RUSSELL KNOX | ARCHIVE
When you take away the glamour, the lucrative prize money and the razzamatazz, the PGA Tour can be a rather unforgiving workplace.
The margins between success and failure are wafer thin, with the rewards and penalties on both sides almost disproportionate by comparison.
Russell Knox can vouch for that. After muscling his way onto the world’s richest professional golf tour in time for the 2012 season, the Inverness-born player struggled to adapt. He missed the cut in six of his first seven events and, by the time he’d adjusted, it was too late. His prospects of retaining his card were as remote as St Kilda and a return to the Web.com Tour in 2013 was an inevitability.
Credit to him, he bounced back immediately and, after a superb season last year, he regained his playing rights for the big league in time for the new wrap-around schedule teeing off in September of last year. Twelve months on, Knox has comfortably retained his playing privileges, come within a whisker of a maiden victory, played in the FedExCup Playoffs and climbed over 150 places on the world rankings. Progress? Oh yeah, he’s making it.
“The PGA Tour is a whole other kind of experience and it can take a bit of getting used to at first,” explains the 29-year-old. “But you have to get used to it quickly. I mean, if you’re intimidated standing on the range next to somebody like Phil Mickelson, or if you’re getting too caught up watching him hit his driver rather than concentrating on doing your own work, then you’ve got no chance.
“One thing that I’ve learned over the past few years is that you’ve got to be selfish in this game. You need to be single-minded, take the attitude that it’s you versus the course for four days and not worry about what anybody else is doing. It took me a while to figure that out but, when I did and I stopped caring so much about all the perks that go with being a golfer on the PGA Tour, my results started to improve.”
That they have. During the regular season just ended, Knox made 17 of 23 cuts. Three of those events yielded top ten finishes. He finished joint second at the Honda Classic, beaten in a play-off - along with Rory McIlroy and Ryan Palmer - by Russell Henley. His stroke average was better than that of the likes of Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Hunter Mahan and US Open champion Martin Kaymer. Perhaps most significantly, he banked over $1.3m.
“It has been a really good season,” he acknowledges. “You know, getting my card back was the biggest thing I’d ever done because I knew my game was good enough. I knew I belonged there. I figured that out in 2012 when I had my first season on the tour but I just didn’t get enough starts to really make a dent on it.
“So, getting back on this year was huge for me and it gave me a lot of confidence. That helped me get off to a good start at the beginning of the season and everything has just really gone from there. My performances got better, which made me more confident, which made my performances get even better still, so it was just a big snowball effect.
“I wouldn’t say I feel like I’ve figured the game out now, because I don’t believe anyone ever truly does that. But it’s definitely true that as you gain a bit of confidence everything just feels that bit easier.”
Of course, another way that life has become easier for Knox is being married. He tied the knot with former tennis pro Andrea Hernandez in April this year and, by all accounts, married life is agreeing with him so far.
“It’s great,” he admits. “We had been together for almost six years before we got engaged so we were as good as married for a long time. We just made it official and it’s been fantastic. Andrea has helped me so much with my game, too. I’m way too lazy most of the time but she’s the exact opposite so I’m a very lucky guy!”
A multi-talented sportsman, Knox was a tidy footballer back in his teens and was briefly on the books of Inverness Caledonian Thistle. He admits, though, that he was never likely to make a go of playing the ‘Beautiful Game’ professionally.
He says: “I played a lot of football growing up and, yeah, I guess I was pretty decent at it but would I still be playing now? Nah, I doubt it. I loved it growing up and it was definitely my game. But I had a decision to make: golf or football. Needless to say, I’m very happy I chose golf. It seems to have turned out okay.
“My dad played a lot and I just started tagging along with him to the likes of Nairn Dunbar. I enjoyed it and seemed to have a bit of a knack for it. I gradually started improving, getting better and better at it and eventually football took a bit of a backseat.”
His big sister Diane, a well-known face (and voice) in her own right as a DJ on west of Scotland radio station Clyde 1, reveals that Russell was always likely to forge a career in sport.
“He’s always been incredibly gifted when it comes to pretty much any sport,” she tells bunkered. “Whatever he tried, he tended to be good at it and he always, always, had to be the best at it, too, which he often was.
“When he settled on golf, that was it - nothing else mattered. He threw everything he had into it and golf started to dominate all our lives. He’d even get me out of bed at 6am on a Saturday morning after I passed my driving test to take him to the golf course!
“He also missed my graduation to play in the Inverness Five-Day Open, which really annoyed me.
“I’d managed to get tickets for my parents and him but he couldn’t come because he’d made it to the semi-finals. I remember being really annoyed at him but I soon got over it when he went out and won it. We had a good double celebration the next night.”
Russell and Diane’s dad, Michael, was born in San Diego. He met their mother, Valerie, when he moved to the UK in his early 20s.
After growing up in Inverness, and having decided to pursue a career in golf, Russell moved across the Atlantic in 2004 to attend the University of Jacksonville where he combined golf with a business management degree.
After graduating, he decided to stay in Florida and try to make a name for himself as a professional golfer. So far so good, on that front.
Of course, having dual nationality puts Knox in the rather unusual position of being able to choose who to represent in the Ryder Cup: Europe or the USA?
“I have both passports and I’ll probably live in the United States for the rest of my life,” he admits. “But, by the same token, I’ll always consider myself Scottish. My dad has asked me if I’d ever consider playing for the US if I get the chance to play in the Ryder Cup but I’m Scottish at heart, so I’d definitely play for Europe and it’s something I really hope that I get the opportunity to do.”
One thing that is absolutely not in Russell's future is becoming a DJ like his big sister.
“He’d be terrible at it,” laughs Diane. “He has the worst music taste. It’s so limited. He listens to Coldplay, The Killers and that’s about it. Mind you, I’m hopeless at golf, so we’re probably as well sticking to what we’re good at!
“It’s funny, we used to fight like cat and dog, pretty much like any brother and sister, but we’re very close now.”
Not that they’re not competitive, though. Russell adds: “She’s worked so hard and deserves all the stardom that’s coming her way.
“But as much as she likes to think she’s the most famous Knox in the family, deep down she knows that’s not the case!”
Russell Knox in bunkered
This interview with Russell Knox first appeared in issue 134 of bunkered (published: September 2014).