Just because Steven Fox has won the U.S. Amateur and is about to play in his first major championship this week, Chattanooga golf coach Mark Guhne isn’t about to anoint him as a sure-fire PGA Tour player. But the experience Fox gains at the Masters, as well as the U.S. Open in June and the British Amateur in July, certainly won’t hurt his chances.
“It’s hopefully going to shorten the learning curve for him when he does turn pro,” Guhne said. “But every time you step up to another level, it gets harder.
“It takes so many good things to happen along that process (to earn a Tour card). I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on anybody. But does he have the game? Sure. He’s working hard. He’s doing the right things. He’s got a great attitude. He’s got a great opportunity to get there because of the success he’s had.”
Just as Guhne said, Fox has gotten some chances to prove he’s got what it takes to play at the highest level. He was invited to play in the Farmers Insurance Open at famed Torrey Pines in late January, and he shot an opening-round 2-under-par 70 that left him just five strokes off the lead. Fox followed with a 78 and missed the cut, but the confidence he gained in shooting under par in a Tour event was immeasurable.
“It was a great learning experience,” Fox said.
Fox said the same thing about his play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in late March. He again missed the cut, but he was able to see for himself what he’s up against. Coincidentally, Tiger Woods won the Farmers and the Palmer.
Fox’s big takeaway from Bay Hill?
“You’ve got to hit it in the fairway,” said Fox, who this week is providing a diary of his experiences for Masters.com. “I hit maybe 30 percent of the fairways.”
Fox has been able to ease his way into the Masters, playing several practice rounds before the tournament began and every day since he showed up at Augusta National last Friday. On Wednesday, he shot a 1-under-par 26 in the Par Three tournament while playing alongside fast-rising star Brandt Snedeker and Luke Donald.
Fortunately for Fox, especially as it relates to Augusta National, the strength of his game is wedges and putting.
“Tour courses are pretty much the same,” Fox said. “Fast, firm greens. At Augusta, you can hit it a lot of places and be OK. You don’t have to deal with the rough. But it you miss on the wrong spot, it’s more penal than any other course.”
Fox’s caddy, former UTC teammate Ben Rickett, will try and keep Fox focused so he doesn’t stray too far off the beaten path once he starts the tournament at 10:34 a.m. on Thursday with 2012 champion Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter.
“There are some areas if you miss the green, you cannot play from,” Ricketts said. “That’s where the conservative side of my nature is going to help. We’ll pick a shot where, if he executes it, it’ll be perfect.”
As far as the speeds of the greens, that shouldn’t bother Fox too much.
“The quicker the greens, the more he enjoys it and the better he putts,” Rickett said. “Putting is something that has to be good. Chipping and wedge play is another essential part. If he drives the ball well, I think he’ll be alright.”