Ten days ago, Russell Knox didn’t have a Tour win to his name and wasn’t even in the field for the WGC-HSBC Champions. What followed is the stuff of sporting fairytale.
Knox, from his previous position of seventh reserve, stood with arms aloft on the 18th green at the Sheshan club after delivering Scotland’s first success at a World Golf Championship event. He had never even played in one of these tournaments before. The 30-year-old’s nerveless closing round of 68 was all the more impressive given the calibre of chaser; Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy were among those who could not keep pace with him.
“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,” Knox said. “To come and be on top this week is a dream come true. I still can’t quite believe I’m here. I was quite calm. But at the same time, that was the most nerve-wracking thing I have ever done.”
Knox’s wife, Andrea, had spent a frantic day filling out visa forms to allow her husband to travel to China. While she was rightly afforded high praise, Knox offered emotional sentiment towards Mike Flemming, his influential college coach who died from lung failure two years ago.
“I thought about him throughout the day,” Knox admitted. “I thought about him on the 18th when I had to tap-in to win and my eyes started tearing up. I owe him everything. He was my coach for eight years, he has been my inspiration and he taught me everything I know. It finally paid off.”
Knox has threatened such a win for a while. He has now delivered the finest moment for Scottish men’s golf since Paul Lawrie won the 1999 Open Championship. It is a much-needed boost.
Knox was a junior member at Nairn Dunbar and later Inverness golf clubs in the Highlands before emigrating to attend Jacksonville University in Florida. By his own admission, he never enjoyed anything remotely resembling a stellar amateur career, save the Four Day Open at Inverness. “My age group, for some reason, didn’t really achieve [in golf] and I don’t know why that is,” he said. “I think if some of the players would have come to the US and played in college, they would have become better players.”
Steady progression through minor events in the United States was followed by the claiming of a PGA Tour card, conditionally in 2012 and on a full-time basis two years later. Until now, and amid several close shaves, all that eluded this understated but eloquent player was a victory.
Now, Knox will rise to around 30th in the world and has banked a cheque for £930k. A first US Masters appearance has been sealed for April. Suddenly, he is part of a Ryder Cup discussion, but for that to become reality Knox will need to take out membership of the European Tour.
“Obviously it’s going to be a goal of mine to make the European Ryder Cup team and this springboards me to a place where obviously yesterday I was nowhere near,” Knox added. “I have no idea where I stand on making the team or what I need to do. But I look forward to finding out and giving it a run, that’s for sure.”
Kevin Kisner’s birdie at the 72nd hole handed him sole possession of second place. It also denied Danny Willett the opportunity to leapfrog Rory McIlroy in the European Tour’s order of merit. Willett, who shared third with Ross Fisher, will have another chance to do precisely that at this week’s BMW Masters in Shanghai.
The 28-year-old Willett heads to Lake Malaren in fine fettle, having signed off with a 62 here. “That was special,” he said. “It is special shooting 62 at home with the lads. But in a World Golf Championship, on a Sunday, when it means something a bit more, obviously it is that little bit more special.”
Spieth’s 70 handed him a share of seventh. McIlroy produced his best round of the week, a 66, to tie 11th. “I know Danny is playing next week and I’m not, so no matter what happened today, he had a good chance to overtake me next week,” McIlroy said. “I’m just going with the mindset that I need to go to Dubai for the final event and win. That’s all I can do.”
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