It’s all about cutting out the “brain farts”. Apologies if that offends anyone, but, as Russell Knox reflected on his Masters debut 12 months ago, the Scottish No.1 was simply being honest about what was mainly responsible for him making an early exit at Augusta National.
“My scores in last year’s event were worse than I played,” he said, reflecting on a damaging 78 in the first round that was followed by a more respectable 73. “Apart from a couple of brain farts, I struck the ball beautifully. I was really happy how I played from tee to green. However, I putted atrociously and had a couple of moments where I lost concentration.”
Two triple-bogeys – at the 18th in his opening round then at the 11th on the second day – were cases in point. They contributed to him missing the cut by just two shots. “I might make two triple bogeys in a whole year and the frustrating thing was that both times I had a pitching wedge in my hand from the middle of the fairway. I was just too aggressive at times,” he added.
Knox, who finds himself flying the Saltire again with Sandy Lyle in the season’s opening major, is hoping to show he can be a quick learner. “First and foremost, I need to go there and putt better,” he declared. “I also need to realise that if I am in a good position, I have to make sure bogey is going to be my worst score.
“There’s so many shots at so many holes where you think you’ve hit a good shot, but it just catches a slope and you are in trouble. But that’s what makes it such a great test. There’s a fine line between contending and missing the cut. Every round you play there you definitely feel you are learning a little bit more about the course. That’s what I have to keep doing to begin to feel more comfortable about the course.”
Off it, the 31-year-old is also hoping to handle the whole Masters experience a bit better than a year ago. Like every other first-timer, he makes no secret of the fact he was hit by that kid-in-a-sweetie shop feeling. “I felt I should have made the cut last year but, at the same time, when it’s your first one you are so excited to be there that it’s almost impossible to do well. There’s just so much hype and all sorts of things that you are excited about experiencing for the first time,” he reflected.
“We rented a house and had way too many people staying there. It was just a crazy week. This year is going to be a lot different. It’s still an amazing place every time you go there, but because I’ve played the course a few times now, including the Thursday and Friday last year under tournament conditions, everything is now becoming a little more familiar, which is a good thing.
“A lot of guys have obviously played there 20-plus years, but it’s nice to get that sort of shock and wow factor of playing in a first Masters out of the way. Hopefully I can concentrate on my performance more than anything else this year.”
Knox, who is planning to play a practice round once more with 1988 winner Lyle, is unperturbed by some patchy form heading into the event. “These missed cuts [four in the last five events if you count failing to progress from his bracket in the WGC Match Play last week] just make me want to practise harder and play better,” he said.
“I almost felt a run like this coming. I made 17 or 18 cuts in a row. I was contending almost every time I played. I knew this was going to happen and, in kind of a weird way, I’m glad it happened when it did because there is a massive spring and summer of golf ahead.
“I have been disappointed recently, but I need to keep going knowing that if my game can click at the right time, then big things can happen. My game is close to where I want it to be and hopefully after a good week’s practice I will be ready for the Masters.”