*Russell Knox celebrates winning the 2018 DDF Irish Open. Photograph: Getty Images
Having grown up in North Scotland playing on similar courses to Lahinch, Russell Knox is hoping this will be enough to see him become only the seventh golfer to successfully defend The Irish Open title.
Nick Faldo holds the record for consecutive Irish Open wins doing a three in a row from 1991 to 1993. Christy O’Connor Snr (1966 and 1967), Mark James (1979 and 1980), Seve Ballesteros (1985 and 1986), Ian Woosnam (1988 and 1989) and Colin Montgomerie (1996 and 1997) have also managed to do back to back titles.
Knox first made his European Tour breakthrough in 2016 capturing the WGC-HSBC Champions in ShanghaI. Reflecting on his glory in Ballyliffin last year, Russell said, “It was a crazy ending to the tournament that fortunately I was on the good end of. To hole a par in the last hole to post whatever score it was eventually making the playoff is obviously an Irish Open I’ll never forget. And to somehow walk it again is obviously a dream come true. To hole a putt in any tournament to win, I’ll just never forget the whole atmosphere, the crowd, everything, the cheers when the putts went in, it’s kind of a pinch-yourself moment”.
On what he is expecting from the course at Lahinch Golf Club, the thirty four year old outlined, “Lahinch is a great track. It’s very lengthy, very similar to some of the courses I grew up playing in the north of Scotland. A lot of blind shots, which some people might not like it. But, like I said, I grew up playing similar courses. So it’s kind of a different fun and unique challenge. But there’s some excellent holes. Fairly tight. You have to drive the ball very well. And definitely a course which is going to test all of us this week”.
“It’s been a great tournament for me. And Ireland is always, I feel like home here, growing up in the north of Scotland, obviously a lot of similarities. And the K Club is completely different to Ballyliffin, and they’re both very different from here. It’s been an honour to play here. And I love playing Ireland. And I hope it continues this week and in a couple weeks’ time, too”.
He is of the view that some golfers will struggle at the fourth and fifth holes in Lahinch. “Four is probably the smallest fairway I’ve ever seen out of any hole anywhere in the world. But it does all kick in from the hills. But I mean, hit over a mount to a hole where there’s out of bounds right behind the green. I mean, it is what it is. It’s a cool hole. Some people are going to get extremely unlucky and make a mess of it? Absolutely. But get a nice bounce off the hill, you might make it.So if it was mildly windy, it would be very difficult. But I think the forecast looks pretty good. So I think you’ll see a lot of good shots on both of those holes. But it’s all about how you look at it, some guys are not going to like it”.
Since arriving to Co Clare, Knox has found the place to be very relaxing which he believed would strengthen his game. “You feel like you’re kind of isolated a little bit. You’re in the middle of nowhere. The views are unbelievable just like last year at Ballyliffin, you’re right on the water. Beautiful beaches. It is an amazing very peaceful part of the world. It’s just like last year. I’ve enjoyed my first couple of days here. I feel like there are a lot of similarities. And you feel very relaxed because you’re in the middle of nowhere. There’s not that much going on and it’s very peaceful. I enjoy that side of it. And as the golf course, very lengthy, obviously. I think there’s a lot of similarities. And hopefully I play the same”.