By Joy Chakravarty
PORTSUH, July 16: It’s the Open Championship. Most players in the elite 156-man field have a lot at stake – be it invaluable Official World Golf Ranking points, or be it prize money and the various bonus that come from a good performance this week.
MENA Tour member and Amateur Order of Merit leader Curtis Knipes is the exception to the rule this week. A nothing-to-lose mentality helped him come through the extremely competitive qualifying process, and the 18-year-old is hoping the same attitude will help him create a bit more noise over the next four days at Royal Portrush.
Having endured a play-off at the Local Qualifying at Burhill, Knipes went on to win the medalist honours at Princess in the Final Qualifying.
Knipes may not be sure of what the week holds for him, but he is certain of one thing – this is not the last Open Championship he wants to play.
“It is a very proud moment of my career and I am very excited to be here this week,” said Knipes. “I have come this far, and I want to keep on pushing. I want to be here every year. I don’t want this to be my only one to make it memorable for myself.
“I played decently in the qualifiers, but I thought I showed great attitude really. My caddie, Josh Reid, was a big help. I played with a nothing-to-lose mindset really.
“And that is the mindset I hope to bring to this week once again. I have thought about it and I really have got nothing to lose. I am here now, so I have got to enjoy the experience. If I play well, that is just going to be a bonus.”
Knipes was quick to admit that the six weeks spent earlier this year in the first half of the season with the MENA Tour played an important role in him getting to Portrush.
“Those six-odd weeks on the MENA Tour were great. It taught me so much about myself, and about professional golf in particular. I will say to everyone that it is so worth doing, and it was such great preparation for the season as well,” said Knipes, who leads the Amateur standings in the Journey to Jordan over Josh Hill by 1,667 points.
“I am looking forward to the second half of the season. I will probably head out a week or two before the first tournament (Journey to Jordan-2 at Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba, Jordan, from September 29). Just try and get acclimatized because I think the weather will be very different from here at that time of the year.”
Knipes has had prior experience of playing at Royal Portrush, which is returning to the Open rota as a venue for the first time since the 1951 championship. He also feels prepared for the tournament.
“Since securing my spot, I have spent the last few days practicing at Chelmsford and with my coach Paul Sullivan at North Weald Golf Range,” he explained.
“I have just tried to shape the ball both ways. One of the reasons why I played well on the MENA Tour was because I did that. I then kind of steered away from it as I made some technical swing changes since coming back from the Middle East. It now seems to be coming back together.
“I have played Royal Portrush before (2016 Boys Amateur Championship when he reached the last 16). I have a good idea of the golf course and it has danger on both sides on most holes. So, it will be an advantage if you are driving the ball well and if you can shape it both ways.”
One of the perks of playing a major championship is an opportunity to get a practice round with some of the players Knipes has grown up admiring, and he quickly ticked that box as well.
“I played on Sunday afternoon with Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood, which was very cool,” he added. “I just tried to pick their brains a little bit and also got to see how they went about their business from up close.
“I was quite nervous. I was hoping to get a practice round with some of the bigger names just to get used to the crowd and settle down a little bit, which I think I have. I found out that they were normal guys who just happen to be very good at golf.”
Knipes is paired with England’s Oliver Wilson and Finland’s Mikko Korhonen on the first two days. He will hit his first shot at The Open at 0847 local time (1147 UAE time) on Thursday.