Aloha and welcome to the big league. Russell Knox starts his 2016 campaign in Hawaii today and feels comfortable about joining the likes of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
The $5.9 million event features winners on the PGA Tour in 2015, with Knox, of course, having secured his spot in the line-up by becoming the first Scot to claim a World Golf Championship with his triumph in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai in November.
“Starting the year in Maui is amazing,” the 30-year-old told The Scotsman ahead of making his debut in the tournament in the company of US Ryder Cup contender Justin Thomas on the picturesque Plantation Course at Kapalua. “It’s a beautiful place and such a reward to be playing here in an elite field. I would like to start every year here. Hawaii is amazing and my wife, Andrea, and I have had a great time. We went up 10,000 feet to the top of an old volcano, went whale watching and snorkeling, have been in the ocean a lot swimming and, of course, have been eating some tasty food.”
Spieth and Day, the world No 1 and 2 respectively, headline the event, which has six of the game’s top 10 in the field when you add in fourth-ranked Watson as well as Scottish Open champion Fowler, Johnson and Patrick Reed.
“It feels great to be apart of such a strong field,” added Knox, who is also taking in next week’s Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, where another purse nudging close to $6m will be up for grabs.
“After my win, I feel I have earned the right to play with the big boys. 2016 is going to be a excellent learning opportunity for me and I can’t wait to get started.
“Winning in China has really helped my confidence. I now know that I can beat the best [Spieth was also in that field and Rory McIlroy, too] over four days. It’s a great feeling and I’m hoping will help me a lot in the coming season.
“My goals for that are to win another tournament, make the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour and also make the European Ryder Cup team.
“To achieve the latter, I think I’ll have to perform well in the majors. I need a strong finish in a huge event.
“Winning any event, of course, would be awesome. But consistent good play will go a long way.”
Knox picked up €1.3m for his first win on the PGA Tour and also catapulted himself into the world’s elite. He is sitting 30th in the rankings heading into this week’s event. But he insisted: “My life is exactly the same as it was before the victory. I guess the only difference is my schedule this year as I’m adding a few nice tournaments, including The Masters in April, of course. My schedule this year is going to be challenging. I’ll probably make a few changes throughout the year depending on my performances.
“I’m really looking forward to playing in some tournaments that I have not previous played in. A few more trips back to the UK will also be nice, one being for the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart and also the Open Championship at Royal Troon.”
Knox made the trip home to Florida from Mexico the week after his breakthrough win in a private jet in the company of Graeme McDowell, his conqueror in a play-off in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. “That was very cool,” admitted the Jacksonville Beach-based player. “We celebrated both our victories on the plane. Even though he’d just defeated me in the play-off, he made sure not to make it awkward for me at all. I could get used to flying like that very quickly.”