NEW YORK — A top European Tour official waited patiently as Russell Knox wrapped up his duties from winning a World Golf Championship. He wanted to introduce himself to Knox and share details on how to become a tour member.
Ten months later, Knox had reason to feel like an outcast.
The 31-year-old Scot easily would have qualified for the Ryder Cup if he had been a European Tour member when he won the HSBC Champions last November. Even without those valuable points, Knox had all the credentials to be at Hazeltine.
He has two PGA Tour victories this season. He was runner-up to Rory McIlroy at the Irish Open, to Branden Grace at Hilton Head and he lost in a playoff to Graeme McDowell in Mexico last fall. Knox was No. 4 when the FedEx Cup playoffs began, one spot ahead of Jordan Spieth. He is No. 20 in the world, the sixth-highest ranked European.
That wasn’t enough for European captain Darren Clarke to take him to the Ryder Cup.
Clarke used his three picks Tuesday on the Ryder Cup experience of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, and the raw talent and recent form of Thomas Pieters. He said the phone call to Knox on Monday was “probably one of the toughest” of his career.
But not the longest.
“We spoke for 20 seconds,” Knox said. “It was obvious by the way he said, ‘Hello’ that it was bad news. I didn’t ask any questions. I wasn’t going to ask who he picked or why not me. After the bad news, it was get off the phone as quick as possible.”
The disappointment in Knox’s voice was evident, even though part of him had a hunch this was coming. He felt as though he deserved to be on the team because of his performance. He also knows that a captain can choose whomever he wants, “and I gave him that choice by not making the team outright.”
Think back to his victory at the Travelers Championship at the start of the month, when Knox holed a 12-foot par putt on the 18th hole and threw his cap across the green in celebration. Much of that emotion was that Knox felt certain he had done enough to lock up his spot in the Ryder Cup.
“Sadly, it wasn’t,” he said.
He said Clarke and assistant captain Ian Poulter encouraged him to play the Wyndham Championship, his final chance to earn points. Knox declined. He would have needed a fourth-place finish, and to play the Wyndham would have meant playing seven times in nine weeks going to the Ryder Cup and “I probably would have been burned out by the time I got to Hazeltine.”
Did that hurt his chances? Probably.
Pieters made his case by shooting 62 in Denmark while playing with Clarke — it was no accident they were paired together — and going on to win the tournament. Knox was impressed with what Pieters did in Denmark, and who Pieters is as a player. He had no complaints with the Belgian being picked.
Even so, Knox was left to wonder how much he was seriously considered.
Knox was born and raised in Scotland. He claims Florida as home from having lived there since college.
He has never felt European.
Clarke hinted at Knox being an outsider when he said Tuesday the Ryder Cup is about more than just playing. “It’s about the team room and the dynamics and everything that’s involved in it,” he said.
Knox was hard-pressed to think of another European Ryder Cup player whose golfing roots are in America. He said he barely knows Clarke or the assistants. That includes Poulter, even though they’ve had the same agent for years.
“Ultimately, I had that going against me,” Knox said. “I don’t even know Paul Lawrie. Sam Torrance seems like a legend — I don’t know him. I played with Thomas Bjorn once, and we didn’t speak one word. I don’t have relationships with anyone. I’m not really close to anyone on the team.
“If I would have been picked, it could have been 100 percent different.”
While saying he was disappointed, Knox also acknowledged it was time to move on. He changed the screen saver on his phone Tuesday to show the FedEx Cup, which he said he will look at for motivation. He would love to win one of these next three playoff events to show Clarke what he is missing.
He respects the choices the captain has to make.
Someone always gets left behind. Making an argument for one player is to devalue the merits of another.
“I might be a story today,” Knox said. “But in a couple of weeks’ time, nobody is going to remember — except for a couple of Scottish people — that I didn’t get picked.”