Russell Knox: Scot 'let his Ryder Cup moment slip'

Russell Knox
Knox elected to play The Barclays on the PGA Tour rather than the Made in Denmark event

On the face of it, Russell Knox has been hard done by in missing out on a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine at the end of September.

Knox is the world number 20 at the moment. Only five players in Darren Clarke's team are ranked higher than the Inverness man - Henrik Stenson (four), Rory McIlroy (five), Justin Rose (10), Danny Willett (11) and Sergio Garcia (12).

The other seven in Clarke's team are ranked below - and in some cases miles below - Knox in the world order. Rafa Cabrera Bello is ranked 27th, Chris Wood is 28th, Thomas Pieters is 41st, Andy Sullivan is 42nd, Lee Westwood 46th, Matt Fitzpatrick 48th and Martin Kaymer 50th.

Clarke was always going to go for at least two experienced players among his three captain's picks and nobody can quibble with the inclusion of Ryder Cup warriors Westwood and Kaymer.

Three wildcards - but, in real life, there was only ever one spot up for grabs as soon as it became obvious that the Englishman and the German would require a pick.

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Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Thomas Pieters named as European wildcards

Knox a 'shoo-in' after second PGA victory

When Knox sank that terrific putt across the 18th green to win the Travelers Championship in early August he looked like a shoo-in for the team. It was Knox's second victory on the PGA Tour since November - the other being his breakthrough win in an all-star field at the WGC in Shanghai.

He was not a member of the European Tour then, so the ranking points did not count towards his Ryder Cup bid. Had he joined the Tour a week before instead of a week after, he would have made the team automatically.

That night of the Travelers the lost points in Shanghai did not seem to matter because the Scot's form was looking formidable. Apart from his two wins, he would also finished second to Graeme McDowell at the OHL Classic, second again to Branden Grace at the Heritage and second once more to Rory McIlroy at the Irish Open.

The gist was that Clarke probably wanted three experienced players as his wildcards to counterbalance the five rookies already in his team, but that Knox was forcing his hand with his excellence.

In early August, Knox looked a certainty.

Russell Knox celebrates with the Travelers Championship trophy
Knox's victory in the Travelers Championship was his second win on the PGA Tour

Knox 'did himself no favours'

Things changed, dramatically. The fast emergence of Pieters was something that Knox, and others, did not see coming. Fourth at the Olympics, second at the Czech Masters and first last week at the Made in Denmark event was a hell of a run by the talented Belgian.

Suddenly, Knox had a challenger for that one wildcard spot.

Knox has not helped himself either. You could not say for sure that he blew his own chances but he did himself no favours by his approach post-Travelers. He had two ranking events left after that and he played in neither of them.

He thought he had done enough. He sat back and waited for Clarke's call while Pieters burned it up elsewhere. Knox should have played in the Wyndham on the PGA Tour to show his intent to qualify by right, but he did not.

He should have gone to Denmark last week, thereby showing his captain that he had a huge desire to make the team, but instead he opted for the cash mountain that was The Barclays. There were Ryder Cup points on offer in Denmark but not in the USA. In choosing the USA, the Scot gave out a bad signal.

Thomas Pieters
Pieters won the Made in Denmark title on Sunday, a week after a runner-up finish at the Czech Masters

Interview claims 'smacked of arrogance'

At the beginning of last week, an interview with Knox was published in Golf Digest magazine. That, too, probably damaged his case for a pick. Knox displayed an alarming sense of entitlement. It would have been understandable had Clarke harboured grave doubts about Knox's ability to fit into a team once he read that interview.

"As I said to someone recently, my big problem was not getting the points for winning in China," said Knox of his victory in Shanghai.

"I'd be in if they counted. So there is a moral obligation to pick me, I guess. I don't want Darren to pick me because of that, though. His goal is to pick the three best players who did not make the team. And I have a hard time not thinking I am one of those right now."

Moral obligation? This was a player dictating to a captain - and no good ever comes of that. It was a bizarre approach from Knox; it was utterly self-defeating when Pieters was already laying down a huge case for inclusion.

Darren Clarke speaks to the media after announcing his three wildcard picks
Clarke said telling Knox "was as difficult a call as I've ever had to make in golfing terms"

Knox went on: "If all he [Clarke] does is list those he thinks are playing the best right now, I don't know how I can't be in the top 12. I know people are assuming I am the third of the three picks if he goes for Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. But I should really be the first."

The first? It smacked of arrogance.

Knox has only recently become a member of the European Tour, but ticking a box is not enough. He has not shown the commitment to playing in this part of the world that his captain would want.

Pieters is a dedicated member of the Tour. Knox is not. Because he played in Denmark last week, Pieters got to partner his captain - and shot the lights out in his company - while Knox was in New York playing The Barclays. Out of sight, out of mind.

The Belgian is a terrific player, a massive hitter, a birdie-machine and a future star of the Tour. He deserves his spot. Knox played his way into contention and then let the moment slip.

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