The track meet masquerading as the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open is well underway and the scores are living up to the traditions of the TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas, very low scores.
Spencer Levin and George McNeill both shot even par 71 on Thursday and 63 on Friday.
The leaders at 10-under are Andrew Putnam, brother of Michael Putnam, and Russell Knox out of Jacksonville University by way of Scotland. One shot 67, 65 and the other 65, 67.
So how did a Scot end up at Jacksonville University?
“I joined a recruiting agency called First Point UK, and they got in touch with schools, and I pretty much had a list of schools that were interested. I don’t think there was any big schools on there, but I went over to visit Jacksonville University with my dad, and I would have went to the first place I visited because I was so in awe. Everything was so cool.”
“I just wanted to go somewhere warm, and I was pretty happy to just go to Florida and get to play golf all year‑round.”
He’s from Inverness in far north Scotland and while you can play year-round that far north, there is a qualifier:
“The winters are pretty mild. You can play golf year‑round if you’re a complete looney.”
While some may have been disappointed that none of the big golf schools made him an offer, he was quite happy to re-gain his sanity after all those winters. But there was another huge benefit that he didn’t realize until after he graduated in 2007 with a degree in Business Management:
“I mean, I thought I was really good [coming in as a Freshman], but I didn’t realize how unbelievable everyone was over here. If I would have went to a bigger school and tried to walk on like a Georgia or Alabama, I probably would have quit because I would have been like, wow, I’m really bad.”
“So I think going to a smaller school and being the No.1 or No.2 guy really helped me kind of grow confidence, and then I just naturally improved, and then when I was playing against the top guys, I was a little more prepared”
That and the fact that he now lives in Jacksonville Beach and plays out of the TPC Ponte Vedra, home of the Players Championship. Pretty good.
But there was another thing about him that caught my eye and it made me feel a little sad for him. 2014 was his best of the three years he’s been on Tour. He had a 2nd, two other top-10s and five other top-25s. He did miss 6 of 26 cuts, but he finally got into seven figures with $1.5 million for the year.
Unfortunately, he chalks it up to developing a hard heart:
“I think you have to be so selfish, and when I first came out, I wanted to be friends with everyone and I wanted people to like me, for a big‑name guy to put his arm around me, and then when I just realized they don’t care about you, they don’t care about anyone, everyone is just in it for themselves, and that’s why I love this game, because it is, you’ll step on your best friend’s throat on Sunday afternoon to beat him, and that’s what makes golf so great.”
“I think whenever I finally realized that you’ve just got to stand on the first tee and be like, you know what, I’m a man and it’s me versus the course, and kind of screw everyone else.”
He does then turn right around and backtrack a little, so it’s a little hard to know just how hard that heart has become. Has he really become that cold blooded?
“Not really. I say that, it sounds a lot worse than it is, but I mean, of course I’m friendly with a lot of guys, and I wish everyone else I’m playing against the best of luck. You’ve just got to be wrapped up in your own little world.”
One of the attributes of human beings is that their egos are constantly guarding against attacks from others. Not physical attacks so much as attacks on the ego. And what that sometimes does is cause them to project in others feelings that are their own. In black culture, for example, there is no worse slight than “dis-respecting” somebody else.
If you are furtive and guarded in your dealing with others, it’s easy to come to feel that others don’t like you or, worse yet, are indifferent to you.
I have heard these kinds of dog-eat-dog stories before — and certainly the Tour is a highly competitive place to make a living — but we all know the stories of kindness and compassion and yes, even love, when one of their own is sick or wounded or dies. The most recent example is Jarrod Lyle coming back from leukemia. Or Matt Kuchar’s caddie’s young wife dying suddenly of a seizure. Or on the LPGA Tour, Heather Farr living on in the hearts of her fellow competitors after succumbing to breast cancer at just 28 years old. No one who knew him will ever forget the late Bruce Edwards, Tom Watson’s long-time caddie who died of ALS.
So while Knox may be excused for having some early insecurities from having had the experience of being a young Scot far from home, I think over time he will find that the PGA Tour is, for the most part, a big traveling family with tentacles of friendship reaching all around.
If you play the game with love in your heart, hell, if you do anything with love in your heart, you walk the path in a much more peaceful place, a much more absorbed place than those who are constantly looking over their shoulders.