, who like Weaver advanced to match play as one of 14 survivors of a 17-man playoff earlier in the week, becomes the highest seed, No. 63, to win the U.S. Amateur since the United States Golf Association began the seeding process in 1985. Fox is the first to win the Amateur after advancing through a playoff since Italy’s Edoardo Molinari in 2005.
“This is unreal” said Fox, a University of Tennessee-Chattanooga senior, who rallied from two down with two holes to play to win in extra holes. “I mean, it doesn’t even feel real. The whole week is like a dream to me.”
With the victory, Fox earned an exemption to next year’s U.S. Open and British Open and a likely invitation to the 2013 Masters Tournament. Fox’s win was the first U.S. Amateur to go past 36 holes since Australian Nick Flanagan’s win in 2003, which also went 37 holes.
The U.S. Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Weaver, who plays for the University of California-Berkeley, was more likely to have his dreams realized when he took a 2-up lead by rattling in a 12-foot birdie putt on the 34th hole. But Fox rallied with a birdie on the par-5 17th to cut the lead in half. Weaver had an opportunity to wrap up the match on the 36th hole, but his 5-foot par putt hit the back of the hole and spun out.
“That’s golf,” said Weaver, who was the 60th seed in the match-play bracket and defeated five top-50 players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking en route to the championship final. “I played it about right edge. I wanted to hit it, not ram it in, but make sure I got it there. I hit a good putt, hit my line. For it to lip out like that, I would rather just hit a bad putt.”
With the match all square, the unlikely championship pairing proceeded to the par-4, 338-yard first hole. Weaver hit his tee shot to the left, over both the green and second tee, and then had to pitch the ball twice from the rough to get onto the green. Fox took a safer route with a 6-iron off the tee and a second shot that ended up 18 feet above the hole. His downhill putt slowly tracked right to left into the hole to complete the rally.
“We decided to hit six and lay up a little bit,” said Fox, discussing his strategy with caddie Ben Rickett, assistant golf coach at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, who replaced Fox’s father, Alan, on the bag after the morning 18 holes. “The adrenaline kicked in and I hit [the approach shot] as hard I could from about 70 yards and see if it would stop (on the green). I just wanted to cozy it down there for par, and I just tapped it and luckily it found the hole.”
In the morning 18 holes, Fox, the WAGR’s No. 127 player, took an early lead with a pair of pars on the opening two holes. Weaver came back with a birdie on par-4 third. His drive went over the green on the 328-yard hole, and he bounced his chip into a bank to within 8 feet and sank the putt.
Weaver, who defeated consensus college national player of the year Justin Thomas, 3 and 2, in his semifinal match, drew all square on the par-5 fifth when Fox drove his tee shot into a water hazard, leading to a bogey. Weaver went ahead by winning the 7th and 8th holes. Weaver nearly aced the par-3, 267-yard 8th, when his ball landed 10 yards short of the hole, rolled forward, and hit the back of the hole.
Fox twice sliced the lead in half with pars at the 12th and 14th. But Weaver answered by winning consecutive holes to go 3 up. He made a two-putt par at the par-3 15th hole when Fox bogeyed after hitting into a greenside bunker. Fox conceded the 16th hole after having to chip twice from left of the green. Weaver bogeyed the 17th when his second shot from the right rough found the water in front of the green and he took a 2-up advantage to the break.
Fox, who defeated Chris Williams, the world’s top amateur player, in the quarterfinals, went 3 down when he double-bogeyed the second hole in the afternoon. He was consistently two holes behind until he rolled in a 17-foot birdie putt to win the par-3 15th.
“It didn’t seem like it was coming true,” said Fox, who made it to the round of 16 at last month’s U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah. “After shooting 72 in the first round of the qualifier (stroke play) and then (playing) in the playoff, my goal was just to make it to match play the first time, being my first amateur. I just kept going and kept fighting. This is awesome.”
– Courtesy Brian DePasquale, USGA