SHANGHAI (AP) — Russell Knox was the center of attention after winning the HSBC Champions, and not just with the sponsors.
After his press conference, he posed with four flight attendants from Emirates Airlines. Next up was a photo with the owner and executive staff of Casillero del Diablo, which supplied the wine for the week.
When he sat back down to sign flags and caps for HSBC, another man approached whom Knox did not recognize.
“Hello, Russell. I’m Keith Waters with the European Tour.”
Waters is the chief operating officer, and he was equipped with all the answers Knox did not know and was too overwhelmed to ask at the moment — mainly, the process of becoming a European Tour member and how that relates to the Ryder Cup.
Sensing that the 30-year-old from Scotland was still trying to digest his first big win — a World Golf Championship, no less — Waters gave him a business card with his mobile number and told him he would be available any time. And there was one more thing.
“Also just so you know, Darren Clarke is going to be calling you,” Waters said.
“We’ll be in touch for sure,” Knox replied with a grin.
Clarke is the European captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. Odds are, he has been on the phone with Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters and any other European who appears to have even a remote chance of qualifying.
To be realistic, Knox barely has that.
Is he interested in the Ryder Cup? Of course. Even though he has lived in Florida his entire professional life, he grew up in Inverness and is proud of his Scottish heritage. His sister, Diane, is a popular radio DJ in Scotland.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a goal of mine to make the European Ryder Cup team, and this obviously springboards me to a place where … I mean, yesterday I was nowhere near it,” Knox said. “I have no idea where I stand on making the team or what I need to do. But I look forward to finding out and giving it a run, that’s for sure.”
Much will depend on what European Tour chief Keith Pelley announces next week in Dubai on a new membership policy.
One of the options is to require a minimum of five European Tour events (down from 13), but that number would not include the majors or WGCs. So it really would be no change at all, except for making it practical for players who have slipped out of the top 50 — such as Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell — and no longer are automatically eligible for the eight biggest events in world golf.
For Knox, that would mean adding four tournaments to what he already plays.
Knox is among dozens of Europeans who live in America and play the majority of their golf on the PGA Tour. But his career is more closely in line with the likes of Carl Pettersson and Martin Laird than with McDowell, Ian Poulter or a resurgent Paul Casey.
Pettersson was born in Sweden and moved to North Carolina when he was in high school. Laird is from Glasgow, played at Colorado State and never went back to Europe until he already had his PGA Tour card. One year he played the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond, and a local radio reporter aware only of his accent innocently asked Laird why it had taken so long for him to do well on his home soil.
“This is my first event,” Laird said.
Knox played 99 times on either the PGA Tour or the Web.com Tour before making his European Tour debut last year in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, not far from where he grew up. He played his first British Open this year — he was the alternate who replaced Rory McIlroy when he tore up his ankle playing soccer.
Knox was the only player keeping the third round from being completed Saturday evening at Sheshan International because he thought it was too dark to play the final hole. That led some in the British press to jokingly refer to him as the “American” because of the minor inconvenience. When he returned the next morning and made birdie, and then never lost the lead on Sunday, he became a Scot again.
It was all in good fun, but to be fair, only the diligent golf press in the U.K. knew much about Knox, and for good reason. This was his first win on any of the six main tours around the world. Knox had never been remotely close to the top 50 in the world until he won the HSBC Champions and shot all the way up to No. 31. Now he’s the 10th-highest European in the world ranking.
He is guaranteed two majors (Masters, PGA Championship) and a WGC, and he’s likely to get in the other two WGCs. Whether he takes up European Tour membership and makes a run at the Ryder Cup, Knox ultimately concluded that “it’s a great problem to have.”
Besides, it beats the alternative.
“I always joked with my caddie that if I ever won,” he said, “I was going to retire.”