By Jim Horten, GoMocs.com
Steven Fox, 2012 United States Amateur Champion. Those words are as odd for Fox to say as it is for me to write them.
"It is all just unreal," said Fox after claiming one of golf's most prestigious trophies. "I'm not sure when I will get used to hearing that. Hopefully never."
Yes, Chattanooga has an instant celebrity on its hands. How about answering your phone with legend Arnold Palmer on the other end of the line inviting you to lunch?
"That was amazing," said Fox. "Through all of this, two words always come out of my mouth: amazing and unreal."
Palmer was the 1954 U.S. Amateur Champion. Welcome to the club Mr. Fox.
And what a club it is. In addition to Mr. Palmer, Fox is now mentioned in the same sentence as five-time champion Bobby Jones. That's the same Bobby Jones who started the Masters where Fox will likely tee it up in April.
"To think I'm likely to get invited to the Masters and play Augusta National," Fox said with a gleam in his eye. "That's an absolute dream. It's hard to comprehend."
The club includes Jack Nicklaus (twice), Tiger Woods (three times) and Phil Mickelson. Mickelson also won his Amateur at Cherry Hills. In fact, Fox will be enshrined in the storied club's "Hall of Champions" right next to Mickelson and across from Nicklaus (1993 U.S. Senior Open).
Cherry Hills Country Club has a special, indelible place in golf lore. It's hosted several majors with Palmer's charge to win the 1960 U.S. Open ranking as one of sports', not just golf's, most talked about moments.
The club's Hall of Champions memorializes ITS champions. That's the attitude the club takes and what makes it such a special place to win. There is a shrine for each champion who have won there.
It starts with Ralph Guldahl who won the 1938 U.S. Open. It was the first time the USGA held its signature event west of Minneapolis. It was such a hit that the 1941 PGA Championship came to Cherry Hills with Vic Ghezzi claiming the title.
But it was the 1960 U.S. Open that moved the club into the "fabled" category. Palmer's comeback win, out-dueling Ben Hogan and Nicklaus, is a lasting memory and an inspiration to Fox who added to the comeback legacy after trailing by two with two holes to play Sunday.
Fox joins another Chattanooga legend in Cherry Hill's Hall. Lewis Oehmig won the 1976 U.S. Senior Amateur there. He defeated John Richardson 4&3. It was his second of a record three Senior Am titles who was also a finalist a record six times, also a record for the event.
There were six more major events to traverse the iconic course. Andy North won the 1978 U.S. Open, while Hubert Green captured the 1985 PGA Championship. Along with Mickelson's 1990 triumph and Nicklaus' 1993 win, Jay Sigel won the 1983 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. Sigel won two U.S. Amateurs and three Mid-Amateur titles along with one British Amateur. Birdie Kim was the club's last champion winning the 2005 U.S. Women's Open.
That just begins to describe what Fox is now a part of. The titans of this club have already been mentioned, but here are few more names that Fox joins on the illustrious list of U.S. Amateur Champions. These are men who won the U.S. Am and a professional major: Gene Littler (1953), Lanny Wadkins (1970), Craig Stadler (1973), Jerry Pate (1974), Mark O'Meara (1979), Hal Sutton (1980) and Justin Leonard (1992).
Yes, it is overwhelming to consider the names Fox has joined on the Havemeyer Trophy. But if you want an even greater context, these are the names that aren't on it: Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Lee Trevino. All those men are American with five or more professional major titles, yet not a single U.S. Amateur title among them. It boggles the mind.
"That's harder to comprehend than playing in the Masters," Fox added. "If I came close to any of their careers, it would be an amazing accomplishment."
It took 37 holes to put Fox's name among those for the ages. He led by as many as two holes and trailed by as much as three, but he hung in there. He forced Michael Weaver to make shots and putts and that he did.
Weaver was a formidable opponent, one to remember as well. His birdie on 16 made the match dormie at two holes up with two to play. Fox had to excel to defeat the Cal star.
A birdie on 17 for Fox closed the match to a single hole. He just missed birdie on 18 to force a playoff and was ready to shake Weaver's hand and congratulate him as Michael's putter made contact from about five feet away.
Replays show the ball hit something on its way to glory. It veered slightly left, went in the hole and came back out. Fox's tenacity gave him the opportunity to play another hole.
And did he ever make the most of that hole. Talk about indelible memories! He lightly rapped an 18-foot downhill putt. It looked like it would never get to the hole. But get there it did as it fell in to the delight of the largest gallery in recent U.S. Amateur memory.
"To think I'm likely to play at Augusta National, the U.S. Open at Merion and the British Open at Muirfield," Fox concluded. "That's a grand slam of courses. But it starts with Cherry Hills. To win at a club like that, to know you are a champion at one of the world's most special places...words can't describe it."
Steven Fox, United States Amateur Champion.