Colt Knost, 22, of Dallas, Texas, won the first three holes and never looked back in posting a 6-and-4 victory on Saturday over 18-year-old Cody Paladino of Kensington, Conn., in the championship match of the 2007 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Cantigny Golf.
Knost, a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University where he earned third-team All-America honors this past season, played the equivalent of 6-under-par golf – with the usual match-play concessions – over the 32 holes of the scheduled 36-hole final. In six matches, Knost registered just seven bogeys and over the final two days of the competition, a total of 66 holes, he was the equivalent of 13 under par.
The win gave Knost exemptions into the 2007 and ’08 U.S. Amateur and a likely invitation to the 2008 Masters Tournament provided he remains an amateur. It also strengthened his portfolio for selection to the 10-man USA Walker Cup team, which will face Great Britain and Ireland at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland Sept. 8-9. Knost also became the sixth Texan to win the APL and the first since Hunter Haas in 1999. Ironically, the last time the APL was held in the Chicago area, Tim Hobby of Alvin, Texas, was the champion at nearby Cog Hill.
“Pretty unbelievable,” said Knost, who shot a second-round 64 in April at the PGA Tour’s EDS Byron Nelson Championship and made the cut. “It hasn’t’ set in, but I’m enjoying it.
“Winning a USGA championship, I don’t know what else you have to do [to make the Walker Cup team]. But I’m going to keep playing well this summer. I have a few events left, and hopefully that will take care of everything.”
Knost did get a congratulatory call from USA Walker Cup Captain George “Buddy” Marucci when the match concluded.
Marucci would have approved of Knost’s consistency. He hit 13 of 14 fairways in the morning round and 10 of 18 greens, while his opponent struggled off the tee, finding just six of 14 fairways. The trend continued after lunch as Paladino rarely played approach shots from the fairway, while Knost found every fairway.
“I never really found my swing,” said Paladino, the first player from Connecticut to advance to the APL final. “I just really didn’t have it today. I wish things could have gone better.
“But as far as stepping on the driving range this morning and seeing two pyramids of balls and knowing one of them was for me, that was a pretty special moment. Regardless of what happened today … I knew it was going to be a special day.”
Knost owned a 3-up lead at the break and extended it to 6 up through 27 holes with a winning par at the 472-yard, par-4 ninth. He went 7 up with a conceded birdie at No. 28 before Paladino rallied with a winning 5-foot birdie at No. 30 and a two-putt par win at the par-3 31st hole.
At the 525-yard par-5 14th hole, the 32nd of the match, Knost hit a 5-wood to 25 feet and after Paladino’s third shot from the rough sailed left of the green, he conceded the eagle and the match. It was the second time in the match that Knost won that particular hole to a conceded eagle. In the morning round, Paladino’s third shot sailed left into a bush and with Knost sitting on the front fringe, he conceded the hole.
“That’s the strength of my game,” said Knost of his accuracy. “I have to keep it in the fairway most of the time, and that’s what you’ve got to do out here with the difficult roughs.”
Although the temperatures and humidity remained comfortable, the players were greeted by a stiff breeze throughout the match. That never bothered Knost, who grew up playing in the gale-force winds of north-central Texas.
“Wind doesn’t bother me,” he said.
Knost now has some difficult decisions to make. To play in the Masters, he would need to remain an amateur through next April. But he planned on possibly turning pro after the U.S. Amateur or the Walker Cup, should he be picked. The last player to turn down a Masters invitation was 1992 U.S. Amateur runner-up Tom Scherer, who was beaten by Texan Justin Leonard at Muirfield Village. Leonard, coincidentally, shares the same coach (Randy Smith) and soon-to-be agent (Rocky Hambric) as Knost. Blake Smith, Randy’s son, was out at Cantigny this week watching Knost play. Blake works for Hambric and he also signed 2006 APL runner-up Anthony Kim.
“We’ll see what comes along,” said Knost. “We’ll see if I can make the Walker Cup team first and go from there.
“The only reason I put off turning pro was for the Walker Cup, and now this came about, so now I have another thing to think about. I’m going to have to sit down and think about it and see what happens.”