Duncan Stewart was offered back the driving job he took on last winter to earn around £250 per week as he prepared to partner Russell Knox in the £6.45 million World Cup of Golf in Melbourne.
“It’s funny,” admitted Stewart of the timing of a call from the boss of an Edinburgh-based delivery company to see if he needed the part-time post again, having been grateful for it 12 months ago following a disappointing Challenge Tour campaign. “It was on the Sunday night of the Kazakhstan Open and I was sitting having a few beers after effectively securing my European Tour card for next season. I actually burst out laughing. I said, ‘thanks for the offer, but I’ve got a few other things going on this winter!’ In fairness, he’d probably not have known that as he’s not really into golf.”
Even some golf people, in truth, might be surprised to turn on their television sets later this week and see Stewart teaming up with Knox as they bid to become just the second Scottish duo after Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren, the 2007 winners, to sit on top of the golfing world.
The pairing, however, is easily explained. As the top-ranked Scottish player, Knox had the luxury of picking his partner from inside the world’s top 500. He turned to Stewart for a number of reasons. The pair grew up 30 miles apart in the Highlands before spending four years as team-mates at Jacksonville University.
Their careers had then gone in wildly different directions until Stewart catapulted himself up the world rankings with a Challenge Tour victory in Madrid earlier this year. That was really the catalyst for Knox picking Stewart over either Richie Ramsay or Martin Laird, for example, and the world No 18 is comfortable with his decision.
“I definitely didn’t pick him because he’s my best friend,” said Knox, speaking as he sat alongside Stewart at a pre-event press conference. “Obviously he is, but he has earned his right to be here. He’s had an unbelievable year. He’s earned his way on to the European Tour through the Challenge Tour, he won a tournament. Other than myself and probably Colin Montgomerie, he’s the only other Scot to have won a tournament, which is massive. I mean, if people complain about the format of the pick, I could pick anyone in the top 500 in the world and I did. I don’t really care what other people think.
“Ever since I picked Duncan, he’s only played awesome. He was better than I was in college. Our paths have gone in slightly different directions. It could have easily been the other way around. If the roles were reversed, he would have picked me.”
Stewart is delighted that, technically, he’ll tee up in the 72-hole stroke-play event – the first and third days are foursomes with fourballs on the second and last days – as a European Tour player after recently graduating from the Challenge Tour by finishing 10th in the Road to Oman.
“That was a massive thing in my mind,” admitted the Grantown-on-Spey man who now lives in Edinburgh and is attached to Turnhouse. “Everyone has their opinion and that’s always going to be the case. When it comes down to it, I think the majority of the people will be behind us.
“We’re not the only country that’s done something like this. Jhonattan Vegas has picked his brother while Victor Dubuisson has picked Romain Langasque, so five European Tour guys missed out there. We’re not the only country. It’s the way the rules are.
“This time last year there wouldn’t have been a hope in hell that I’d have been picked by Russell, but I’m playing good at the moment. It’s not just the connection. It’s a bit of everything and hopefully we are going to surprise a few people – we’ll certainly be trying our best.”
Home duo Adam Scott and Marc Leishman are the title favourites along with American pair Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler, while Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry form a useful-looking Irish partnership that sets out tomorrow in the same group as the Scots. “We’re going to talk about this forever, the rest of our lives,” said Knox of the event. “We’re going to have the best time. It’s going to be epic.”
With even the last team assured of a share of $50,000, it’s certainly going to be more lucrative for Stewart than driving a van.