Knox's WGC win brings Ryder Cup (almost) into play

By Doug FergusonNovember 11, 2015, 12:15 am

SHANGHAI - Russell Knox was the center of attention after winning the HSBC Champions, and not just with the sponsors.

After his press conference, he posed with four flight attendants from Emirates Airlines. Next up was a photo with the owner and executive staff of Casillero del Diablo, which supplied the wine for the week.

When he sat back down to sign flags and caps for HSBC, another man approached whom Knox did not recognize.

''Hello, Russell. I'm Keith Waters with the European Tour.''

Waters is the chief operating officer, and he was equipped with all the answers Knox did not know and was too overwhelmed to ask at the moment - mainly, the process of becoming a European Tour member and how that relates to the Ryder Cup.

Sensing that the 30-year-old from Scotland was still trying to digest his first big win - a World Golf Championship, no less - Waters gave him a business card with his mobile number and told him he would be available any time. And there was one more thing.

''Also just so you know, Darren Clarke is going to be calling you,'' Waters said.

''We'll be in touch for sure,'' Knox replied with a grin.

Clarke is the European captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Odds are, he has been on the phone with Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters and any other European who appears to have even a remote chance of qualifying.

To be realistic, Knox barely has that.

Is he interested in the Ryder Cup? Of course. Even though he has lived in Florida his entire professional life, he grew up in Inverness and is proud of his Scottish heritage. His sister, Diane, is a popular radio DJ in Scotland.

''Obviously, it's going to be a goal of mine to make the European Ryder Cup team, and this obviously springboards me to a place where ... I mean, yesterday I was nowhere near it,'' Knox said. ''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.''

Much will depend on what European Tour chief Keith Pelley announces next week in Dubai on a new membership policy.

One of the options is to require a minimum of five European Tour events (down from 13), but that number would not include the majors or WGCs. So it really would be no change at all, except for making it practical for players who have slipped out of the top 50 - such as Luke Donald andGraeme McDowell - and no longer are automatically eligible for the eight biggest events in world golf.

For Knox, that would mean adding four tournaments to what he already plays.

Knox is among dozens of Europeans who live in America and play the majority of their golf on the PGA Tour. But his career is more closely in line with the likes of Carl Pettersson and Martin Lairdthan with McDowell, Ian Poulter or a resurgent Paul Casey.

Pettersson was born in Sweden and moved to North Carolina when he was in high school. Laird is from Glasgow, played at Colorado State and never went back to Europe until he already had his PGA Tour card. One year he played the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, and a local radio reporter aware only of his accent innocently asked Laird why it had taken so long for him to do well on his home soil.

''This is my first event,'' Laird said.

Knox played 99 times on either the PGA Tour or the Web.com Tour before making his European Tour debut last year in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, not far from where he grew up. He played his first British Open this year - he was the alternate who replaced Rory McIlroy when he tore up his ankle playing soccer.

Knox was the only player keeping the third round from being completed Saturday evening at Sheshan International because he thought it was too dark to play the final hole. That led some in the British press to jokingly refer to him as the ''American'' because of the minor inconvenience. When he returned the next morning and made birdie, and then never lost the lead on Sunday, he became a Scot again.

It was all in good fun, but to be fair, only the diligent golf press in the U.K. knew much about Knox, and for good reason. This was his first win on any of the six main tours around the world. Knox had never been remotely close to the top 50 in the world until he won the HSBC Champions and shot all the way up to No. 31. Now he's the 10th-highest European in the world ranking.

He is guaranteed two majors (Masters, PGA Championship) and a WGC, and he's likely to get in the other two WGCs. Whether he takes up European Tour membership and makes a run at the Ryder Cup, Knox ultimately concluded that ''it's a great problem to have.''

Besides, it beats the alternative.

''I always joked with my caddie that if I ever won,'' he said, ''I was going to retire.''

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.