They’ve gone from the “fringe” of Scottish golf as amateurs to the frontline in the paid ranks this week. And, if either Russell Knox, an Invernesian, or Jimmy Gunn from Dornoch is crowned as the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open champion at Castle Stuart, even a Wimbledon win by Andy Murray won’t be what’s sparking the mother of all parties in the Highlands on Sunday night.
It’s apt that Knox and Gunn are making their first appearance in this event at the Inverness venue simultaneously. At county level as youngsters, they were North team-mates. Both have since used moves to America to chisel out professional careers, with Knox insisting that there would have been no chance of him heading into this week’s £3.25million event as one of the title favourites if he had stayed in Scotland.
“Myself and Jimmy were kind of fringe players in Scottish amateur golf,” said the 31-year-old soon after flying in to nearby Inverness airport to start his preparations for a third Scottish Open appearance, having played at both Royal Aberdeen and Gullane over the past two years after reluctantly turning down an invitation here in 2013 due to the fact he was still trying to secure a foothold on the PGA Tour.
“I represented Scotland in the European Youths, but I was never really that good. I was kind of always just on the outside and I think Jimmy was there, too. I think because of that, we were like, ‘hey, we’ve got to try something different, get out of here and go to the US, where the college system is more competitive than here’.”
Reflecting on his spell at Jacksonville University and being mentored there by the late Mike Flemming, he added: “I can say 100 per cent that I wouldn’t be here right now if I didn’t go to the US, guaranteed. I never practised here when I was younger because I played too many sports, mainly football, and when the weather is terrible here in the winter, you can’t work on your game. In the US, I was able to work on my game every day, and going there was definitely the reason why I improved.”
While Knox, of course, is now a well-kent face in world golf, even some home fans will probably be asking “Jimmy who?” when Gunn makes his Scottish Open debut tomorrow. He worked as an on-shore oil rigger before heading to the States, where he made the cut in last year’s US Open at Chambers Bay. He is currently playing on the web.com Tour but has a fight on his hands with seven events remaining to hold on to his card on the PGA Tour’s feeder circuit.
The 35-year-old just missed out on the final invitation for last year’s event at Gullane but, having since become an Aberdeen Asset Management ambassador, it was a stick on that he was going to be one of the first on that list this time around. “I’d probably have to agree with what he said,” admitted Gunn in reply to being told what Knox had said about the career paths the pair had taken. “I definitely wouldn’t be where I am sitting here today if I didn’t player over there, as well. When I moved, I’m not sure if there were any mini-Tours like the PGA EuroPro Tour over here. Yet, living in Arizona, you could drive an hour to the tournament you were playing in.”
While the pair are rivals this week, they were once a team on the course. “I actually caddied once for Russell on the web.com Tour,” recalled Gunn after being asked if he’d been surprised by his compatriot’s meteoric rise in the game over the past few years. “If we’re talking about North golf, I probably would have been quite suprised to see how well he’s done, but not on that performance as every shot he hit was dead straight.”
According to Knox, that wasn’t the case in last week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational. “Diabolical” was his summing up of that performance and he is looking for a signficant improvement both this week and in the Open Championship at Royal Troon in a bid to re-ignite his Ryder Cup challenge. “I think I’ve been thinking about it too much, to be honest,” said Knox of that possibility. “After finishing second in Ireland (behind Rory McIlroy in May), I maybe expected to keep going and play really good the next few weeks after that and it just didn’t quite happen. It’s all to play for now. I have nothing to lose, everything to gain. If I play good this next month or so, I’m going to have a great chance to play my way on to the team or be right there for a potential pick.”