There was a time when winning the Ryder Cup was an automatic for the U.S. From 1927 to 1983, the Americans only lost three times. That’s the early history. The present history has flipped, with the team from Britain and Europe victorious in eight of the last 10.
While winning has been easy for the Europeans, being a part of the winning team is more of a challenge. The U.S. Tour is the ultimate desire of virtually every golf professional, but playing the U.S. Tour earns a player no points to qualify for the European team. The challenge of playing a bifurcated schedule has for years made decision making difficult when it comes to earning a spot on the European team. Ryder Cup veteran Paul Casey lives in the U.S. and plays on the American Tour almost exclusively. Despite a resurgence in his game, he may need to rely on Captain Darren Clarke to find a spot on this year’s squad. He is not alone.
Case in point, Scotland’s Russell Knox.
After years of trying to find, first a place on the PGA Tour, and then a home there, Knox is left in Casey’s world. Since the calendar turned to 2016 on the Tour’s wrap-around schedule, the 30-year-old from Inverness has been a fixture near the top of the FedExCup standings. He currently stands fifth more than halfway through the schedule.
But his U.S. success has left him well short of the points list for the Europeans. There he is buried at 33rd with few opportunities to add Cup points. He plans on pairing the Scottish Open with the Open Championship, but would essentially need to win one to guarantee a roster spot.
Two weeks ago he had one hand on the trophy at the Irish Open, leading by one with three to play. But paired with Masters champion Danny Willett and Rory McIlroy, he finished tied for second, three back after the young Irishman lit up the galleries with a birdie-par-eagle finish.
“It was a bummer obviously for me, but at the same time, how can you not take a step back and say ‘well done’ to Rory for that? He played the last three holes like a champion, and he deserved to win because of it.”
From the moment he turned professional in 2007 out of Jacksonville University, Knox has had his eyes fixed on a successful PGA Tour career. He slogged around on the Hooters Tour for the better part of three years before he climbed a step closer on the Web.com Tour in 2011. He converted that season to a place on the Big Tour in 2012 but missed nearly as many cuts as he made and found himself back in “AAA’ in 2013.
A strong showing in the Web.com Tour final sent him back to the PGA, and he has climbed the Tour standings for three straight years.
In 2015 he played well enough to qualify for the FedExCup Series. And despite not making it all the way to the Tour Championship, he carried momentum into the start of the 2016 season last fall. After a missed cut at Frys, he posted finishes outside the top 20 in his next two starts, landing him in Shanghai, China for the WGC-HSBC Champions. A second-round 65 on Friday vaulted him to the top of the board, and a pair of 68s on the weekend made him a PGA Tour champion. Knox became the first player to win a WGC event on their maiden voyage and the first Scot ever to win a WGC tournament.
“I mean, winning any professional tournament is a massive accomplishment, and 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. But I always kind of joked with my coach that my first win would be a big one, and this is pretty big. So I’m over the moon.”
He finished second in a playoff the following week and this spring added another runner-up showing at the Heritage. But as well as he has performed, including his first win, a moment of ignominy probably put him on most fans’ radar.
At The Players Championship, he was putting up good numbers until he got to the notorious par 3, 17th at Sawgrass on Friday. Doing his best Jordan Spieth impression, he dunked three in the water, went on to post a nine and finished the round at an ugly 80. “I had no idea what I was going to make. I mean, I ended up making an awesome putt for 9. After I was walking through the tunnel, I was like, whoa, that was to avoid a 10.” To his credit he played the weekend in nine-under and salvaged a top 20 for the week.
Despite the 17th debacle, he is the most accurate into the greens on Tour in 2016. And finding greens week after week he hopes will help him find a place on the European Ryder Cup team.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.