SAN FRANCISCO – Given that the golf world is gathered in arguably one of the world’s most picturesque cities, we can agree that vantage points are paramount.
On the one hand, for instance, Colt Knost is one of a healthy list of storylines. (Come on, a 14-year-old kid? A 49-year-old club pro? And then there’s Casey Martin, still a feel-good tale.)
But if you change your view of Knost’s story, you might see that his being at The Olympic Club is a combination of fate and patience rewarded and that few deserve a spot in this year’s U.S. Open more than him. After all, don’t they call the place Knost’s Alley?
Well, not quite, but if you put aside Michael Allen – the 53-year-old Champions Tour player who is a member at The Olympic Club – you could make a case for Knost having played more competitive rounds here than anyone else in the field. It goes back to the 2007 U.S. Amateur when he played two stroke-play qualifying rounds, then six matches, the last of which was a 36-hole triumph over Michael Thompson for the victory.
A wonderful memory, one that was predicted for him, too.
“Trip Kuehne told me coming in (that year) I was going to win. Which is . . . well, 300 people? That’s a bold statement,” Knost said. “But he said, ‘It’s perfect for you. You have to drive it really good, and the greens are really small.’ It fits my eye pretty well.”
But Knost is not in this year’s U.S. Open field because of that performance nearly five years ago, brilliant as it was. No, he got here the old-fashioned way . . . he earned it – even if it caught a lot of people by surprise, including himself.
Having shot 1-over 142 at the U.S. Open sectional in Columbus, Ohio, Knost was in limbo. He thought there was an outside chance he could be playing off for the last of the 16 spots available and there was no longer any reason to rush from Scioto Country Club. Having started the day with a 1-under at Scioto, Knost changed his flight from Monday night to Tuesday morning.
“I played good in the morning,” he reasoned. “Why push it if I have to go to a playoff.”
He soon discovered he did have to go to a playoff, only not for any of the final spots that had been allocated by the USGA. Instead, when all the numbers were crunched, Knost and six others were tied at 142 and would need to play off for . . . second alternate?
Now with 13 sectional sites producing 13 first alternates, it would have been easy for Knost and those at 142 to shrug and walk away. Why bother?
“Exactly,” Knost said. “Honestly, we all didn’t think the playoff was going to matter. I was done for an hour-and-a-half and didn’t hit any balls. I was going to play in my tennis shoes, but my caddie went to the car and brought my golf shoes.”
Again, it was for second alternate and so when only three of those at 142 – Knost, James Driscoll and Tim Ailes – answered the call to play off, it wasn’t like anyone was surprised.
Only minutes before they would go to extra holes, Knost had bumped into Driscoll at their afternoon venue, the Scarlet Course at Ohio State University. “He was sitting on the bleachers in shorts and a T-shirt,” Knost said. “He said, ‘What do you think?’ I told him I didn’t know, but (since) 1-over could maybe be in a playoff for the last spots, I’m going to head over, just in case.”
Driscoll thought about it and followed suit. Like Knost, he had shot 69 in the morning at Scioto and backed it up with a 73 at the Scarlet. But unlike Knost, Driscoll had not changed his flight. It was still for 8:20, but while a sliver of hope remained, so did he.
But the wait became lengthy, and by the time he knew that 142 was not in the running for any of the last spots or even for first alternate, “I had missed my flight,” Driscoll said. “Then I figured, I’ve already missed my flight, so I may as well play.”
Knost thought similarly. “I had nothing else to do,” he said. “So I stuck around to play. I’m not sure why I did.”
All Knost knows is, he’s glad he did. Call it fate or call it a stroke of incredible good fortune, but when he stuck a 6-iron to 6 feet and birdied the third playoff hole, the par-4 10th, he had prevailed. But it’s not like he was celebrating wildly or that Driscoll or Ailes were distraught; remember, it was for second alternate when they played that third playoff hole.
“We said, ‘Let’s get this done and over with. It’s 8:45 at night,” Knost said.
“I didn’t think I had a chance of getting it, honestly.”
Knost went home to the Dallas area and didn’t give the U.S. Open much thought. After all, he was a second alternate – “every first alternate has to be in front of me.” Then he discovered that he was pegged as the third name on the re-allotment list, that basically USGA officials felt that the Columbus site should have had 18 spots, not 16, and so Hicks and Knost were in line to make the field.
When that news was confirmed Sunday night, Knost’s emotions ran the full cycle. Surprised, yet excited, the former U.S. Amateur champ felt he had a good grasp of the situation. “It makes sense (for him to be put in), but still, every first alternate has to be in front of me. But that’s not how they do it, and I’m fine with that.”
Driscoll was also surprised. But while he suggested that the other first alternates (who won’t get in) “must be pissed,” Driscoll gave credit to USGA officials.
“They just don’t wake up and make these things up without rhyme and reason,” Driscoll said. “They obviously made the decision based on strength of field. They don’t make many decisions without thinking about it.”
Bottom line, when the sectionals were finished, USGA officials sat back and surveyed what had happened at the 13 sites. Weighing how many players officially took part and then subjectively assessing the strength of the fields, Columbus’ site was adjusted upward. Good news for Knost, but one could guess that the four players at 142 who chose not to stick around – Kevin Stadler, Brandt Jobe, Jimmy Walker and Aaron Goldberg – wish they had a mulligan.
“It helps when four people decide to go home,” said Knost, laughing as he was asked to explain how he won the playoff.
But there is that part of this story that hits upon it being a just reward, that perhaps Knost was destined to make his professional debut in a major at a place that means so much to him. He toured the first eight holes of The Olympic Club on Monday, seeing it for the first time since 2007, and he reports that “it’s difficult; it’s all you want.”
When he left here with the trophy in August of 2007, Knost was the toast of the amateur world, having won the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship a month earlier. Those twin triumphs sent an impressive trio of invitations Knost’s way – to the 2008 Masters, U.S. Open, and Open Championship – only he rejected them all to turn professional right after the 2007 Walker Cup.
“No regrets at all,” Knost said. “I’m where I want to be, out on the PGA Tour. My whole deal was, I wanted to make a career out of this, not just one (or two, or even three) events. I think it was the best decision for my future.”
Knost figures if he plays well, he’ll earn spots into the majors. He didn’t think it would take until his fifth pro season to make it into one, but Knost is a few weeks shy of his 27th birthday and appreciative of where he is. Though he has missed the cut in five straight tournaments, Knost with help of a pair of third-place finishes has piled up $746,846 to earn a return to the stage where he scripted a memorable feat.
That he got here in a most improbable way matters little to him.