“I feel like I’ve been there all my life.”
That’s how Steve Fox began reminiscing about his time at the West Virginia Amateur as he prepares to play his 54th and last starting Sunday at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.
Fox isn’t far off, having participated in his first State Amateur at age 13 the late 1960s. All told, Fox has been a part of the Amateur in seven different decades, with a pair of wins (1988 and 1994) on his ledger.
He even met his wife there.
“In 1974 I met my wife who was up there watching [her brother] Harold Payne play in the Amateur,” Fox recalled. “So that’s probably the most important state tournament I ever played in. I happened to run into her in the parking lot and she needed help getting into her vehicle, so I helped her out. Forty-seven years later, we’re still together.”
There are certainly moments that stand out, but Fox also admitted that the years have gone by in a blur. While the victories were certainly highlights, they’re not necessarily what he will remember the most as he and his wife prepare to move to Pinehurst, North Carolina in October to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
“I look back and think of all the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the fun times playing golf — most of the memories, or at least the good memories, that stick out are really of the State Amateur and playing at The Greenbrier,” Fox said.
“My father and brother would go up and it was kind of a summer vacation to play in the Amateur. There’s so many great memories of going up there with family and playing in the Am, and being fortunate enough to win a couple of times was something I really never expected I’d be able to do.
“Really, I was just fortunate enough to be healthy for so many years. I tell everybody, 54 times, all it means is I’ve been healthy and I’m just an old man.”
However he classifies himself, Fox has certainly filled his 67 years with a lifetime full of golf. A former Marshall player and longtime member of Guyan Country Club in Huntington, Fox has 29 West Virginia Golf Association championships to his credit, adding titles in the 2014 Senior Open, 2006 Mid-Amateur, 17 combined Four-Ball championships (regular and senior events) and eight combined Senior Match Play and Senior Stroke Play titles. He was inducted into the West Virginia Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2015.
“It will be tough for us to see Steve walking off the 18th green of his last WVGA championship, especially since he has won and been a part of them for decades,” WVGA Executive Director Brad Ullman said. “Steve has been the greatest ambassador for amateur golf in West Virginia during his time, not only as a competitor but also as a member of the executive committee of the WVGA, a past president of the WVGA and also an active member at a WVGA club.
“From our standpoint, I love talking to Steve, love hearing his feedback — he just has so much knowledge of the game and the history of our association.”
Fox has been there through a lot of it, playing in over half of all West Virginia Amateurs (next week’s will be the 102nd). Through the years and decades, his role slowly evolved from a young kid trying to find his feet, to a title contender, to an Amateur champion at age 34 and again at age 40, to slowly becoming one of the game’s senior statesmen.
One of the special parts of the West Virginia Amateur is seeing the pairings, which seem to always put one of the game’s most talented young players in a group with an older past champion. Even approaching his last time playing in the event, Fox still embraces that side of things, playing a practice round with current Marshall golfer Noah Mullens on Wednesday.
Mullens is a contender to win the tournament, while Fox is not. But little of what Fox is trying to pass down has anything to do with bogeys and birdies.
“I told Noah [Wednesday] that time flies and how lucky are we to be able to play our state amateur at The Greenbrier every year?” Fox said. “Be sure you enjoy it, you don’t know how many times you’ll be able to do it.”
But this time around, Fox does know how many more times he’ll do it — just once. It was a similar story for Payne a year ago as he played his 50th and final Amateur.
The brothers-in-law shared a group in the first and second rounds, and an emotional scene came on the first tee as Payne’s wife showed up, leaving both men teary-eyed under the gravity of the moment.
While Payne won’t be playing alongside Fox in his farewell, Fox is expecting a similar mood once his opening round starts on Sunday.
“I’ll probably be an emotional wreck, and that’s OK,” Fox said. “My family will be up there, I’ll be there soaking it all in, being there and enjoying the last time.
“It will be fun. I’m looking forward to it. Time passes and I just feel very fortunate and very blessed to have experienced all of it.”