On Friday, I met Steven Fox, the 2012 U.S. Amateur champ and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga hero, for a friendly round of 18 holes of golf.
We teed off late morning under an overcast sky. Fox was calm and cool; I, out of my league by several leagues, was as shaky as a San Fran earthquake.
As you might guess, I quickly fell behind. Down three strokes after two holes. Fox kept score. I kept praying.
A turning point came near the 9-hole turn. He bogeyed. Twice.
"We're all square now," Fox said.
Readers, there are many sentences I could write, but few give me as much joy as that one. Let the record state that for a brief and shining moment during my time on this Earth, I was tied after 10 holes against THE Steven Fox.
Really, Fox should blame the concrete teepee he had to putt through.
"It's a tiki hut," Fox corrected.
It may be the most difficult hole at Sir Goony's on Brainerd Road.
For weeks, I'd been trying to schedule a miniature golf, Goony Golf match with Fox, whose name is written on the U.S. Amateur trophy alongside some immortals: Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer, Jones.
Folks in the newsroom said the only way it would be an even match was if Fox played blindfolded. On one leg. With a Whiffle ball bat (thanks, Greeson).
"I'll play left-handed," the right-handed Fox said earlier in the parking lot as we made our gentlemen's agreement.
Fox, wearing blue jeans, loafers and a Mocs pullover, played with a Sir Goony's putter, the same one they hand out to 8-year-olds. He chose a matador-red golf ball.
I brought my own golf shoes, a Ping putter (that will soon be resting at the bottom of the Tennessee River, for reasons you'll understand) and my worn Mocs visor. I chose a UTC yellow ball.
"Can we hit in the batting cages, too?" Fox asked.
In August, the Hendersonville native entered the 2012 U.S. Amateur ranked 63rd. Out of 64. Hole after hole, others faltered while he played on.
On the final day, he rallied from two strokes down with two holes to play, pushing a playoff that he won by sinking an 18-foot birdie putt.
I claim it's the single greatest athletic accomplishment by any individual athlete in UTC history.
"Life has switched. Flip-flopped," the senior golfer said. "It's a dream, and to actually know it came true is ridiculous."
As you read this, Fox is waking up in Augusta, Ga., getting ready to enjoy one of the Best Days Ever: a practice round at the Masters, in preparation for the real thing in April. (He gained automatic entry into the U.S. Open, British Open and Masters).
This month, he meets Arnold Palmer. Already talked to politicians and professional athletes (he's got Colorado Rockies first baseman and UT alum Todd Helton's congratulatory voice-mail saved on his cell). Traveled with a global team for a tournament in Turkey.
But on his way down to the Masters, he took time to play Goony Golf. Against this turkey. From the hole with the orange dinosaur to Amen Corner.
And that, Chattanooga, says a lot.
Fox is a gentleman. Humble. Down to earth. A good-hearted jokester. He's the kind of guy you want to be friends with. The kind of guy you want representing your university. And city.
"We're glad you chose Chattanooga," Dewayne Gass -- Mocs Maniac and the man who generously opened the closed-for-the-winter Goony doors for us -- told Fox. Well said, Dewayne.
On the 16th, I -- barely -- sink a hole in one. Fox was four strokes down with two holes to play.
On the 17th, I miss the kiddie-pool-sized water hazard, but nail the hazard rocks. The wheels on my bus are wobbling. Fox gets a two. Me? A six.
Last hole. Tied up. Fox's backswing is smooth. Mine, a Geiger counter.
We both hit it out of bounds. We take penalties. Fox leaves his next one long, then bounces off the wall and putts out to record a five.
My putt comes up about 4 feet short. A surprise to none of my golf buddies, my putt misses, running straight by the hole like it's late for an important date. Next one and next one ... miss too.
I ask Fox if there is any official golf terminology for what just happened.
"A choke?" he offers.
We shake hands. Twice. The final tally? Fox shot a 51. Left-handed. Yours truly? A 52.
But really, all of Chattanooga wins with this guy.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...