Surprise U.S. Amateur champ Steven Fox confident as he heads to Masters

Amateur Steven Fox chips to the second green

Amateur Steven Fox chips to the second green during a practice round for The Masters in Augusta, Ga. (April 8, 2013) (Credit: AP)

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- To have overcome big odds, winning the U.S. Amateur championship and earning an invitation to the Masters, Steven Fox needed to rely on every ounce of his competitiveness. Fortunately for him, he has plenty, considering his parents are both former basketball players from Brooklyn who met on the Marine Park playgrounds.

"I think it's my husband's competitiveness. I'm easygoing," said Maureen Sheldon Fox, the golfer's mom, who might have been downplaying the drive that got her onto the women's squad at LIU and then Brooklyn College.

Alan Fox, the golfer's father, who briefly played professional ball in Israel, recalled that his first date with Maureen was at a Brooklyn neighborhood league game in which he played. The point is, Steven might have been a basketball junkie if his parents had not moved to South Carolina in the mid-1980s.

"I've got the shot. I'm not that quick, but I've got the shot," said the Tennessee-Chattanooga senior, 22, who will play in the U.S. and British Opens this summer. "My [golf] coach doesn't like me playing."

No problem there. Steven is fixated on golf, which he took up after his father did. The elder Fox was working for Michelin when it moved its headquarters to Greenville, S.C.

"I had watched it on TV a little, but I was never a golf fan. Then I fell in love with it," said the dad, who has since moved the family to Hendersonville, Tenn.

Alan was there to see his son make eagle and birdie on the final two holes just to qualify for the U.S. Amateur last year. Then he saw Steven withstand a 17-way playoff for 14 spots in the match-play portion of the event at Cherry Hills in Denver. Despite being ranked 127th in the world and being seeded 63rd out of 64, he won it. He did that by winning the final two holes of the championship match to force a playoff, and made birdie.

"The 64th player can beat the No. 1 player. You see it in the Accenture Match Play, you see it in March Madness," the amateur champion said. "Now I realize I can play with anybody. I have that extra confidence, which you need out here."

He also has some advanced local knowledge for his first round in the Masters on Thursday, thanks to Phil Mickelson, with whom he played a practice round Saturday. "It was awesome. He's such a great guy. He showed me around the course, he showed me places you can miss it, places you can't. On the greens, he showed me putts that nobody would know about, which is pretty cool," Fox said, adding that Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner, his other two partners, were just as helpful.

Fox would like to turn pro this year, but he really hopes to make the U.S. Walker Cup team and play the international match this September at National Golf Links in Southampton, near his many relatives on Long Island (Maureen has 10 siblings). "That would be such a cool deal," he said.

"That," the golfer's dad said, "would be full circle for us."

Chinese lad, 14, in field

Tianlang Guan, 14, from China will be the youngest player ever in a major. Late Monday, he played nine holes with Tiger Woods (his hero) and Dustin Johnson. All three hit simultaneously on No. 16, skipping the ball over the water, and all three made it. Woods chatted animatedly with the youngster.

Drive, Chip and Putt

Drive, Chip and Putt, a national youth skills contest that will be golf's version of the NFL's popular Punt, Pass and Kick, will begin this year, and the finals will be at Augusta National Golf Club on the Sunday before the 2014 Masters. Officials of the Masters, PGA of America and U.S. Golf Association announced the cooperative effort Monday at the Masters site.

Competition will be in four age categories each for boys and girls from 7 to 15. The event will conclude with putting on Augusta National's 18th green. Registration information is at drivechipandputt.com

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