As marker, Augusta member Jeff Knox often plays Masters weekends

Jeff Knox
USA Today Sports Images
As a marker during Masters weekends, Jeff Knox has played with the likes of Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy and Ernie Els.
By
Dan Wiederer
Chicago Tribune

Series: The Masters

Published: Sunday, April 10, 2016 | 12:08 p.m.
 
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Must be nice to be Jeff Knox, to wake up on a Sunday morning, make the 3-mile drive from your Georgia home to your local golf club and head to No. 1 for your 9:45 a.m. tee time.
 
Only it's Augusta National. It's the final round of the Masters.
 
Have fun today, fellas. Hit 'em straight.
 
Yep, Knox is the chosen one this weekend – again – the non-competing marker. He's there to keep score and to help steady the pace. Oh, and as arguably the most talented member at Augusta, he was also there to show off some of his game.
 
Knox has done this before, of course, a weekend entry into nine Masters now. He's called on whenever an uneven number of players makes the cut. And Sunday marks his 17th round in competition here even though he's not part of the tournament and, to some casual observers, he was just a mysterious man in a beige sweater flanking Watson up and down the course.
 
Knox's name never appeared on the leaderboards that tracked Bubba Watson's score on Saturday, or Kevin Na's today. He is listed only as (Marker) on the pairing sheets that observers carried. Even his caddie lacked the standard green-lettered nameplate that's affixed to the white jumpsuits for every other looper on the course.
 
So, yes, the whispers were everywhere outside the ropes: "Who is this other guy?"
 
The oracle of Augusta
 
Well, Knox is 53. He's a University of Georgia alumnus and the executive director of the Knox Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides aid to charities. And once upon a time, in 2003, he came off the 18th green with the lowest single-round score ever recorded at Augusta National – a mind-blowing 61 from the members' tees.
 
There's rarely any worry that Knox will be a burden to the pro he joins when he's needed on Masters weekend. He has played before with Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk and Ernie Els, among others. Two years ago, during the third round, he actually was a stroke better than Rory McIlroy when they played together – 70 to 71. And that was as McIlroy charged toward a top-10 finish.
 
Knox has carved out a unique niche in Masters lore and has built a reputation as an oracle, a guy who understands every blade of grass and every subtle undulation around every green.
 
It was no wonder then that several of the Masters first-timers sought him out.
 
Kevin Kisner, a fellow Georgia alumnus, played a pair of marathon nine-hole practice rounds with Knox last week and remains convinced that if every event were played at Augusta, Knox would be on tour.
 
So, yes, Kisner had questions. Lots and lots of questions.
 
"All day," Kisner said. "I wear him out. He's probably sick of me."
 
Justin Thomas has similar respect for Knox's acumen. Thomas played college golf at Alabama with Knox's son, Lee, and values his access to a member with such extensive local knowledge, particularly on the "stay away" areas around the greens.
 
"He just plots his way around this course," Thomas said. "Obviously length is nice out here. But he shows you don't need it necessarily to shoot around par. If you have a good short game, you can miss in the right spots and have some easy up-and-downs."
 
Shining moment at 13
 
It may have seemed like a stroke of fate that put Knox with Watson on Saturday. But in actuality, it was the bogeys Jordan Spieth made on the 16th and 17th holes Friday evening that offered up the extra tee time.
 
The Masters allows for 50 players to make the cut plus any competitors within 10 shots of the lead. So when Spieth dropped from 6 under to 4 under at the end of his second round, he reopened the Augusta gates to Watson, the only player with a two-round total of 6 over.
 
Then, with 57 players in the weekend field, that meant Knox would be needed in Saturday's first group.
 
He played fairly well too. At the turn, he was dead even with the No. 4 player in the world; he and Watson carded matching 39s.
 
Knox's shining moment came in front of an Amen Corner mob at the 13th green. That's where he trekked to the green in three, then twisted an uphill 20-foot birdie putt into the cup. Fist pump.
 
Had Knox been playing a match with Watson, he ultimately would've lost 3 and 2. He didn't have an official score Saturday, picking up on No. 12 after his tee shot to the 155-yard par 3 hit a slope and sucked back into Rae's Creek.
 
But roughly – give Knox a double bogey there – he shot 80, a score that bettered six of Saturday's 57 pros.
 
"(Shoot)," said Thomas, after his own 78. "Only got him by two."
 
Still, as it turns out, the first rule of being Augusta National's weekend Masters marker is you don't talk about being Augusta National's weekend Masters marker.
 
Knox almost never speaks with the media and politely turned down a request Saturday. During the round, his son was also apologetic in enacting his order to remain silent, noting he had given a recent interview about his dad and had been scolded for doing so.
 
It's presumed Knox and the Augusta powers that be prefer the spotlight stay on the tournament.
 
And if you were hoping for Watson's review of Knox's game, well, Bubba remained salty after an 18th-hole three-putt finished his 76 Saturday. So upon exiting the scoring area, Watson took a hard right away from about a dozen reporters waiting to talk to him.
 
Knox chuckled on his walk to the parking lot when a stranger marveled at how he remains a "Top Secret" entity at Augusta.
 
"Yep," he said.
 
And off he went.
 
Again, must be nice to be Jeff Knox, to head home on a gorgeous spring Saturday with that kind of day to paste into the mental scrapbook.
 
This article was written by Dan Wiederer from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.