CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Cherry Hills Country Club’s pro shop is sold out of those pink shirts with navy blue stripes, and for good reason. There was a rush on the color combination as Steven Fox closed out his 2-up semifinal victory over Cal’s Brandon Hagy at the U.S. Amateur.
Fox bought the shirt because he’d run out of matching outfits for his extended stay in this Denver suburb. Not even the most accomplished player can predict he’ll make it to the weekend at the U.S. Amateur. By Saturday, the 312-man field had been whittled down to just four competitors. Fox’s tournament almost ended early Wednesday, when he had to make a crucial 10-foot par putt to advance out of a 17-for-14 playoff for the final spots in the match-play bracket.
Now Fox, a Chattanooga senior, will face Cal’s Michael Weaver in Sunday’s U.S. Amateur final. Fox and Weaver already have clinched spots in the Masters and U.S. Open.
Fox went 1 up on the long-hitting Hagy with birdie at the par-5 fifth hole. Hagy squared the match with birdie at the par-3 sixth and won No. 9 with par to take a 1-up lead to the back nine. Fox didn’t lead again until the 15th hole, after winning two consecutive holes with pars. Hagy missed the green on both holes and missed par putts of approximately 10 feet.
“It was tough to make up strokes,” Fox said. “I really needed him to mess up somewhere, and unfortunately he did on 14 and 15. I got lucky to win those two holes.”
Fox had a chance to win No. 16, and go dormie, after hitting his approach shot to 5 feet. Hagy made a 10-foot par putt on that hole, before Fox missed his birdie putt. Both players two-putted the 17th hole for par and hit the fairway on No. 18, though Fox was some 40 yards behind Hagy.
Fox hit his 4-iron approach shot to 5 feet to all but clinch the match. He called the approach “unreal. Best shot of my life, by far.” Hagy hit his second shot some 40 feet long, then conceded the match after his birdie putt ran well past the hole.
Fox beat the world’s No. 1 amateur, Washington senior Chris Williams of Moscow, Idaho, in Friday’s quarterfinals. Fox had to face Hagy, one of college golf’s longest hitters, in the semifinals. Fox used steady play to hang with Hagy, who outdrove him by 50 yards on some holes.
Fox hit every fairway on the back nine. Hagy’s struggles to find the fairway negated his length advantage. He wasn’t able to win any of Cherry Hills’ three par 5s. Fox won the fifth after laying up and hitting wedge to 10 feet. They halved Nos. 11 and 17 with pars.
“I just hit a few more loose shots out there,” Hagy said. “I just hit a few drivers off line that took a little bit of my advantage away.”
Fox advanced to the Round of 16 at this year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links. He is a two-time All-Southern Conference selection, a 2012 All-East Region selection and was No. 103 in this season’s Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. He won last year’s Tennessee Match Play Championship, as well. Now he has a chance to claim the largest amateur match-play title of them all, after barely making it into the 64-man bracket.
“Whether you’re No. 1 or 64, you always have a chance,” Fox said. “And it’s awesome how we survived a playoff and got this far. It’s really unreal.”
It will require one more visit to Cherry Hills’ pro shop. Not that Fox minds. He’s playing for the Havemeyer Trophy now.
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Michael Weaver def. Justin Thomas, 3 and 2
Steven Fox def. Brandon Hagy, 2 up