It’s a question that’s been asked numerous time in Scottish golf circles in recent years: why has Russell Knox gone on to enjoy success at the top level while others who were equally talented as the Invernesian as amateurs have struggled to make headway in the professional ranks?
“I think I just got jammy, to be honest,” said Knox in providing his answer as he arrived in Gullane to join a star-studded cast for the $7 million Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open, which gets underway today on a course that has been baked golden brown during the recent dry spell.
“Maybe that’s why I got here,” added the newly-crowned Irish Open champion, having holed two monsters putts – the first at the 72nd hole and the other one to win a play-off – to claim that title on a similarly bouncy Ballyliffin last Sunday.
“To be sitting here takes a lot of hard work, a lot of talent, obviously, but also a lot of luck as well. I ask myself all the time, ‘why me?’ Why was I the one that was able to do it and all these other guys who are equally as talented, or if not more, why did they not make it? There’s no answer to that.”
Knox climbed back into the world’s top 50 with his victory in Ireland, adding to title triumphs in the 2015 WGC-HSBC Champions in China and the Travelers Championship in Connecticut the following year. “I have won a WGC, a big Rolex Series event and the year I won the Travelers Championship it was a strong field,” he said. “Obviously winning once, you’re like, this is amazing, dream come true and I picked a huge one to win first, which was great.
“Backing up that by winning the Travelers was big but having three is better than two, obviously. So winning another one in another country, personally for me, it means a lot. It means that I didn’t get lucky twice; I’ve got lucky three times now and that’s kind of getting hard to do. Maybe I am better at golf than I think.”
Knox, who is among 13 Scots in this week’s field as they bid to land a first home winner in the event since Colin Montgomerie achieved the feat at Loch Lomond in 1999, is making a habit of celebrating success in style. He tossed his hat across the green after holing the winning put in a play-off at the Travelers Championship and was probably even more ecstatic on Sunday.
“I’m big time!” he said, laughing. “Every person who plays golf dreams of holing a putt on the last hole to win. Fortunately, I’ve made two putts last week and then the putt at the Travelers to win. So I’ve been fortunate to have done it twice now. Maybe I need that environment to bring that out in me. It’s all about managing that adrenaline level. Maybe I play my best when I’m on edge. Some of my tournaments I’ve played my best at are stressful courses. Maybe that’s what I need. I need to somehow pump myself up for those big moments, and fortunately I’ve got a couple stacked in the memory books that I can rely on when I need to.”
On the back of that win in Donegal, coupled with a joint-second in the Open de France the previous weekend, Knox is up to 11th in the battle for eight automatic spots on Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team in France in September. The Scot agonisingly missed out on one of Darren Clarke’s three wildcards for the 2014 match at Hazeltine and is contemplating altering his schedule to give himself the best possible chance of making up for that disappointment. “Of course, it’s a goal – but it’s a reward to make the Ryder Cup team,” he said in trying to get across the message that he’s intent on not putting himself under undue pressure. “My goal is to try and win this week, try to win The Open, try to win every event I’m playing in, and then the Ryder Cup is ultimately a reward of good play.
“Two weeks ago, it was miles away. Now, it’s not miles away, and I know I’m trending in the right direction. I’ve still got these massive events to go beforehand, so it’s going to be a reward of what happens from now till then if I’m good enough. If I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve it. It’s that simple. So my goal is to play well this week in Scotland.
“Four picks (Bjorn has one more than Clarke) is a lot. Me playing well in France obviously helped. The course sets up great for me. It’s tight off the tee and second-shot golf course. Those are my strengths, so I have that going for me. Maybe it was the best thing that ever happened to me not making the team in 2016. I know I’m way better prepared now. I’ve been through great moments, been through bad moments. I’m more prepared now than I ever have been. My game is at a level which it never has been, so that’s good. I’m ready to rumble.”