CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – The U.S. Amateur is the climax of the summer amateur season, giving us a week of memorable moments as the game’s biggest names go mano-a-mano in match-play competition.
Here’s 5 Things to remember from a dramatic week outside Denver:
1. FOXED: They’ve coined a term back in Chattanooga for being beaten in an improbable manner by Steven Fox. It’s called “being Foxed.” The Tennessee-Chattanooga senior showed us the true meaning of that term on the biggest stage of his career. He was 2 down with two holes remaining in the U.S. Amateur’s final before winning three consecutive holes to claim the Havemeyer Trophy. His 15-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole at Cherry Hills Country Club gave him the biggest title in amateur golf.
“He’s someone who does the most unbelievable things at the right moment,” said Chattanooga assistant coach Ben Rickett, who caddied for Fox in the second round of the final match.
Consider that Fox had to shoot 64, including an eagle on his final hole, just to avoid a playoff at his sectional qualifier. He had to make a 10-foot par putt to advance out of a playoff for the final spots in the 64-man, match-play bracket. Fox, the No. 63 seed, saw three of his first five matches go to the 18th hole; he won that hole all three times, most dramatically in his semifinal match with Brandon Hagy. Fox was 1 up on the final hole, and some 40 yards behind Hagy off the tee, before hitting 4-iron to 5 feet to set up birdie and a 2-up victory. He called that “the best shot of my life,” and donated the 4-iron to the USGA.
The key attribute that allows Fox to come out on the right side of so many close calls? Chattanooga head coach Mark Guhne said it’s Fox never-wavering optimism. “Nothing bothers him,” Guhne said. “He’s one of those guys who can play a bad hole and then play a great hole.”
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2. WEAVER’S TOUGH FINISH: The U.S. Amateur title seemed like it was Michael Weaver’s after he made a 15-foot birdie putt on Cherry Hills’ 16th hole to take a 2-up lead with two holes remaining in the final match with Steven Fox. Instead, Weaver was on the wrong end of one of the most dramatic finishes in U.S. Amateur history. Fox holed a 10-foot birdie putt to win the 17th hole. Both players had 40-foot birdie putts on No. 18. Weaver was 1 up and likely needing just a two-putt to win. Fox lagged his putt to inches, leaving Weaver with a 5-footer for the win. His putt looked on-line, but violently spun out of the hole.
“I hit a good putt, hit my line, and I mean just … for it to lip out like that, I would rather it just not even have hit the hole,” Weaver said. “I mean I would have rather just hit a bad putt, you know, and that’s that, but to have that happen, I mean I don’t know what to say.”
Fox gasped when Weaver’s putt missed the hole. “I think I put my hand over my mouth,” Fox said. “I was shocked.”
Weaver led from the match’s seventh hole until reaching the green on the 36th hole. The ending was tough to watch, but you have to believe Weaver is feeling better when driving up Augusta National’s Magnolia Lane next April.
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3. BEAR MARKET: When two Cal Bears advanced to the semifinals, it provided the potential for a historic final at the U.S. Amateur. Two college teammates could’ve faced off for the Havemeyer Trophy. Michael Weaver advanced to the final by beating Justin Thomas, the reigning Haskins Award winner as college golf’s player of the year. Brandon Hagy fell just short, losing 2-down to eventual champion Steven Fox.
The U.S. Amateur was a big week for the Bears. Four Cal players made match play, and three advanced to the Round of 32.
The fact that both Weaver and Hagy chose to enter Cal’s prestigious Haas School of Business, and redshirt a season to prepare for the school’s rigors, made their achievement even more meaningful. These are players who are true student-athletes.
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4. CHRIS CARRIES ON: Chris Williams began the U.S. Amateur as the No. 1 player in the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Rankings. He’d earn starts in the U.S. Open and Open Championship if he could maintain that position at week’s end. That’s quite a burden to shoulder, especially when you consider that Williams was the only quarterfinalist not to employ a caddie.
Williams carried his own bag, often lugging his stand bag backwards with both straps on his left shoulder. “I’m just doing my own thing. Chilling. Cruising,” Williams said. “I don’t mind not having a caddie. I tend to make decisions well for myself. When you get a caddie, then you start talking about things. I like to be very decisive. With no caddie, I can do things the way I want to do them.”
He advanced to the quarterfinals, the best U.S. Amateur showing of his career, before falling to eventual champion Steven Fox. Williams’ work at Cherry Hills was enough to hold onto the No. 1 spot and earn the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the world’s top amateur. Whether the Washington senior takes advantage of both starts after completing his college career at next year’s NCAA Championship remains to be seen.
Williams and Washington teammate Cheng-Tsung Pan both advanced to the quarterfinals, meaning half of the final eight players at Cherry Hills were the products of two Pac-12 schools. Cal’s Brandon Hagy and Michael Weaver also advanced to the quarterfinals.
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5. WHAT A WEEK: The U.S. Amateur reminded us that unpredictability is one of the things we love most about sports. Sports were the original reality television, where someone’s wildest dreams could come true in mere moments. Steven Fox’s performance at the U.S. Amateur beats anything ever witnessed on America’s Got Talent, and by a 10-and-8 margin. Fox said he arrived at his first Amateur just hoping to make match play. “And I just kept going and kept fighting,” he said. “This is awesome.”
Awesome because Fox, never an All-American in his three seasons at Chattanooga, is now a national champion and the owner of exemptions to the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship. To think about how drastically his life changed in a matter of minutes is overwhelming and inspirational. He was all but finished when Weaver holed a 15-foot birdie putt to go 2 up with two holes remaining. Now Fox is holding the Havemeyer Trophy. It’s pretty incredible.