Martin Dempster: Opportunities beckon for Russell Knox

It was the year we saw opportunity Knox and transform the career of one of Scotland’s top golfers, writes Martin Dempster.

Russell Knox looks to the heavens after his WGC victory. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty
Russell Knox looks to the heavens after his WGC victory. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty

Ten days prior to the WGC-HSBC Champions in early November, Russell Knox didn’t have a Tour triumph to his name and wasn’t even in the line-up for the event in Shanghai. In one of those wonderful sporting fairytales, the seventh reserve beat the best on the planet at Sheshan to become the first Scot to win a World Golf Championship.

It was the biggest success in the men’s game by a player from the sport’s cradle since Paul Lawrie won the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie and most significant overall tartan triumph since Catriona Matthew’s victory in the 2009 Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham.

“Winning any professional tournament is a massive accomplishment, you’re never quite sure if you’re ever going to do it because there’s so many incredible players throughout the world, especially at tournaments like this with such an elite field,” said Knox, who posted a 20-under-par total of 268 to win by two shots from American Kevin Kisner. “To come and be on top this week is a dream come true.”

The victory catapulted Knox, a 30-year-old from Inverness who is based at Jacksonville Beach in Florida, into the world’s top 50, securing a first trip to Augusta National in April for the opening major of the 2016 campaign. The one disappointment was that he didn’t secure a whopping 1,333,330 Ryder Cup points due to the fact he wasn’t a European Tour member at the time, though he is now and will be going out with all guns blazing next year in a bid to make Darren Clarke’s team as Europe attempt to make it three wins in a row at Hazeltine in September.

“Winning is the best feeling. Might try and do it more often now,” wrote Knox on Twitter after his Shanghai success. Whether he meant a week later might have been a tad optimistic, especially as his next event meant travelling halfway around the world to Mayakoba in Mexico. But he almost pulled off a dream double, losing out to a wonder shot from Graeme McDowell in a play-off as the 2010 US Open champion returned to winning ways.

Scotland’s highlight on the European Tour in 2015 was provided by Richie Ramsay as the Aberdonian claimed his third title triumph on the circuit with a one-shot win in the Hassan Trophy in Morocco. It takes grit and determination, as well as talent, to taste victory at the top level, and Ramsay showed all those qualities as he recovered from seeing a three-shot lead disappear in the space of two holes to get his nose in front again at Golf du Palais Royal in Agadir.

With Paul Lawrie and Marc Warren falling away after reaching the halfway stage just two and three shots off the lead respectively in the Open Championship at St Andrews, the top tartan tale in this year’s majors was probably penned by Jimmy Gunn. The Dornoch man, who is based in Arizona, came through qualifying for the US Open at Chambers Bay, where he then coped a lot better than some of the world’s best to finish in the top 30 behind Jordan Spieth.

In making a successful defence of his Senior PGA title at French Lick in Indiana, Colin Montgomerie chalked up a third over-50s major, a success that helped him top the European Senior Tour Order of Merit for the second season running with record earnings of just over £500,000.

While picking up a fraction of that, it was satisfying, nonetheless, for Chris Kelly to be crowned as the Tartan Tour’s No 1 for the first time, a feat made possible by the Fife-based player winning both the Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship and the Northern Open.

On the women’s front, Catriona Matthew’s success in playing in her eighth Solheim Cup at 46 was a praiseworthy achievement, as was the ever-improving Pamela Pretswell finishing a career-best 14th on the LET Order of Merit.

A Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in 2019 will hopefully see Matthew as captain and Pretswell pushing hard for a place in her team.

A European title success in Sweden and tartan trio Ewen Ferguson, Grant Forrest and Jack McDonald all playing a part in Great Britain & Ireland’s Walker Cup win at Royal Lytham were the main highlights in the amateur game plus, of course, the eventual success in forming Scottish Golf, the new unified governing body.