Nicknamed the ‘Longest Day In Golf’ by the media, today was the final day of US Open qualifying. 11 different venues played host to over 800 golfers looking to qualify for the year’s second major championship at Merion CC.
Back in April, entry for US Open qualifying closed. Anyone with a handicap of 1.4 or less can try. The USGA received 9,860 entries. Today 58 places at the US Open would be won.
One player trying, Russell Knox.
Russell grew up in the north of Scotland in Inverness, close to where Donald Trump just developed the “greatest golf course in the world” (Trumps words, not mine). In his early years, Russell was a better football player than a golfer, and at one point considered sticking to the larger ball with the possible future of a place on starting eleven of the local Inverness Caledonian Thistle team.
Wisely, he chose golf, perhaps after shooting the course record at his home course, Nairn Dunbar. To further explore and test his game, Russell jetted across the Atlantic Ocean to play golf at Jacksonville University and room for four years with yours truly.
Armed with our accents and our clubs, we embraced Florida and college life along with our third Scottish musketeer, Duncan Stewart (now a professional on the European Challenge Tour).
I nicknamed Russell ‘BMW’ in those days due to the tagline of the car manufacturer: The Ultimate Driving Machine. It seemed Russell had to go out of his way to miss fairways, regularly striping his ball straight down the middle. I remember one event, he hit over 30 consecutive fairways. Unsurprisingly he has continued that talent and currently leads the PGA Tour in driving accuracy at 73.99%.
Whilst I hacked my way around the other two’s shadows, Duncan had great range in scoring, regularly going deep into the 60s and Russell would ball-strike players to death, consistently finishing high on leaderboards.
Possibly the most memorable day of all our careers at Jacksonville University came at the 2006 Atlantic Sun Conference Championships. Following a strong season we arrived full of confidence yet under the radar. Under the sun at Eagle Creek in Orlando, we all clicked and won JU’s first conference championship, setting a record in the process. As a team, we finished at 31-under par, beating the previous conference record by 12 strokes.
Russell and Duncan tied for 1st place. Whilst we won the event, they headed out to decide a victor. Laughing and joking down the fairway, with us all in tow beside them, they played the 18th. Whilst Russell lost the playoff, we were all winners that day.
Russell continued to improve year on year. Graduating from University and enjoying a successful couple of years on the NGA Hooters Tour, picking up two wins before also picking up a win at the 2011 Chiquita Classic on the Nationwide Tour (with rounds of 68, 66, 63, 66!).
Following a tough start to his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Russell struck form late in 2012, making his last 9 cuts including two top-10s, banking $512,584 but narrowly missing out on keeping his card for 2013.
Russell is splitting time this season between the Web.com Tour (formerly Nationwide Tour) and the PGA Tour. Whilst I can tell you, from recent experience, that his game is in good shape, he has struggled to string together four good rounds making a solid 9 of 13 cuts but with no top-10s thus far.
Knox found out Friday that he had a spot in this week’s PGA Tour FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis. However, his mind was focused on ‘Golf’s Longest Day.’
36 holes, 121 players, 8 spots in the 2013 US Open. Having played in Maryland on the Web.com Tour last weekend, Russell chose the play at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, MD.
Russell played in the same event last year and whilst he spent sometime inside the cut-line, ultimately missed out by. This year was a different story.
Knox made 13 birdies over the 36 holes to finish at 9-under and win his Sectional. At one point in his second round, Knox made a double bogey to drop dangerously close to the cut line of the top-8 players. He bounced back with 4 birdies in the next six holes and walked off the 9th green (his 18th) with an invite to the 2013 US Open at Merion.
As a golf fan, I’m impressed. As a teammate, I’m not surprised. And as a friend, I’m extremely proud. Good job Roo. All the best at Merion!