|World Cup of Golf|
|Venue: Kingston Heath Golf Club, Melbourne Dates: 24-27 November|
There was quite a choice for Russell Knox, you’d have thought. Richie Ramsay or Martin Laird would surely have been worth consideration. How about Marc Warren? Or maybe Stephen Gallacher…
Instead, Florida-based Knox chose someone he knew well to join him in the two-man Scotland team at the lucrative World Cup of Golf in Melbourne next month.
Knox, as Scotland’s highest-ranked player, sitting at 19th in the world, had the privilege of choosing his playing partner.
In selecting Duncan Stewart, 309th in the rankings, he will have beside him on the Kingston Heath course not just someone who knows his game, but a friend from their days in the Highlands.
“We got together at the age of 13 or 14,” Stewart, now 32, told BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound.
“We played junior opens and played for the district together and from there we blossomed into good friends and hopefully good team-mates in November.”
Scotland’s old pals’ act
Knox told the PGA Tour website that, whether the Scots win the World Cup or finish last, “we’re going to talk about this until we’re dead”.
“I feel like this has the potential to change Duncan’s life,” said Knox, a year younger than Edinburgh-based Stewart.
“I feel like he could easily be in my shoes and vice versa, and if he was in my shoes, he would’ve picked me.”
Stewart’s career mirrored his friend’s for a spell. Having been recommended to the coach by Knox, who was already ensconced Stateside, he left Grantown-on-Spey to join the Jacksonville University Dolphins golf team in Florida.
Stewart showed the greater promise of the duo at that stage but it was after they graduated that their paths drifted.
“His dad’s American and his parents moved over in 2005 to Jacksonville,” said Stewart of Knox.
“I stayed out for half-a-year, three-quarters of a year after we graduated, maybe May 2008.
“Things didn’t quite go my way so I decided to pursue it more in Europe.”
Driving…but not on the golf course
Having turned pro in 2007, Stewart’s career has since been on the brink of collapse as he struggled to make a living on the European Challenge Tour.
From 2008 to 2012 he made less than £2,000 in prize money.
Asked if he ever regretted coming back to Scotland, given the success of Knox in America, Stewart said: “There’s no right or wrong thing to do.
“I’ve got an amazing family at home and everything happens for a reason.”
In recent years he has supplemented his income by driving a delivery van.
“Last winter was bizarre,” he continued. “My son was born on 31 October and I didn’t touch a club for over two months. I did it [driving a delivery van] the previous winter as well.
“It’s not the most amazing money but at that time of year you’re not playing tournaments; you’ve just got to do what you do to get by.
“Now everything’s turned on its head. I went from possibly not playing again next year if things didn’t go well this year, to things looking very good and the European Tour card is secured for next year.
“It’s quite bizarre, really. I can’t wait to get there and do Scotland proud.”
Knox, who just missed out on making the European team for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, and his old pal from Scotland’s North District amateur team will be trying to emulate Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren’s World Cup win in 2007.
A question of comfort
Stewart sees no reason why he and Knox cannot win the tournament, which has an $8m prize fund, despite raised eyebrows over Knox opting for a lowly ranked team-mate.
“As Russell said, it was kind of an obvious choice for him,” he said.
“He wanted somebody he was comfortable with and obviously I’m playing quite well this year, so it ticked all the boxes.
“Any time you get the chance to represent your country it is going to be massive.
“The big thing is we’re very comfortable in each other’s presence and comfortable in the format.
“If we can get comfortable straight away and playing well there’s no reason why we can’t go and win the World Cup for Scotland.”
Stewart’s fortunes are on the up, though in golf terms his income is relatively modest. His biggest pay cheque to date is 24,750 euros for finishing tied for fourth at the Kazakhstan Open earlier this month.
He spoke to BBC Radio Scotland from an airport runway in China. He had just earned 898 euros for being tied for 49th place at the Hainan Open, cut to two rounds because of poor weather.
In the coming week, he competes in the Foshan Open, also in China.
Looking ahead to the World Cup, Stewart said: “Last place is $28,000 each. Regardless of what happens it’s going to be a very good week.
“We are going to go there and enjoy it and hopefully the result will be good at the end of the week. If it’s not, we’re going to have a great time together and push on from it.
“On Thursday and Saturday it’s alternate shot and Friday and Sunday’s it’s better ball. I think we’ve got a very good chance in that format.
“This will be the most pressure I’ve been under. Hopefully, with the season I’ve had and knowing I’m playing the European Tour next year I can really try to push on.
“It’s going to be great.”