In 2007, Colt Knost won the US Amateur at the Olympic Club (site of the 2012 US Open), the US Public Links Championship, and was a member of the victorious Walker Cup Team. A two-time winner on the Nationwide Tour, Colt is on the hunt for his first PGA Tour victory. With the help of his sports psychologist, Colt is learning how to deal with the pressure of playing golf on its most competitive stage and to “get out of his own way.” Unfortunately for Colt, he couldn’t get out of MY way when I cornered him at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship for a golf conversation.
Golf Conversations: Exactly a year ago, I was sitting in this very spot with Freddie Jacobson, and we had a nice chat. A few months later, he won his first PGA Tour tournament. A coincidence? I don’t think so. So this interview could be very lucky for you.
Colt Knost: I hope so. I’m waiting on that first one.
GC: Ok. So at the end of the interview, if you want to rub my head for good luck, don’t be shy.
I’d like to rub your head and play golf like you. When did you first break par?
KN: I didn’t start playing golf until I was 13.
GC: Come on!
CK: Yeah. I broke par when I was 15, 16. So it was pretty quick; a couple of years.
GC: Why so late in starting? Usually kids today start playing in utero.
CK: I played everything else growing up. I always thought I’d do something with sports. My buddies played golf in the town I grew up in. I just picked it up with them one day. Probably a lot of it had to do with Tiger winning the ’97 Masters. I was 12 years old then.
GC: Me, too.
CK: That inspired me a lot. And I found out pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to have the body to play basketball or football. Golf seemed liked something I’d have a chance at and I turned it around pretty quickly.
GC: Where did you grow up?
CK: I grew up in Pilot Point, Texas. An hour north of Dallas; 5000 people, 89 people in my high school class – really small.
GC: That is small. Were you the entire golf team?
CK: We had a golf team. We were actually pretty good. We had some guys who could play a little bit but I’m the only one who kept going.
GC: Did your parents play golf?
CK: No, nothing.
GC: You had no golf genes?
CK: No golf genes at all.
GC: That’s amazing!
CK: Yeah, just a natural, I guess.
GC: I hate guys like you.
Ok, you were real good in high school…
CK: I wasn’t real good. I got better each year. I went to college at SMU; they gave me a shot. Same thing: I just progressed each year and got pretty good.
GC: When you say they “gave you a shot,” does that mean they gave you a scholarship?
CK: Yeah, they gave me a scholarship. Not many schools were willing to give me an opportunity. I was lucky that they did. It was great; I got to stay in Dallas – close to home and to my golf instructor. It was a great situation for me, being that close.
GC: Was Haney the coach then at SMU?
CK: No, I was with Jay Loar. His son’s out here this year, a rookie – Edward Loar. Jay Loar gave me a shot. And I work with Randy Smith in Dallas and was able to stay around him all four years and just got better every year.
GC: Did you have professional aspirations in college?
CK: Early on, I really didn’t. I didn’t know; I just wanted to play and see how it went. My senior year in college, I qualified for the Byron Nelson and actually got in contention on the weekend and kind of faded. But I played in that event and knew that’s what I wanted to do.
GC: How exciting.
CK: Yeah, that was pretty cool.
GC: Tell me how you progressed to the US Amateur.
CK: That was the same year, 2007, same year I qualified for the Nelson. I went on a run: won the Publinks, won the Amateur, and then had a good run at the Walker Cup. And I decided to take the next step and turn professional.
The next year on the Nationwide Tour was really good. I won twice and kind of thought things were a little easy. Then I came out here and got slapped around pretty good. I don’t think I took it as serious as I needed to.
I went back down to the Nationwide Tour for a year. I played ok, got my card back. And did the same thing last year: just didn’t get it done. I think that was a big wake-up call. I really changed some things this off-season. Got back through Q School and now I’m off to the best start of my career.
GC: You had a really good shot a few weeks ago at Hilton Head.
CK: It wasn’t just Hilton Head. I finished third at Mexico, as well. Had two other Top-25s. I’m playing so much more consistent.
GC: What have you done to help turn things around?
CK: Last year I was pretty down in the dumps after the Memorial. I missed my third cut in a row by a shot. I really didn’t want to do the US Open qualifier. My mom talked me into calling a sports psychologist, Neal Smith, who I’ve known for a couple of years.
I started talking to him on the weekend of the Memorial. I started a relationship there; I think he’s changed my career. He totally changed my mindset with golf.
GC: How so?
CK: I used to live and die by every shot. It is a job but I treated it like a job. I’d go out and play Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday with the guys and everything would be great. I’d play great, hit it great, compete with anybody. And when the bell went off, I put so much pressure on myself, I couldn’t perform. You can’t play golf that way. As hard as it is, you gotta be relaxed out there to play well.
That’s the biggest thing I’ve been working on. I feel like, physically, I can play. My tools are plenty good enough; my game’s plenty good enough. I just have to get out of my own way. And that’s what we’ve been working on. He’s been a savior for me.
GC: You have your sessions with Neal over the telephone or in person?
CK: Both. We talk during tournaments. At Hilton Head, we talked every night. He works with a few other guys out here. He comes out to the tournament about ten times a year.
It’s great, it’s been amazing. It’s way different than I thought it was going to be. I was kind of against it at the time. You know what they’re all going to say.
GC: “Don’t get too high, don’t get too low, one shot at a time.”
CK: Exactly. You know what they’re going to say. But just hearing it from somebody else changes everything.
GC: I can tell you the same things for half of what Neal charges you.
CK: I wouldn’t believe you, though.
GC: Why wouldn’t you believe me?
CK: ‘Cause you’re not a doctor.
GC: I’m a doctor of bullshit.
CK: Yeah, exactly.
GC: What do you mean, “exactly”???
CK: But Neal played on tour.
GC: Oh, that’s a different story, so he knows.
CK: Yes, he’s been through it all; I think that’s a big deal as well.
GC: That’s interesting. Do you see yourself as just a professional golfer or as an entertainer?
CK: Ummm. I don’t know. I have the kind of personality that … I talk to everyone; I joke around and have a good time. Every once in a while I’ll be driving down the road and realize it’s pretty cool that people come out and watch me play golf. They may not be watching me but there are people out there when I’m playing. That’s pretty cool, so I guess they come out here to get entertained. So I guess you are an entertainer. Every once in a while it just hits me: it’s pretty cool out here and it’s a lot of fun. And I’ve started to realize that and I feel like that’s another reason I’ve started to play so much better.
GC: It’s nice to know you feel that way. I think a lot of your compadres don’t understand – they don’t want to believe it – but they are entertainers. Ultimately, the money you guys get from purses is supported by television.
GC: People watch PGA Tour events on TV to be entertained.
CK: Exactly. You see certain guys, the way they handle the fans and how they look on TV. Phil’s a great example.
CK: He’s an entertainer. He does it right. We all watch golf. When I’m home, I watch golf and I see how certain guys act; the ones who are good and the ones who are bad. And I don’t wanna be one of those guys that come across bad.
GC: Good for you!
CK: That’s one thing I was really proud of at Hilton Head. I really struggled on the weekend. I hung in there really well.
GC: You did.
CK: My attitude was really good. I had people compliment me on that … which meant a lot.
GC: You did handle yourself with a lot of class at Hilton Head. Monday, I was following Tom Pernice in the pro-am. Obviously, he’s on the Champions Tour now and he’s been doing this a long time. Me and six other people were following him so I got to hear him up close and personal.
Granted, it was not a tournament day but he did it right. He passed one of the volunteers holding the rope and asked him how he was doing. A kid holding a flag to be autographed, he asked if he was here today with grandpa.
That sort of behavior is only going to endear you to fans. It can’t hurt to be nice.
CK: Yeah. At the end of the day, we’re just golfers. We’re not super-humans or anything. You’re just a golfer. You can act like a normal person and talk to people. When Thursday starts, you don’t need to be walking down the ropes and saying “hi” to every single person in the crowd…
GC: Of course not.
CK: … but there’s no reason to be rude to people, no reason to ignore people. You’re out there doing your job and I think people respect that. And at the end of the day, signing autographs makes all those kids happy, that’s a big deal. I was one of those kids.
GC: That’s right. On the other hand, I certainly understand how you guys can get a little tired of having 35 year-olds sticking stuff in your face to sign that they’re gonna sell on eBay.
GC: 16 and under: fine. Over that age: get a life.
CK: I’ll sit out there all day and sign autographs; it doesn’t bother me…
GC: Really? Can I get your autograph? Uh, make it out to “Irving.”
CK: But the kids are obviously first. It bothers me when people walk by and say they don’t have time for it. I’m like, “Dude, it takes 2 seconds to sign your name.”
CK: Just give it a second; you signing that kid’s hat could change his perspective of you.
GC: Like you said: you were once one of those kids.
GC: Do you remember who signed for you?
CK: I remember one of the first autographs I got was Tiger’s.
CK: It was ’97 at the Byron Nelson. I stuck my hat through the gallery; he grabbed it and threw it back to me. That was one of the first things I remember about golf. That was pretty cool.
GC: It’s a hard thing when you’re a Tiger or a Phil.
GC: The fans are all grabbing at you, they’re all screaming at you. There’s got to be a middle ground somewhere. But enough about autographs, let’s get down to business: have you looked into the corporate jet thing yet?
CK: No, not ready for that yet. I just hop on rides with my buddies once in a while when I can.
GC: Which of your buddies have jets?
CK: Uh, a few of them.
GC: Oh, Mr. Politician doesn’t want to name names!
CK: I just try to mooch a ride when I can.
GC: Sir, you are preaching to the choir!
CK: If I have a pretty good finish to the year, I might look into it.
GC: Don’t! I’ll tell you why.
CK: It spoils you, man. Those security lines get old.
GC: You’re telling me. What a pain in the ass.
CK: When you start pulling your car up next to that jet and jumping off, it’s kind of a nice life.
GC: You know what a whammy is, right? You hear the guys on TV saying, “Oh, he never misses two footers.” Boom, the guy misses; the announcers put the whammy on him.
I noticed that as soon as a golfer gets his own jet, or a NetJets thing, his whole game goes downhill…
I would give it three solid years of success before you think about a jet.
CK: Gotta make some money first. Those things aren’t cheap, but they are nice.
GC: You said Randy Smith is your teacher?
CK: Randy is probably the closest thing to a father that I’ve ever had. We’ve been really close over the last 8 years now. His son, Blake, became my agent when I turned pro. It’s great: I got a team around me that I can trust with anything. I don’t feel like I have to watch my back, which is nice. And Blake’s great; he’s very trustworthy and does a great job for me.
GC: Colt, I hate to burst your bubble but in my back-and-forth emails with Blake, he said, “If you want to talk to Colt, it’s gonna cost you 20 bucks.” And he said he wanted all singles, not 2 tens.
CK: That’s the kind of guy he is, though. But I’m gonna get some of that!
GC: Ok, now that you know it’s 20…
GC: Make sure he doesn’t give you 2 bucks
CK: Ok. Gotcha.
GC: You get at least 50% of that.
CK: I get at least half.
GC: So how did you come to be associated with Callaway? When you came out on tour, whose clubs were you using?
CK: I was with Titleist. I had a 3-year deal with them. It ran out; I looked at other options. Callaway approached me and it’s been an awesome fit. Last year was a little bit of a struggle switching over because I’d been with Titleist in college and my first 3 years on tour. But now, everything’s great. I’m dialed in; the guys at Callaway are just unbelievable to work with. They’re so much fun.
GC: I assume you’ve been to their testing facility in Carlsbad.
CK: Oh, yeah. A couple of times. It’s a beautiful place.
GC: They fitted me there.
CK: How did that work out?
GC: Well, I still stink.
GC: But it was a lotta fun. And I love my Callaway irons … when I hit them correctly. It’s not Callaway’s fault that I have an eight-plane swing.
CK: At least you have stuff that fits you now.
GC: After I bladed the first 20 shots, the fitter said, “Yeah, I love your backswing” or something positive like that. It was a lot of fun. Apparently Phil lives not too far from there and he once asked for a set of keys so he could let himself into the range. No dice. So don’t you go asking for the keys, Colt. If they don’t give them to Phil, you’re not getting them either!
CK: No, it’s too far away for me.
GC: You’re in Dallas?
GC: What kind of Callaway sticks are you playing?
CK: I play the Callaway X-Forged irons. A little bit older set, actually. And I play their new Razr Fit driver, which is amazing. Their wedges are probably the best wedges I’ve ever played with. Mr. Cleveland — Roger Cleveland — designs them. My scrambling statistics are ten times better than they were last year.
GC: With the wedge game?
CK: Yeah. He’s just amazing, building wedges that are the right fit for you. And I’ve got an Odyssey two-ball prototype putter that I put in play at Hilton Head and it worked really well that week. And I played pretty solid in New Orleans last week.
GC: You read in the golf magazines: “I’m playing the B-92s that I’ve bent 3 degrees upright during a solar eclipse … and I’ve got 8 ½ wraps under my 6-iron but not my 7-iron …and I made a 3-iron into a lollipop…”
Do you do any of that stuff with your clubs?
CK: No. We always joked about that in college: you were just happy when they sent you stuff.
GC: “If it’s free, it’s for me.”
CK: Yeah, exactly. You hit whatever they gave you. So I’m not too big in the tinkering. I have my driver messed around a little bit; the face is a little open, I have a little weight in the heel to help me turn it over a little bit. But that’s about it. Everything else is pretty standard.
GC: What was it like your first year on the PGA Tour? Were you a little intimidated?
CK: Not really. Right after I turned pro in the fall of ’07, I played in three events out here. And I played in six events on the Nationwide Tour. So I kind of knew what to expect.
In the first year, I probably didn’t focus on golf as much as I should have. I saw more of the other things that go on at tournaments … which is a lot of fun.
GC: Yes, I’ve seen some of those “other things” walking around here.
CK: Yeah, exactly. But it was a learning experience. It was good. I got my butt kicked and then went back down to the Nationwide Tour, got back out here and had a little bit better success, but still got my butt kicked again. This year, I’m fighting back a little bit.
GC: I don’t have to tell you what an up-and-down game this is.
GC: Just look at a guy like, Ben Curtis. He was out in the wilderness for five years, right? All of sudden, one day, he’s back. It can happen at any time.
CK: You never know when it’s gonna happen. You gotta strike when the iron’s hot. It’s a crazy game. When I won my second event on the Nationwide Tour, the week before I missed the cut. Played horrible, then I shoot 26 under the next week.
GC: What’s the best part of your game?
CK: Probably driving accuracy. I think I’m in the Top-10 on tour in driving accuracy. I just don’t make that many mistakes. I don’t hit it that far but I keep it in front of me. There are certain golf courses that set up well for me and I have to take advantage of those. The other ones, I just play the best I can.
Obviously, I’m not a bomber and lots of the golf courses nowadays set up for that. But if I can get on the old-school, traditional golf courses like Hilton Head … this one is similar – a little long – but I feel like this is one I can compete on. Events like Colonial – I feel like those are my kind of places. Where you have to hit shots. You have to work the ball around – that’s what I like to do.
GC: How do you like to work the ball? Do you prefer one way or the other?
CK: I draw it naturally. I can fade it if I need to. But the draw is my ideal shot, the one I can control the best.
GC: And for the fans at home: tell us how you draw your golf ball. Do you do it with your hands … with your set up?
CK: Honestly, my draw is just a natural draw. My golf swing just creates that.
GC: Just creates that?
CK: Obviously, if you come over the top and hit the outside part of the ball, you’re never gonna draw it … like most amateurs do.
GC: Don’t look at me when you say that, pardner!
Ok, what do you do when you want to fade it?
CK: Fade it? I’d just open up a little bit.
GC: Open the face?
CK: No, open my stance a little bit. Face square to the target and swing the club handle a little left. And normally it moves a little left to right.
GC: Do you have any idea of how much the golf fans here – people who love to play golf but stink – how much they wish they could play … not like you, someone who can shoot in the 60s … but to shoot say, 75?
CK: Oh, yeah. I see it in pro-ams.
GC: They would give their right testicle to play like that. Then you’ve got the women golfers – who would also give someone’s right testicle – to play golf almost like the way you guys play.
When I watch you guys play — when I’m in the gallery – the one thing everyone says, “They make it look so easy.”
CK: Well, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes it look pretty easy, too. And I couldn’t do what he or she does.
GC: I don’t know about that. They have hundreds of managers working for them. You guys are out here by yourselves.
CK: I couldn’t do what you do.
GC: You could do what I do. I sit around in my underwear and I have a web site. You could do that.
CK: Yeah, I wouldn’t do it very good though.
GC: I don’t do it very good either.
And on that happy note, let me give you my thanks, Colt. Knock ‘em dead. I’m pulling for you!
CK: Thank you.