By R.J. Smiley
Joe Knight needed only 19 putts to win the Santa Rosa Beach Golf & Beach Club Senior Club Championship.
On a blustery Saturday morning along the Emerald Coast of Florida, the entire field knew that defending Senior Club Champion, Joe Knight, was the man to beat. Joe, age 68, has won the Championship 7 times since turning 55.
Joe’s game is like fine wine… it only gets better with age.
Everyone at the club knows Joe Knight. He runs the game (for the low handicap players) every Wednesday and Friday morning. But the thing that people like the most about Joe is his great sense of humor. Joe laughs all the time on the golf course. Golf is like life for Joe, he enjoys both to the fullest. With a constant smile on his face, he is always looking for something or someone to make a witty comment about. Then a hardy laugh at his own drollness.
Joe has a solid game tee to green. Utilizing the same, fundamentally sound golf swing he has had since age 8, Joe usually keeps it out of trouble. His ball flight has changed from a powerful gentle hook to a slight fade as years have reduced his turn. He always plays within himself. The thing that Joe is known for is his great hands. He is a gifted chipper and a wonderful putter. With a Billy Casper like right-hand “pop-it” stroke, he always hits solid putts.
With a stiff breeze coming off the Gulf, holes one through four at SRB play into the wind. From the blue tees, about 6,300 hundred yards, these early holes present a good test for senior golfers.
Hole #1 of the Senior Championship is a mid length par-5 with a ridge running into the middle of the green. Joe’s approach shot left him on the ridge with a 12’ downhill left to right slider, a putt that most players would lag on the first hole of a championship. With a solid stroke and good pace, Joe’s ball found the center of the hole. One under, 1 putt after #1.
Holes 2, 3 and 4 were a combination of nifty chips and one-putt up and downs for par. Four holes – 4 putts, still one under. The fifth is a downwind 5-par where a birdie is a real possibility. Joe’s wedge shot checked up short leaving him about 15 feet for a two putt par. Holes 6 and 7 were a repeat of 2, 3 and 4, one-putt pars with deft touch from just off the green.
Hole #8 is the most intimidating hole on the golf course. Playing around 170 yards with a bulkhead wall water hazard on the front edge of a shallow green. The green complex is split by an elevated nose that extends into the green from the bunker behind. On this Championship Saturday. the hole was cut high up on to the right side of the nose. The even stiffer breeze was now right to left when Joe hit his rescue club that started at the flag then moved left. The ball caught the green, but ran off into a collection area leaving Joe with an impossible putt from the collar of about 60 feet. After a quick study and a firm pop with his putter, Joe’s ball crested the nose and ever so slowly trickled to the right directly into the hole on the final rotation. Joe had a 0-putt birdie on #8. Eight holes – 8 putts, two under par.
Joe played #9 poorly and had a 2-putt bogie. Nine holes – 10 putts, one under 35. Joe had a 2-putt par on #10; the last green he would hit in regulation that day. Joe played #11 poorly, but finished the hole off with a nice 13 footer for a bogie. Back to even par for the round. Holes 12, 13 and 14 were again a chipping clinic followed by one-putt pars ranging from three to six feet. When Joe rolled in a 16 footer straight up the hill for par on #15, the smile on his face grew even broader. Two putts (technically a one putt) from the collar on #16 left Joe even par for 16 holes with 18 putts.
Disaster lurked on #17, a short water hazard in front, par-4. Joe pulled his tee shot into the brush left and hit a branch chipping out. His ball just reached the fairway about 110 yards from the green. His downwind approach landed near the hole, but ran some 18’ behind with a mean left break. With the ball still rolling some two feet short of the hole Joe’s face broke into a huge smile as he walked toward the hole. Another one-putt par. Even par – 19 putts.
Back into the breeze, #18 is a tough hole, but Joe hit a solid drive and a good rescue club to the elevated green. The shot was straight at the flag but slid about 6” onto the frog hair.
You already know the answer – Joe holed the (zero putt) 20 footer from the fringe for a one under par 71 with 19 putts. On that very tough day, Joe Knight beat the field by 12 shots.
After the round I asked Joe if he had a putting tip? He said with a laugh, “Keep your head still, I’ve never seen one go in when you move!”
On Sunday, the author of this story shot 73 on an even windier day to finish second to the still King of the Senior Club Championship.