Hats off to Russell Knox
Russell Knox packed a surprising amount of power when he won the Travelers Championship.
Not with any shot off the tee. With the cap off his head .
“Until I actually saw a clip on Sky Sports, I didn’t even realize I threw it as hard as I did,” Knox said.
The Travelers Championship was sandwiched between the final major of the year and the return of Olympic golf for the first time in 112 years. Jim Furyk gave the Connecticut tournament plenty of buzz by becoming the first player to shoot 58 in PGA Tour history, even if he finished before television came on.
Knox, with one toss of the cap, managed to provide yet another highlight.
He came to the final hole at the TPC River Highlands with a one-shot lead. Knox went from the rough to a bunker, blasted out and had a 12-foot par putt through the shadow cast from a hospitality tent for the victory.
A foot from the hole, he knew it was going in. He took a step back and started to pump his fist when he grabbed his cap and slung a line drive across the green. He clutched both arms. He kissed the ball and tossed it into the gallery, and clutched his arms again.
And eventually, he got his hat back.
“I knew I threw it,” Knox said Monday night after getting home to Florida. “But I wasn’t planning on it.”
There’s some history to the hat.
Golf is loaded with theatrical moments on the 18th green in tournaments large and small, but his favorite memories — until Sunday in Hartford — involved hats. Knox remembers the year Fred Funk won The Players Championship, making a 5-foot par on the final hole and spiking his hat to the ground.
And then there was Tiger Woods at Bay Hill in 2008. Tied for the lead on the final hole, his 25-foot birdie putt tumbled into the cup on the final turn. Instead of a sweeping fist pump that had become so predictable, Woods turned and slammed his cap to the ground. Moments later, when caddie Steve Williams handed him back his hat, Woods was perplexed. He said he was so into the moment that he didn’t realize what he had done.
“Maybe I did it subconsciously,” Knox said with a laugh. “Something about hats, I guess.”
There was plenty behind the emotion.
Born and raised in Scotland, he came to America without the pedigree of top golfers and picked Jacksonville University because of the coach, the late Mike Fleming, and because he figured Florida was a lot warmer than home. It took him five years to get to the PGA Tour, and just as long before he won.
But even beating Dustin Johnson and Kevin Kisner in a World Golf Championship in Shanghai wasn’t enough. He was an alternate in the HSBC Champions who became the first player since the inaugural event of the WGCs to win on his first try.
“It came unexpected for a lot of people, and I put a lot of pressure on myself that I’ve got to validate that victory so people don’t say, ‘That Knox kid got lucky for four days.’ Once you do it again,” he said, “you don’t get that lucky.”
And there was the moment that brought enough emotion that he felt he could burst through his shirt.
A week after winning in Shanghai, Knox was so worn out from the experience that he wanted to straight home. Instead, he honored his commitment by playing in Mexico and he was poised to win again until making bogey on the final hole and losing in a three-man playoff won by Graeme McDowell.
Even fresh off his first victory, that loss ate at him.
“When I drove it in the rough and got out of the bunker, it was like, ‘Here we go. The stage is set.’ I had this putt to win and get redemption from Mexico,” he said. “Every pro dreams of making the last putt to win a tournament. ‘This is to win the Masters. This is to win anything.’ It’s a great stadium setting, all the people were there and I said to myself, ‘This is your time to make a putt to win a tournament.’”
The putt dropped. The hat went flying.
Life keeps getting better.
Knox went into the season with no victories and just over $4.2 million in career earnings. This season alone, he has two victories and nearly $4.5 million, with more to come. The 31-year-old moved to No. 4 in the FedEx Cup and is assured of playing all four of the $8.5 million playoff events, the final two with limited fields and no cut.
“Two wins in a year is big,” Knox said. “I still have opportunities. I get four good cracks at it, so you never know. Very few people win two times in a year. Very, very few win three times. I want to get greedy.”
Keep your hat on.