Notebook: U.S. Open Rookie Knox Likely to Earn Weekend Pass
By Stuart Hall
ARDMORE, Pa. – Russell Knox smiled and even allowed himself a slight laugh. Most weeks on tour, this would not be the demeanor displayed by a player after shooting a 5-over-par 75.
But this is not an ordinary week. Welcome to the 113th U.S. Open, rookie.
"It's not very often you flush it and shoot five over," said Knox, 27, of Scotland, who is making his major debut. "[Merion's East Course is] as tough a course as I've ever played. This morning I putted well, I made some nice putts. In the afternoon I just holed nothing.
"It's just, once some little bad things happen, you get a little bad lie in the rough, one yard off the fairway and then a three-putt on the next and then facing a tough shot, I mean it's very difficult. I'm trying hard not to be mad at myself for shooting five over, because I really feel like I played pretty good."
If Knox wanted validation for his play, he needed to only look at the scorecard he signed nearly six hours earlier. Knox played 13 holes to complete a 1-under-par 69 in a first round that began late Thursday afternoon. Through two rounds, Knox was at 4-over 144, tied with the likes of 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, and a pair of past Players champions, Tim Clark and Henrik Stenson.
"I felt this tournament was easy after that … just kidding," he cracked when asked about the 69. "No, I played nicely, I felt great all day out there. I made some nice up-and-downs this afternoon. But this morning, it just seemed like everything, all the putts I had to make, I made. And this afternoon, it just wasn't the case."
Knox has taken a blue-collar journey to Merion.
He played collegiately at Jacksonville University and in 2006 was an All-American as a junior. He turned professional in 2007 and played on the NGA and eGolf tours until 2011 when he tied for second at the Web.com Tour's Fresh Express Classic, which earned him special temporary member status. Later that season Knox won the Chiquita Classic and earned his 2012 PGA Tour card when he finished 12th on the Web.com Tour's money list.
Last season, Knox finished 143rd on the money list, recording two top-10 finishes in 23 starts. This year, he has finished no higher than 28th in six starts, but, like Friday's Open experience, there have been a lot of positives.
"I feel great," he said. "I feel like I've been playing really well, I feel like I'm improving and just really nothing's happened. So a bit of a disappointment, really, but I'm optimistic that I could have a good week at any moment. Hopefully it's this weekend."
At one point Friday, Knox glanced at the leaderboard and saw only one player under par. How could that be, he wondered.
"You're so used to being under par," he said. "Then when you're over par and you're actually still pretty good, it's tough on your mind. But I was happy with myself, I didn't get down on myself because I knew if I did, I was just going to train wreck and end up probably missing the cut. So I was pretty proud of myself that I hung in there."
Now he's in good position to have two more days to work on the mental aspect of his game. In fact, he believes this is the ideal place for such exercises in patience.
"I get down on myself sometimes, and you just can't do it here," he said. "The course is just too difficult. I think that being this difficult has actually helped me, because if you do get down on yourself, you're just going to shoot 10 over."
Pettersson’s Bizarre Ruling
Some crazy things happen at a U.S. Open, like Kyle Stanley whiffing a shot on Friday from the deep rough near the green at the par-4 16th hole. But it's doubtful anyone has seen what happened to Carl Pettersson on the par-4 fifth hole early Friday morning at Merion.
Just as he was beginning his backswing for his approach shot to the green, Pettersson got startled when a ball from the adjacent second hole struck his ball, causing it to move several feet. Pettersson was able to stop his swing at the top and shuffle his feet to get out of the way of both balls as they moved toward him.
"I've never seen that or experienced that before," said Pettersson, who had no idea who had hit the wayward shot.
ESPN reported that Pettersson's ball was struck by the ball belonging to Brandon Crick, a 25-year-old professional out of Nebraska who qualified via both local and sectional qualifying. Crick was on his way to shooting an opening 11-over-par 81, though he did manage to par the second hole, a par 5.
The Rules of Golf – specifically Rule 18-5 – treat the intruding ball that bumped Pettersson's ball as an outside agency, therefore, Pettersson was allowed to replace his ball as near to the original spot as possible without penalty. He went on to make par in his round of 72.
"Luckily, I wasn't in my downswing, because if I would have missed the ball, it would have been a ... I don't know what the ruling would have been on that," the native Swede said. "But it might not have been good."
Back To Basics For Ogilvy
Geoff Ogilvy of Australia began his 10th U.S. Open experimenting with something in his swing. That experiment ended after six holes when he found himself five over par.
"I probably should have known better, but at least I had the good sense to know when to stop fiddling with it," said Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion. "Once I stopped messing around and just tried to hit good shots, it's funny how much better you play."
Ogilvy, 36, who had missed the cut in his last three U.S. Open starts, rallied to shoot 74 and then followed up with an even-par 70 Friday.
"I'd like to be a few better, but after the way I started, I guess this probably isn't a bad spot at all. To play, essentially, one under in the last 30 holes is pretty good."
Stanley Charts Course To Merion
Kyle Stanley was the last player to qualify for the U.S. Open off the Official World Golf Ranking, taking over the very last spot, No. 60, as of the final cutoff date (June 10). He knew exactly what it took to get there, too.
After finishing third at the Memorial Tournament, Stanley moved up to 59th in the world, but he didn't compete in last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic, the final qualifying event. All he could do was wait. But to ensure he understood exactly what his chances were, he called the PGA Tour and asked one of its statisticians to draw up a list.
He texted the list to a friend, Jared Kiefer, whom he met through Gonzaga University’s basketball program, and Kiefer put the list down on paper. Throughout the weekend Stanley checked off the finishes of players who could eliminate him.
"It was neat that he did that," said Stanley. "He kept up with all the scenarios. It worked out pretty well."
Indeed, Stanley, a member of the 2007 USA Walker Cup Team, shot rounds of 71-74 to make the cut for the second time in four U.S. Open appearances.
Hold the Applause
Jerry Tarde of Golf Digest once famously divided the East Course at Merion into three “acts”: holes 1-6 were the Drama, holes 7-13 the Comedy and holes 14-18 the Tragedy. With one round completed, the Comedy holes – five par 4s and two pars 3s that average barely more than 300 yards – have proven to be the breather stretch – if there is one – on a course that yielded a full-field scoring average of more than four strokes over par (74.31).
Holes 7-13 were seven of the nine easiest holes in Round 1, including the two easiest: the par-3 13th allowed 51 birdies – to nearly one-third of the field – and played significantly under par at 2.73; and the par-4 10th, which averaged 3.81 strokes. The first hole, with a 3.91 stroke average, was the only other hole that played under par.
Holes 5 and 18, the longest par 4s on the course, tied for most difficult with a 4.78 average. Both allowed just two birdies to the field, and combined for 47 double bogeys.
Ohio-based freelance writer Dave Shedloski and Ron Driscoll, manager of editorial services for the USGA, contributed to this notebook. Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.