Scotland’s Russell Knox won the first World Golf Championship he’d ever entered on Sunday. He wasn’t even eligible for the HSBC Champions in Shanghai until he got in 10 days ago as an alternate.
“Everyone who wins this tournament is a superstar,” Knox said. “I knew this would be the hardest day in my life.” He needn’t have worried, though. Two early birdies settled him down, and he shot a 4-under 68 and a two-shot victory over Kevin Kisner.
“I got married on Saturday of the Masters,” he said. “What a great wedding anniversary we’re going to have.” We caught up with Knox earlier this year to find out more about his journey from Scotland to the PGA Tour.
Just a few years ago, only the most dedicated golf fan would have noticed when a mysterious Scot without a single European or Challenge Tour start to his name won on the Web.Com Tour to earn his PGA Tour card for the 2012 season.
Russell Knox failed to retain his card in his rookie season and continued to fly under the radar as he split his time between the top two tiers of American golf in 2013. But when he finished 2nd in last year’s Honda Classic, onlookers on both sides of the Atlantic stood up and took notice.
This season, Knox’s nine top 25s, including two third-place finishes, have established his status on the PGA Tour and launched him into the top 80 of the world rankings. The future is bright but perhaps wouldn’t even have been possible were it not for one stunning hybrid shot. Knox himself takes up the story… “I’d been playing the mini tours for three-and-a-half years and I was making a nice enough living, but I kept going to PGA Tour Qualifying School and failing miserably, even after playing well all year,” Knox says.
“One day I said to my girlfriend at the time, ‘That’s it, I’m going to Monday qualify every week until I’m broke. If I don’t make it, I don’t make it. I’m fed up with mini-tour golf.’ “In my first Monday qualifier for a Web.Com Tour event in 2011, I finished birdie-eagle to get into the tournament. I hit a hybrid on the last to two feet and finished second in the tournament. It was crazy how it happened. That was a huge turning point for me and my life could be very different if I hadn’t hit that hybrid so close. A couple of months later I won on the Web.Com and that got me onto the PGA Tour in 2012.
It all happened super fast. “That was maybe why I struggled on my first year on tour. It was a blast on the mini tours. A buddy of mine, Kip, caddied for me and we drove everywhere. We put on some serious miles on my little Toyota hatchback and stayed in cheap motels. But the social scene was great. We weren’t playing for that much money so it was easy to make friends. Suddenly, a few months later, I was playing with my heroes on unfamiliar courses on the PGA Tour and it was very different – and difficult!
“A lot of guys I played with on the mini tours are on the PGA Tour now. But there are also guys who did well but haven’t made it. There were so many guys who hit the ball way better than I do. And you do wonder why they don’t make it. But there is more to it and it just shows how difficult it really is. “I think you just know in your gut if you’re going to make it or not. I strongly believe there are many guys out here who truly don’t enjoy tournament golf. I’m the opposite. Whenever I get a card in my hand, I’m ready to go. I love being nervous. I swing a little faster and my ball flight changes. I love the competition and find it hard to play when it doesn’t mean anything. That separates a lot of people, I think.
“I’ve won at all levels as a professional except the PGA Tour, so I know how to do it and how it feels. But it’s hard and I’m not going to force it. Everyone is so good. There are only a few guys who win with less than their best stuff. I need to putt a little better to win on the PGA Tour. From tee-to-green I’ve had a few weeks this year where I could have won had I putted better. I’d like to have a few wins five years from now and get into the majors consistently. I feel like my game is geared towards the hardest courses. I keep the ball in play, I can get it round and the mental side of my game is a strength. So it would be nice to sneak one of those.
“Before I do that though, I need to start contending more in regular Tour events. I’m getting there; I’ve improved every year. If I keep doing that, things like wins, the Ryder Cup and majors should happen. Play well, and everything else takes care of itself.”
Russell Knox’s tips for making it in America
Embrace the States
“America is a completely different world. The food, roads and people are all different. You have to embrace the differences and lifestyle rather than fight against them.”
Nail it from 175-225 yards
“We play a huge number of long par 3s and long par 4s each year, so if you’re not good from this distance, you’re going to make a lot of bogeys. Having hybrids in my bag has helped me because they’re just so easy to hit 200 or 225 yards.”
Manage your emotions
“I’m a big believer in consistency. Obviously, the physical part of hitting the ball is important, but so is the mental side. If you want to be consistent you need to manage your emotions.”
Par can be a good score
“Doing well on the PGA Tour is all about parring the tough holes and birdie-ing the easy holes. It’s easier said than done, but if you can take care of the par 5s and short par 3s and par the long par 3s and long par 4s then you’ll have a formula for success.”