By Craig Fergusson
Scotland will be playing in the World Cup and you can too…if you are best mates with Russell Knox.
This week sees the start of the tournament which has grown into the greatest global team event in golf, with teams from 28 countries competing for the title.
The 2016 edition will return to a 72-hole, stroke play, two-man team event format. The first and third days of competition will be played in the foursomes (alternate shot) format, and the second and final days will be fourballs (best ball).
The highest ranked players of each competing country get to choose their partner for the event. We have pairings of Adam Scott and Marc Leishman for Australia, the hosts, we also have the likes of Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker competing for USA. For Scotland, Russell Knox had the honour of choosing as he sits at World Number 18. Knox had Martin Laird, Stephen Gallacher, Marc Warren and even Colin Montgomerie at his disposal, in the end he opted for his Jacksonville University playing partner, Duncan Stewart.
The years, as they tend to do, have increased the distance between the two friends, though. They live a continent apart and compete in two vastly different contexts.
Their lives and successes are miles apart. On one hand we have Knox, a man who every golf fan knows about. He is living it up in Florida where the sun is always shining.
He has won two US PGA Tour titles since November, including the prestigious World Golf Championship HSBC Champions, finished tenth in this season’s FedExCup and narrowly missed out on automatic qualification for Europe’s Ryder Cup team. His career earnings amount to $10,344,241 and are sure to sky-rocket further.
Then we have Duncan Stewart. He sells shares for people to invest in for him to secure funding for his golf career. The start of 2016 saw him sit at World Number 1,309th, obviously in stark contrast to his playing parter Knox. Residing in a flat in Edinburgh he claimed his first victory on the Challenge Tour this year where he won the Open de Madrid. His aim this year is to try to secure his European Tour card.
Knox first brought up the World Cup when Stewart met him for lunch before May’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. At first, Stewart thought Knox was joking.
Knox recalled the event, “Then a couple months later, when I said to him, ‘No, Duncan, I’m seriously going to pick you,’ he was shocked,” Knox said. “He texted me for day after day after day and was like, ‘Are you sure? Is this really going to happen?”
That text came in early August. This was then in the same week that Knox went on to win the Travelers Championship and Stewart finished sixth in a Challenge Tour event in Sweden. Stewart believes it was no coincidence that they both played well that week, he said:
“I think we were on a high knowing (the World Cup) was going to happen, especially me. It’s a massive, massive event for me,” Stewart said. “It’s been a huge confidence boost without hitting a shot, just knowing I’m going to be playing in it.”
Knox and Stewart first met while playing junior tournaments in northern Scotland. Knox was the first to commit to Jacksonville and Stewart followed suit after the coach, Mike Flemming, was looking to fill out his roster.
It was changed days back then as Stewart won eight titles at Jacksonville, compared to Knox’s three. Stewart was the Atlantic Sun Conference’s Player of the Year in 2005 and a two-time conference champion, while Knox’s consistency earned him All-American honours as a junior.
The Scottish duo will tee off on Thursday hoping to rekindle their partnership from their university days. They will be aiming to do Scotland proud and bring home the trophy for the second time in the nation’s history.