HE missed out on Muirfield but not Merion. Exactly a fortnight after falling agonisingly short in his bid to secure a berth in this year’s Open Championship – he lost out in a four-man play-off in the international qualifier in Texas – Russell Knox made no mistake when the dice were rolled for next week’s US Open in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
Playing in one of 11 qualifiers being staged across America, the 27-year-old from Inverness shared top spot at Woodland Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, to join three of his compatriots – Paul Lawrie, Martin Laird and Chris Doak – in the field for the season’s second major.
“I just felt like I was going to play well today,” Knox told Golfweek after carding rounds of 65 and 67 to finish alongside American duo Randall Hutchison and Adam Hadwin at a venue where two-time former US Open champion Lee Janzen grabbed the headlines when he was disqualified for wearing steel spikes.
“I managed to get a nice feel for both courses,” added the Jacksonville Beach-based player. “For some reason they sat well with me and I just played really well.”
Knox, who will be making his US Open debut along with Doak after the Greenock man came through last week’s European qualifier at Walton Heath, was heading for outright victory until running up a double-bogey at the short 16th in his second round. It was mission accomplished, though, and the former Jacksonville University student admitted he was “close to erupting” with joy.
“My game is right there,” insisted Knox, a four-times winner as a professional in America, including two on the Hooters Tour and one on the Nationwide Tour, who has played five events on the PGA Tour season this season, making the cut in three of them, and has finished 15th or higher in his last four outings on the second-tier Web.com Tour. “I hadn’t got anything going but I know how close I am to playing really well. I tell myself to be patient.”
Other European qualifiers at the end of a nerve-wracking day were Irish amateur Kevin Phelan, former Ryder Cup player Robert Karlsson and his fellow Swede and joint runner-up in last month’s Players’ Championship David Lingmerth, the latter two progressing from a hotly-contested battle in Columbus, Ohio, that was won by Charley Hoffman as he bounced back from a closing 81 in the Memorial Tournament on Sunday with rounds of 65 and 68.
Phelan underlined his Walker Cup credentials by firing rounds of 65 and 70 at the Ritz-Carlton Club in Brandeton, Florida, the State where he has lived for around a decade and went to college. It will be the 22-year-old’s second appearance in the US Open after he played at Pebble Beach when Graeme McDowell won in 2010. “Patience really helped me today,” admitted Phelan after finishing one clear of American John Hahn. “It’s a tough finish. It’s easy to make bogeys coming in. [You] just have to stay patient.”
Also successful there was John Nieporte, a 46-year-old, who caddied for Donald Trump when the billionaire won the club championship at Trump International in West Palm Beach and has been the head professional there for the last eight years. South Korea’s Bae Sang-Moon, winner of last month’s Byron Nelson Championship, advanced safely, as did the highly-rated Jordan Spieth, who finished as the top amateur in last year’s US Open, securing a share of 21st in San Francisco.
Meanwhile, Doak reckons he made the right decision to pull out of this week’s Austrian Open to finalise his preparations for a first major appearance by working at home with his trusty coach, Bob Torrance, at Inverclyde. “Austria five degrees and raining or Largs 23 degrees and sunshine: who would have thought it?” wrote the former Tartan Tour No 1 on his Twitter account yesterday.