Russell Knox ‘prepared’ to roll with punches at Oakmont

Russell Knox knows he will face tough conditions at Oakmont. Picture: Getty Images
Russell Knox knows he will face tough conditions at Oakmont. Picture: Getty Images
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Having been branded by Phil Mickelson as the “hardest golf course we’ve ever played”, Oakmont looks as though it is set to deliver plenty of punches in this week’s US Open.

Players will need to take them on the chin then come off the ropes in a bid to land the odd punch of their own. It’s a scenario that Russell Knox is familiar with.

Taking a 9 was one of those really unfortunate things that happened to me. I decided to look on the funny side, which I guess is a good thing

Russell Knox

In last month’s Players’ Championship at Sawgrass, the 30-year-old Scot felt as though he had been left flat out on the canvas after running up a sextuple-bogey 9 at the course’s notorious 17th in the third round.

It cost him an 80 and his chance of victory in golf’s so-called fifth major. He dusted himself down, though, and came out the next day to sign for a 68 to salvage a praiseworthy top-20 finish.

“Because you lose almost every week, golf is a game that punches you in the face over and over and over and over again,” said Knox in the build-up to the season’s second major on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. “The people who do well are those who can take the punches – and deliver the odd one back.

“It [taking a 9] was one of those really unfortunate things that happened to me there.

“I guess you don’t know how you’re going to react until it happens. I decided to look on the funny side rather than the depressing side, which I guess is a good thing.

“It will make me stronger. I played 71 holes of excellent golf in that tournament. A par on that hole and, I believe, I would have finished second. So I know how well I played.

“It was just one of those things. I probably should have gone to the drop zone after my first shot went into the water. I didn’t do that and it cost me a few more.

“I will learn from that. And I hopefully won’t do that again – because it really is a horrible feeling.”

In 2007, when Oakmont last staged the US Open, the winning total posted by Argentina’s Angel Cabrera was five-over-par. Based on the comments about the difficulty of the course from both Mickelson and defending champion Jordan Spieth as they made recent visits in preparation for this week’s event, another demanding test lies in wait.

“The US Open is one of those tournaments you have to change your mindset for,” said Knox.

“More disciplined players tend to win that type of tournament. It’s hard to get it into your head that you’re maybe four or five over par and you’re really not doing that badly.”

Still trying to establish himself on the PGA Tour at the time, Knox was making his first major appearance when he finished joint-45th behind Justin Rose at Merion in 2013. Having missed the cut in two PGA Championships, an Open Championship and, most recently, a Masters since then, the Invernesian is a man on a mission this week.

“One thing I have struggled with at majors is the practice days,” admitted the world No 24.

“For most PGA Tour and European Tour events, there is a pro-am on the Wednesday, so you tend to travel on the Monday, practice on the Tuesday and play the pro-am on the Wednesday.

“In a major, there is no pro-am, so I have tended to get there too early on the Monday and play too much from Monday to Wednesday.

“I can be over-prepared and put too much emphasis into practice rounds and getting to know the course.

“I don’t think it is that important to do that. In the majors so far I have been slightly tired before I tee up on the Thursday.

“That is something I need to monitor this year and years going forward. I need to get the right balance of preparation and practice to really feel refreshed and ready to go. I feel I have done a really poor job of that in the past and I am going to try my best not to make that error in the coming weeks.

“It is difficult because you are so excited to play in the majors. It is such a buzz when you get there and you feel like you should be on the course all the time.

“I think there is a massive fine line between being over-prepared and too tired. That is something that is going to be key for me.

“When I won [the WGC-HSBC Champions] in China, I had only played the course once before Thursday. I didn’t practice at all on the Wednesday and went on to win. Maybe less is more is my magic formula.”

More, not less, is what Scottish golf needs to see in majors, with Knox being the sole player flying the Saltire at Oakmont after Jimmy Gunn, who played in all four rounds at Chambers Bay 12 months ago, was forced to miss out on his attempt to qualify on this occasion due to the Tour having an event in the Dominican Republic last weekend.

“Absolutely, I’m disappointed that I’ll be the only one there,” admitted Knox. “I would love there to be 20 Scots in the field. So it’s a shame that nobody else has made it. But I think a lot of the guys have been playing better lately – so I can see a change coming soon, a nice little peak in Scottish golf. They are all about to start playing better, so I’m not too worried about it.”