Three years ago, Sandy Lyle wielded an implement called a “Black Swan” that looked like a satellite dish before the 1998 winner stuffed a hickory putter in his bag here 12 months ago.
We’ve still to see what the big man will be brandishing on the greens this time around, but his bug for liking something out of the ordinary has been caught by the only other Scot in the field.
On his debut in the event, Russell Knox will be using a putter that rivals Lyle’s from 2013 in terms of lacking in beauty. “It is a huge ugly thing,” he said of its head being six inches long – two more than a normal one.
He got it from a company called Cure Putters based in Jacksonville, where Knox lives. The 30-year-old needed to find a “cure” after seeing some good play from tee to green earlier in the year undone by poor putting.
The new weapon brought an instant improvement in the WGC-Dell Match Play a fortnight ago, even though Knox was unable to convert a group-winning position in his final match in the round-robin phase in Austin.
“I don’t care what it looks like,” he added. “If I am able to putt better with it, I would use a sledgehammer. I hadn’t been putting great and my confidence wasn’t as high as it needed to be, so I thought I would give this one a go.
“At the Match Play I putted fairly well. The reason I didn’t advance wasn’t because of terrible putting; I just didn’t play well enough tee to green. Coming here with a new putter is a challenge, but I’ve been practising super hard to make sure I am entirely comfortable.”
Thanks to his WGC-HSBC Champions win in China last November, Knox feels very comfortable indeed these days in the company of the game’s top players. He’s definitely not here simply to make up the numbers. Indeed, he is hoping his game might be perfectly suited for this particular test.
“I agree,” he replied when it was pointed out that experienced Masters campaigners often describe it as a “second-shot course” rather than being somewhere that either long or accurate driving provides the biggest advantage. “If you can get in play off the tee and your iron play is good, then you can do well. We saw that last year with Jordan Spieth. His second shots were so good and that allowed him to hole a bunch of putts.”
Knox, who will make his debut watched by his parents, Mike and Val, once shot 18-under here. That was on a video game, though. The real-life test is a different kettle of fish. “I am not going to come out and say I expect to contend and win because I have only played four majors and made the cut in one,” he said.
“It is very possible, but potentially unrealistic. I feel like my game is close to peaking, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I play well. But I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself by expecting to do well there. I am just going to go out there, try my best and see what happens.”
The Saltire that Knox once had on his golf bag has been replaced by a sponsor’s logo. His accent is also starting to become diluted due to living over here for more than a decade. Cut him in half, though, and he’s still Scottish to the core.
“I still feel like I am 100 per cent Scottish,” he insisted with a hint of being offended that anyone could think differently. “Yes, I haven’t lived there for 12 or 13 years and I will probably live in the United States for the rest of my life to be honest. But I am very proud to have grown up in Scotland. It will always be home for me even if I don’t live there.”