U.S. Am: Fox defeats World No. 1 Williams

Steven Fox defeated World No. 1 amateur Chris Williams to advance to the semifinals at the U.S. Amateur.

Steven Fox defeated World No. 1 amateur Chris Williams to advance to the semifinals at the U.S. Amateur.

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – For those of you who love to root for an underdog, meet Steven Fox.

The 21-year-old senior at Tennessee-Chattanooga barely made match play, starting his Wednesday at 7 a.m. as one of 17 players vying for 14 spots in a playoff to qualify for match play. It was down to four players for three spots when he holed a 10-foot par putt on the fourth playoff hole to earn his spot as the 63rd seed in match play.

From sneaking into the field, Fox pulled off the biggest upset of the championship, taking down World No. 1 amateur Chris Williams, 4 and 2, in the quarterfinals of the 112th U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club.

Underdog? You betcha.

“On paper, I had to be,” he said. “This is by far the best thing I’ve done in my career. By far.”

Fox, of Hendersonville, Tenn., thrives in a match-play format. In 2011, he won the Tennessee Golf Association Match Play Championship, and he reached the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship earlier this summer.

The road to the quarterfinals hadn’t been too taxing. Fox, ranked No. 127 in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking, had not defeated anyone higher than No. 2,367 (Doug Hanzel, in the Round of 32) in the WAGR before his encounter with Williams. Just by the numbers, this was expected to be a different story.

“I give (Williams) a lot of respect,” Fox said. “I knew I had to play well, had to bring out my ‘A’ game, and luckily I did.”

At the third hole, Fox handed Williams, a Washington senior from Moscow, Idaho, his first deficit in 50 holes of match play. Fox boomed his tee shot at the 315-yard hole, the shortest par 4 on the course, into the front greenside bunker, scooped it to 3 feet and made birdie. Williams ran into trouble at the fourth hole, and Fox won it with a conceded par to go 2 up. Fox widened his lead to 3 up when his tee shot at the 154-yard sixth landed 15 feet from the hole and he rolled in the putt.

If there is a shot that Williams will lose sleep over tonight, it likely is his second at the uphill, 491-yard ninth hole. Both players pushed their tee shots into the right fairway bunker. Fox hit first and picked his ball clean. Williams attempted to loft a 7-iron from 175 yards. The ball caught the lip and caromed backwards over his head.

“I just hit it thin,” Williams said.

Fox pitched from 20 yards in front of the green to 4 feet for a winning par and a commanding 4-up lead through nine holes.

“That was beyond my expectations,” Fox said. “I just was hoping to make it a close match.”

On the back nine, Fox’s short game began to shine. He got up-and-down for par at 10, for birdie on the par-5 11th, and from just over the green at the 14th.

“No matter where I hit the ball, there’s always a chance to get up-and-down,” Fox said.

“That’s his game,” added Fox’s father Alan, who has caddied for his son this week. “He’s been that way since he was a kid.”

Fox began playing at age 2, using cut-down clubs from his older sister Ashley. He progressed from the backyard to the driving range to a lesson at the David Leadbetter Academy in Orlando, Fla., at age 6. Fox sprouted into a gangly 6-foot-3-inch, 155-pounder and is expected to play No. 1 in his senior season for the Mocs.

Fox conceded the par-3 15th hole, the only hole Williams won all day. One hole later, they took off their caps and shook hands after Williams’ 20-foot birdie try slid past the hole on the left.

“He just played great the whole time, and I never really got anything going,” Williams said. “It’s tough to beat a guy when you’re already down when he keeps making pars.

“He’ll be tough to beat.”

Fox will meet Brandon Hagy of Westlake Village, Calif., in Saturday’s semifinal, which begins at 8:15 a.m.

• • •

QUARTERFINALS

Justin Thomas def. Oliver Goss, 2 up

Michael Weaver def. Ricardo Gouveia, 4 and 3

Steven Fox def. Chris Williams, 4 and 2

Brandon Hagy def. Cheng-Tsung Pan, 4 and 3

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