For Steven Fox, winning the U.S. Amateur last August was the gift that keeps on giving.
The obvious benefit of his dramatic victory at historic Cherry Hills near Denver was immediate entry into three of golf’s four major championships, the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. But there have been all sorts of cool side trips, including one this week when Fox tees it up at the Farmers Insurance Open at another famed venue, Torrey Pines (North and South courses) near San Diego.
Torrey Pines has been the site of several significant tournaments and has been a regular stop on the PGA Tour since 1968. Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open there in 2008 and will be playing in the tournament this week, along with hometown hero Phil Mickelson and several other Tour stars, including 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson.
“He’s looking forward to the experience,” said Fox’s coach at UTC, Mark Guhne. “And if he plays golf the way he can play, he’ll do well. But it’s his first time out there (in a tour event) and it’s tough.
“Still, it’s a great opportunity to get to play with those guys before he gets to the Masters (April 11-14). He’ll know what’s going on. When he gets to August, it’ll be different because it’s a major, but a lot of the same guys he’ll see this week are going to be there.”
That shouldn’t be a problem, says another key person in Fox’s life, his swing coach Brian Lackey.
“Not a whole lot fazes him,” Lackey said. “He’s never been intimidated by anyone or anything.”
Lackey has long believed Fox’s game will hold up against the best players in the world.
“I believe wholeheartedly that he has what it takes to get on Tour,” Lackey said. “He’s plenty long enough. His ball striking is good enough. You don’t win the U.S. Amateur by chance. You may beat one or two guys. But you don’t beat the No. 1 amateur in the world. It’s not like that guy played bad golf. Steve just played better.”
Fox has parlayed the U.S. Amateur into some playing opportunities he never would have experienced otherwise, and he’s made the best of them. He helped lead the USA team to victory in the World Amateur Team Championships in October. Earlier this month, he represented his country again at the Copas de las Americas tournament in Miami.
And then there’s August National. Fox has played several rounds at the famed home of the Masters as he prepares for the first major of the season.
“Surreal,” is how Fox described his chance to play in the Masters.
Guhne thinks Fox’s increased tournament schedule has helped improve his game.
“More from a mental standpoint than anything else,” Guhne said. “I think the expectations he places on himself, and that everybody else places on him, can make you go one of two ways. It can either cause you to play poorly, and not be able to handle it. Or it can cause you to focus more.
“It think he’s focused more on his bad rounds because he’s turned his bad rounds into better rounds. That’s been his biggest improvement. He knows he’s a player because he won the U.S. Amateur. That’s got to give you confidence. But he knows everyone’s watching him. He doesn’t want to play bad, so sometimes, he wills himself into a good round.
“That’s what good players do.”