On Saturday night at one of the clubs Georgia’s greatest amateur golfer called home, another career amateur from Augusta will take his place in Georgia’s Golf Hall of Fame.
Jeff Knox never met Bobby Jones, but the Augusta National co-founder would have approved of the path Knox has blazed in their chosen game. The two-time Georgia Mid-Amateur champion will be inducted in the Class of 2017 with former British Open champion Stewart Cink, longtime pro Joe Inman Jr. and late teaching pro Jim Stamps in a ceremony at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“I was shocked to hear the news back in April,” Knox said of his enshrinement. “You never really anticipate an honor like that or even think about it really. I didn’t, anyway. It was just a real honor for me to be on the receiving end of this nice recognition. I guess it means that I was a consistent player and competitor over a long period of time and had some success over the years.”
The 54-year-old Knox is a rare breed in today’s world – a lifelong amateur who never flirted with the idea of making a living with his clubs. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1984 but only tried walking on to the golf team one semester before quickly abandoning the idea.
“I was not ready for that,” he said. “Going to school and living independently for the first time, I was not mature enough to do both.”
Knox was a decent junior player, but it wasn’t until he reached his mid-amateur status – players older than 25 – when he started to make a real name for himself in golf circles. He won his first big tournament at the 1998 Azalea Amateur in Charleston when he was 36. He won consecutive Georgia Mid-Amateur Championships in 2008-09 after finishing runner-up four time from 2001-05 and was a three-time runner-up in the Georgia Amateur in 1998, 2006 and 2007. He’s teamed up with longtime Augusta friend Tripp Kuhlke to win the Peach Blossom Invitational and a pair of Charlie Coe Invitationals in Colorado.
Nationally, Knox has qualified to compete in three U.S. Amateurs (1995, 1999, 2001), four U.S. Mid-Amateurs (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006) and represented Georgia at the USGA State Team Championship in 1999 and 2003. In 2013, at age 50, he earned a three-way share for Georgia State Golf Association men’s Player of the Year.
“Fortunately I had a job at Georgia Railroad Bank &Trust in Augusta before I graduated college and made a career out of banking for 15 years or so before moving over to the family business,” said Knox, who oversees the Knox Foundation. “That’s when I started putting more time into my game and opportunities opened up because of my good play. Over the last 25 years is when I was able to establish more of my playability.”
His playability has lasted a while. At Augusta Country Club, he’s won five club championships over a span of 25 years (1991, 1998, 2005, 2012 and 2016).
Ironically, it is for not competing that Knox is more widely known to the golf world beyond Georgia. He’s gained worldwide exposure in his occasional role as a non-competing marker at the Masters Tournament, where he steps in to help maintain the pace and keep score on the weekend when an odd number of players make the cut.
Since taking over the role in 2003 after fellow club member John Harris turned pro to join the Champions Tour, Knox has teed it up in nine Masters including the last six years in a row. He’s played alongside Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, Craig Stadler, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Steve Stricker among others. Knox has unofficially won his share of the matchups, including a 70 to clip McIlroy by a stroke on Saturday in 2014. That prompted McIlroy, a few months later after winning the British Open, to say he’d seek Knox’s advice in his effort to claim the only jewel missing from his career slam.
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen on Augusta’s greens,” McIlroy said.
Many pros don’t dispute that. Knox’s local knowledge is often sought out by pros such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Kevin Kisner when they make scouting trips to Augusta National, partly because he lives close to the club but mostly because he has three desirable qualities for a marker – he plays well and fast and is unfailingly pleasant to be around.
Knox will turn 55 this year, making him eligible to compete in the senior amateur events.
“Last couple of years I slowed down but I still feel like my game is pretty good,” he said. “I’ll be the youngest one competing so maybe I’ll have a chance to do well in some of those events.”
Meanwhile, he has his “hands full” competing with his three sons, particularly Lee Knox, who was a teammate of Justin Thomas at Alabama and won a pair of Georgia Amateurs in 2010 and ’12.
“It’s obvious both of us are trying our hardest to beat the other,” Knox said. “It’s an enjoyable competition.”
Knox will be toasted by the membership after Augusta Country Club’s annual meeting on Tuesday along with 2017 Georgia Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Laura Coble, and the USGA’s Ike Granger Award winner, Dr. John Reynolds.
Knox is the eighth member of Augusta Country Club to be inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, joining Coble (2013), Eileen Stulb (2004), Frank Mulherin Jr. (1999), William Zimmerman (1996), Fielding Wallace (1992), Larry Mize (1991) and Bob Jones (1989). He’s humbled to be listed in their company.
“Everyone likes a little recognition, as long as it’s favorable,” Knox said.