Celebrating Steven Fox, the U.S. Amateur’s Most Unlikely Winner
A decade ago, the No. 63 seed stole the show as the biggest underdog in the history of the event
By Jordan Perez
PARAMUS, N.J. — Steven Fox qualified for his first U.S. Amateur in 2012, but he thought long and hard about not even making the long trek west to Cherry Hills in Denver. He was fatigued. His game had taken a beating for much of the summer. Maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to rest up before his last year at Tennessee-Chattanooga. But a little father-and-son time couldn’t be a bad thing, right? Fox made the trip, but his expectations were modest. He’d give it a shot, see if he could find something in his game. Making match play would be a bonus for the 127th-ranked amateur in the world. Of course, if that happened he was a match play aficionado, having won the Tennessee State Match Play the previous year. And he had reached the Round of 16 at the 2012 U.S. Public Links Championship.
When Fox finished up early on the second day of stroke play, he was hovering around the cut line but in his mind he was already heading home. Then he survived a mega 17-for-14 playoff and snuck into match play as the No. 63 seed, the second-to-last player to get through.
What followed was the kind of unlikely run that, even a decade later, still resonates. As the 2022 U.S. Amateur unfolds this week at Ridgewood Country Club, even the biggest underdog would be wise to remember Fox’s never-say-die attitude.
As Fox prevailed in first round of match play, then the second round, then the Sweet 16, each victory was celebrated with a beer and steak alongside his father, Alan. Having recently turned 21, Fox was happy to flex his ID to wary waiters and bartenders.
In the quarterfinal he met Chris Williams, the top-ranked amateur in the world. That came as news to Fox, who relied on his stellar wedge game to take down Williams, 4 and 2. “He’ll be tough to beat,” said Williams, who won only one hole. Sure enough, in the semifinals, Fox knocked off future Tour player Brandon Hagy, 2 up.
For the 36-hole final, Fox drew Michael Weaver, an All-American at Cal. The top prize in amateur golf was on the line, yet on the eve of the match these old friends attended a Denver Broncos preseason game.
With his son 2 down after the morning 18, Alan Fox ceded the bag to Ben Rickett, an assistant coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga. “With over 3,000 people walking everywhere, he loosened me up,” Fox says of Rickett. Nevertheless, Weaver was dormie when the players reached the par-5 17th. Fox rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt to cut his deficit in half but still needed to win the last hole to extend the match. With Weaver looking at a five-foot par putt to win, it appeared Fox’s dream run was at long last coming to an end. He had even removed his hat for the looming congratulatory handshake. But Weaver’s putt spun out of the hole. It marked the fourth time in six matches that Fox won the 18th (or in this case, 36th) hole.
“For it to lip out like that, I would rather it just not even have hit the hole,” Weaver said after the match. “To have that happen, I mean I don’t know what to say.”
They returned to the 1st hole, the par-4 that Arnold Palmer famously drove during his final-round comeback win at the 1960 U.S. Open. Fox found the fairway with a 6-iron. Opting for driver, Weaver went well over the green and needed two shots to reach the putting surface. He was still looking at a 10-foot par attempt when Fox rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt for the title.
He remains the lowest seed to win the U.S. Amateur since the inception of seeding in 1985. Fox returned to Chattanooga for his senior year and then turned professional. But his unexpected success eroded his confidence. “The pressure and nerves came after winning the Amateur,” Fox says.
He earned conditional status on the Web.com Tour and spent time on the Latinoamerica Tour but could never break through. His last event came in late 2020. Now working in commercial real estate, Fox is happier than ever—a married father of two who is no longer a road warrior. He stays involved in the game, such as caddying for Kynadie Adams at the 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior. But as Fox awaits his reinstatement as an amateur, his competitive spirit has been reignited knowing the U.S. Amateur is returning to Cherry Hills next year. Maybe, just maybe.
Fox says his best advice for players in the field at Ridgewood is to develop a game plan and stick to it. “You gotta work hard,” he says. “There are no days off.”
And although his venture into professional golf didn’t pan out, Fox is content with his place in history. “No one can take that trophy away from you,” he says. “It’s yours forever.”