FAR HILLS, New Jersey (January 11, 2008) -- In 2007, Colt Knost had a summer to remember. The Texan became just the second player in USGA history to win the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links titles in the same calendar year – Ryan Moore first achieved the feat in 2004. Knost was also the sixth player in history to win multiple USGA titles in the same year.
Adding to his remarkable season was his selection to the USA Walker Cup team, where he went 2-0-2 at Royal County Down in helping the Americans retain the cup. USGA Staff writer David Shefter caught up with Knost recently in Dallas. Knost has since earned conditional status on the Nationwide Tour for 2008 and will also receive a few sponsor exemptions into PGA Tour events.
First off, any regrets about turning professional?
Knost: No. It’s going to be painful sitting and watching the Masters at home. I said all along I wasn’t going to stay amateur for the U.S. Open. Hopefully I can get hot at Pebble (AT&T Pro-Am) or one of the first tournaments and win and get in [to the Masters]. I’ll be back there one day. I’m happy with my decision. I played those three [PGA Tour] events in the fall and have already gone through Q-School and gained that experience. I have played three [stages] of Q-School and three [PGA Tour] tournaments. I’ve played six tournaments and gave up one and I feel like it will make me a much better player down the road.
Did you have to wrestle with the decision or was your mind made up after the Walker Cup?
Knost: After I won the Amateur, I knew what I was going to do. Once I got over to Ireland, me and [Walker Cup teammate] Trip [Kuehne] talked about it a lot. I knew I was going to turn pro. I was just waiting [to get back home].
Turn your attention to the U.S. Amateur Public Links in Chicago. Now that you are almost six months removed from winning at Cantigny Golf, what are your thoughts about the week?
Knost: The biggest thing I remember is that I almost didn’t even make it to match play. I made a 6-footer on the 18th hole of the second round [of stroke play] to miss going into that big playoff. Once I got into match play – and that was my first experience with match play – I knew that the course fit me well and I knew the format fit me well because I make very few mistakes. That’s probably the best golf I played all summer. That really just set the tone for the rest of the summer for me. It gave me so much confidence.
Did you make any significant changes to your game or mindset between stroke and match play?
Knost: I hit it awful the first day. I shot like four over. I went to the second day and hit it great. Me and [instructor] Randy [Smith] talked on the phone and normally he’s pretty good about figuring stuff out even over the phone when I tell him what’s going on. I went out and hit it great, but just made no putts at all the second round of stroke play. Then I got into match play and kept hitting it good and finally some putts started falling. If I had putted well [every day], I probably would have never had a match go past 13. That’s how good I hit it.
At the time of the APL, there was a lot of talk about you possibly being selecting to the Walker Cup team. Did you feel any extra pressure to perform well, knowing you had a chance to be one of the 10 players selected?
Knost: Going into the summer, and after the [Walker Cup] practice session [earlier in the year] I know [captain] Buddy [Marucci] liked what he saw and from what people told me, I knew I had a good chance of making it, but I had to play well. I wasn’t going to be able to just scrape through the summer and get picked. Toward the end of that week, it was weird because I felt the bubble guys were me, Rickie Fowler and Daniel Summerhays. And in that week, we all win. I mean Daniel wins the Nationwide Tour event [in Columbus, Ohio] and Rickie wins the Players [Amateur in South Carolina]. I’m like, ‘Now we’re still even.’ That’s the thing I remember most is how all three of us won.
How much confidence did you take from the APL through the rest of the summer and, specifically, the U.S. Amateur?
Knost: It was huge. I win the Pub Links, and I played well at the Porter Cup [in Lewiston, N.Y.] and I played really well at the Western [Amateur in Michigan] until match play and then got slaughtered. That was the only match I lost all summer. Going into the Olympic Club, I had people telling me that this golf course is perfectly suited for you. Normally, when I hear that I don’t play too well because I put a lot of pressure on myself. I guess with already being named to the Walker Cup, it took so much pressure off. When I got to Olympic Club, I just fell in love with the place. I was playing great coming in and was swinging great. I really just played really well all week.
Olympic’s Lake Course is one of the most challenging in the country, so why were you able to have so much success on it?
Knost: It’s a ball-striker’s golf course. You can’t scrape it around out there. It’s got narrow fairways and small greens, which is what I love. Put me on a golf course like that and I can compete.
Most of the Walker Cup guys struggled that week. Trip Kuehne and Jonathan Moore both missed the cut and favorites Chris Kirk and Jamie Lovemark went out earlier than expected. Was there pressure on you to carry the banner for the squad?
Knost: A little bit. I was getting text messages from them all week. They were rooting me on and everything. I just knew that if I won that Buddy and the USGA are going to get to select the people they wanted to [for the final two spots]. They weren’t going to be forced to take anybody. We all knew who most likely were going to be on the team. We obviously wanted to have the best team go over there and with me winning, I felt like it gave us the best chance.
In the third round, you had to face veteran George Zahringer, a former Walker Cupper and someone who is twice your age. He gave you quite a tussle, didn’t he?
Knost: George was awesome. I heard a lot of things about him. And Buddy came up to me before [the match] and said, ‘Don’t take this guy lightly.’ He tried to pull the veteran stuff on me like making me putt 1-footers. But he’s a great guy and I think we’ve become pretty good friends now. He came over to the Walker Cup and he’s an awesome guy. He was fun to play with.
Was there one moment from the week that stood out more than another?
Knost: In the afternoon round of the finals, on No. 8, that par 3 where everybody sits on that hill back there, that was probably the loudest roar I heard all week. I hit an 8-iron that landed real close to the hole and it was a pretty loud roar. That was a pretty exciting moment. The match I remember most is when I played Nick Taylor in the quarters. I was like five or six under on him and beat him pretty good.
What I remember about your final was the clutch chip-in at the 32nd hole and the emotion you showed. Where does that moment stack up?
Knost: That’s probably the most memorable shot. It was funny because I had just made birdie on No. 13 (hole 31 of the match) to go 1 up with five to play. I was over there just left of the green on No. 14 and my caddie, Steve Molinelli, said, ‘You are due for a chip-in.’ Right when I hit it, I said, ‘That looks so good.’ It hit dead center in the middle of the pin. I thought it was going to hit and spin out. Then it fell, luckily.
Your caddie for the week, Steve Molinelli, was an interesting story. He caddied in the sectional qualifying rounds for Nathaniel Crosby in 1981 when he won the Amateur at Olympic and is a four-time club champ at Olympic. How did you wind up with him on your bag?
Knost: He was an amazing, amazing guy. Pat O’Brien, the putting guru who works with Zach Johnson and some guys out on tour, used to be an assistant out there. Pat is here in Dallas now and he called me and said, ‘If you need a caddie let me know.’ He called [Steve] and we hit it off and it was great. We got along. We both kind of have had the same mindset with everything. I think that’s why it worked out so well.
You didn’t have too much time off between the Amateur triumph and the Walker Cup. How do you calm yourself down from that high to get ready for the ultimate amateur team competition?
Knost: I was so excited to go over there, but I was so worn out. Three days later, I had to get on a plane to go to Ireland. We get over there and land at 6 in the morning and we’ve got to go straight to the golf course because Buddy doesn’t want us to go to sleep. I’m just kicking at Buddy all week, telling him I need some sleep. I want to rest a little bit, which he let me. That was the most memorable week of my golfing life. I think about it all the time. You can’t describe it. A lot of guys tell me how they go to all these major sporting events and I think if you have never been over to the Walker Cup, especially over in Great Britain and Ireland, you’ve got to go. I’ve never been to one over here – I’m going to Merion Golf Club [in 2009] for sure – but there’s nothing like it. I wasn’t at Chicago Golf Club [in 2005], but I just can’t imagine it being any better than it was over there.
Guys have told me about the incredible butterflies they have before hitting their first shot at a Walker Cup. How were you nerves holding up on that Saturday morning of the first session of foursomes?
Knost: Me and Dustin Johnson were partners and we were playing Rory McIlroy, who is their stud, [and Jonathan Caldwell] and we have 10,000 people out there and there’s probably 8,000 following our group. We’re playing alternate shot and Dustin has to hit the first tee shot. He was telling me how nervous he was as we were walking to the first tee.
He made contact as the guy was saying Dustin Johnson. He didn’t even let the [announcer] finish his name. He just smoked it. I wasn’t nervous because I didn’t have to hit the shot. But he hit it like 400 yards off the first tee and that’s no exaggeration. He out-drove Rory by like 80 yards. I’m getting up there to hit our second shot and [the marshals] are letting them walk up the fairway with us. So I get over my second shot and all of a sudden, I hear all these footprints come creeping up behind me. I mean there are 8,000 people out there. I turn around and see all these people and it’s the most nervous I have ever been in my life. My heart just started pounding. I hit a good shot and we two-putted for birdie and we won the hole. I had a 6-footer to win the match on the last hole that I missed. I could hardly take the putter back. We halved that first match.
It seemed like you guys were the underdogs in Northern Ireland. Was the team happy playing that role?
Knost: That’s what everybody said. I got bashed on in the British press a lot because I said some things because they bashed on us before we even got over there. I just didn’t think it was very fair. You guys [here in the U.S.] don’t write about their team the way they wrote about us. So when we won, I gave it to them pretty good and said some things, but everybody tells us we were the underdog going in and I didn’t feel like that. How can you take the 10 best players in America and say that those 10 [from GB&I] are better than us just because we are coming over to their soil.
Do you think it had anything to do with the home-course advantage and the fact they had a couple of holdovers from the 2005 team?
Knost: You see I didn’t feel that way. We got a week to prepare. You let 10 of the best golfers in the world play a golf course for a week, they are going to get to know it pretty good. People questioned Trip and Jonathan being on the team or questioned the selection process. The U.S. media does it and the British media does it more, I think. They questioned [British Amateur] champion Drew Weaver not being on the team. But I think it’s funny that the U.S. media never questioned their selection process. They never questioned who was on their team. That bothered us. It was almost unfair. Everyone was out to get us.
Captain Buddy Marucci followed your progress all summer as you tried to play your way on the team. You talk very fondly of him. How was he to play for?
Knost: He was amazing. Buddy is a great friend and somebody I can call anytime I need anything. He’s been so supportive. He was there every match but the finals at the Amateur. He called me every day during the Public Links. People just think he’s a quiet guy who doesn’t say much, but they don’t know him very well. He walked down the fairway with me those last three holes on Sunday at the Walker Cup and he knows how to get you fired up and knows the right things to say.
What was your one favorite or memorable moment from the Walker Cup?
Knost: For me personally, the chip shot I hit on the last hole [of Sunday singles] was just unbelievable with all the people around. Other than that, I was right beside J. Moore when he hit that 4-iron into the last hole, and we were all right there on the green when he made the [eagle] putt. The whole week is a memorable experience. There’s not one moment I can really pick out. I wish I could play in 10 Walker Cups. I would play in it every time. It’s the greatest event I have ever been in. Representing your country is the greatest thing you can do in sports. There’s nothing like it. I think it would be tough to have the Ryder Cup beat the Walker Cup.
- interviewed by USGA Staff writer David Shefter (Story appears courtesy USGA.)