Russell Knox was in Malaysia a year ago when he had to scramble for a Chinese visa to play in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai after making the field as an alternate.
He got the paperwork done and arrived in time to play one practice round.
Then, on the first tee in the first round of one of the game’s signature tournaments, he didn’t know if he could handle the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and other top-flight players in the star-studded field over four rounds.
He got the job done there, too.
With a final-round 68, Knox defeated Kevin Kisner by two shots to earn his first PGA Tour title. The 31-year-old from Scotland, who lost his Tour card in 2012 but battled back to earn and keep his status in 2014 and 2015, used the victory as a major confidence boost and a springboard to his best season, winning nearly $4.9million and adding a second victory at the Travelers Championship in August.
“It was huge for me,” Knox said of his win in China. “Obviously I had not won so I doubted myself, wondered if I could actually beat all these guys over four rounds. So when I got done I was in such so much relief.
“A true dream come true.”
Knox had no visa problems this year after he finished in a tie for 10th in last week’s CIMB Classic. And he has no problems wondering if he can beat the top players in any tournament heading into his title defense beginning Wednesday night ET on the West Course at Sheshan International Golf Club against a field that includes eight of the top 10 players in the world.
Ranked No. 328 in the world at the end of 2012, Knox is currently No. 20. In addition to his first two wins last season, he added two runner-up finishes and made a strong run to be a member of the European squad in the Ryder Cup.
“I’d give it an A,” Knox said when asked to grade last season. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to win again because I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t a one-hit wonder. I played well throughout the whole year and I hadn’t done that in the past. I was able to keep it going. …
“I beat almost everyone (in China). All the top guys were there; maybe just a couple weren’t. It was really nice to know that I beat the best, and then at the Travelers obviously the field was very strong, too. It is nice to tee it up on the first hole knowing you’ve managed to finish first twice.”
As for goals this season, Knox wants to turn his off days into better results. As he has in the past, he’ll take advantage of the fall season on the PGA Tour before taking time off around Christmas.
“I’ve managed to get off to great starts. I always seem to play well in the fall. That time of year, for whatever reason, is a good time of year for me,” Knox said. “I think it’s crucial to get off to as fast a start as possible before Christmas break. Then whenever you start back up, you already have some (FedExCup) points tucked in your back pocket, and you’re ready to go.”
Sounds like he’s already ready to go.