By Wade Pretorius
A 30-year-old Scottish golfer is proving there is more than one way to make a healthy living on the PGA Tour.
Extremely inconsistent. That’s not how any professional golfer would want to be labelled by anyone, let alone themselves, but that’s the way Scottish golfer Russell Knox describes his pre-round routine, a sign which alludes to the unorthodox manner in which he goes about his business.
Preferring to keep things simple and avoiding much of the over-thinking that clouds many tour pros, Knox’s views on the game mirror his laid-back approach around the course. He doesn’t employ a swing coach, instead preferring to lean on advice from former world No 1 Vijay Singh. The Fijian, a three-time Major winner, renowned for spending countless hours on the range, told Knox that many of golf’s problems can be solved by hitting thousands of balls on the range. So far, that advice is working for the Scotsman.
Compleat Golfer caught up with Knox shortly after the second round of the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship where he couldn’t resist airing his frustration with his cold flat-stick, a golfer’s worst nightmare. Hovering around the cutline at the $2.7-million event, the Jacksonville graduate joked that his warm-up routine, should he make the cut, would go something like ‘I’m going to putt, hit balls, putt, chip, and then putt putt putt’.
Knox’s candid views on the game come as a breath of fresh air in a sport where professionalism and the almost mechanical search for perfection have drowned out much of the sparkle seen in the past. After making the cut, he went on to finish in a tie for 35th,, some 11 shots off the eventual winner Rickie Fowler.
Ineligible to play in the Ryder Cup as he is not a European Tour member, the 30-year-old’s breakthrough win came at the WGC-HSBC Champions Event in Shanghai last November but it is a win that almost didn’t happen. Knox made the field even after originally being listed as the seventh alternative. It was up to his quick-thinking wife to hurriedly complete the paperwork to ensure her husband would be able to tee off in China. After his regular caddie had dramatically been barred from entering the country, Andrea Knox was entrusted with the duty of looping for her husband. Lucky charm? Maybe, as Knox admits to having played his lone practice round with his other half on the bag, a bag borrowed from the on course pro shop.
Tied for the 54-hole lead and paired alongside big-hitting Dustin Johnson in wet and muggy conditions for the final round, Knox had a unique way of dealing with the distance disparity between himself and the American. ‘I didn’t watch him hit a tee shot until the 15th,’ he revealed. ‘I was hitting it 275 and he was crushing it, at times hitting it 330.’ Remaining focused on his game plan was key to his success, his plan also provides a handy lesson for amateur golfers. ‘I need to hit it straight, I don’t want to get sucked into his game,’ Knox added.
Johnson finished the event leading the field in driving distance with an average of 306.1 yards compared with the eventual winner’s 274.7 average distance, only good enough for 54th place in the distance stakes. Knox was able to turn the tables on Johnson with accuracy off the tee, finishing fifth with 73.8% of fairways hit, while Johnson struggled with 61.9% – the 30th most accurate golfer in the field. Knox became the first player to win on his WGC debut since Jeff Maggert in 1999 and to put his performance into perspective, Jordan Spieth found just 40% from the tee box.
The win catapulted Knox to well inside the world’s top 50 and earned him a debut at The Masters in April. His stellar start to the 2016 season should come as no surprise to those keeping a close eye on the PGA Tour. Knox finished January 2016 inside the top five of the FedEx Cup, not bad for player who turned pro in 2007 and was forced to slug away primarily on the Web.com Tour until 2014.
The Scotsman finished that season with $1 513 630 in the bank after missing just six cuts in 20 appearances on the PGA Tour with three top 10 finishes, a solid platform from which to launch himself into contention for what would become his breakthrough season. And while the wins didn’t come, he managed to take his earnings for the year to $1 916 666, which included playing in three of the season’s final series events before missing out on a place at the Tour Championship. Knox continued to combat his lack of distance off the tee, he was 136th at the end of the 2015 season, by finding 67.76% of the fairways (28th best) and displayed some controlled iron-play from the fairways, finishing in seventh place in the greens in regulation category.
His win in China was followed by a playoff loss in Malaysia the following week but that result added over $500 000 to his earnings, taking his prize money over the $2-million mark with the season still in its infancy. Russell Knox will never be a Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy and would seem unlikely to grace the winner’s circle of a Major championship but what he is, is a content, happy golfer who knows his game inside out which allows him the freedom to play the game, his way.
Date and place of birth: 21 June 1985, Inverness, Scotland
PGA Tour debut: 2011 Transitions Championship (failed to make the cut)
HSBC China stats
Knox vs Johnson vs Spieth
Driving distance: 274.7 yards vs 306.3 vs 294
Driving accuracy: 73.8% vs 60.71% vs 46.4
Longest drive: 281 yards vs 316 v 337
Web.com Tour (2007 to 2014)
43 events, 1 win (Chiquita Classic), total earnings: $413 481
PGA Tour (2011-2016)
96 events, 1 win (HSBC Champions China), total earnings: $6 367 013
Correct as at 1 February 2016