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Rare Opportunity Beckons Colt Knost

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The swagger is back in Colt Knost's waddle. It will be evident April 19 when he tees it up at the Valero Texas Open, fresh off a third-place finish at the RBC Heritage Classic.

In his third season on the PGA Tour, Knost, 26, is beginning to live up to the promise of his victories five years ago at the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Public Links championships. And the timing couldn't be better, at least if you believe in fate.

The U.S. Open is being played this year at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. That's where Knost won the 2007 U.S. Amateur.

Knost is a cocky guy, no doubt a defense mechanism against those who make fun of his physical appearance. At 5-foot-8 and with an inner tube around his waist, Knost is a throwback to another era in pro golf.

"I don't care what people think about what I weigh or how I look," he told Golfweek magazine after his U.S. Amateur victory. "I know I'm successful at what I do, and I think a lot of people root for me because of the way I'm built.

"I'm not some animal out there like Tiger (Woods)," he said. "I'm just an average guy who likes to have a good time. I don't like working out. I just have fun with (golf). I love this game."

Neither his attitude nor his waistline has changed since then. He doesn't mask his emotions. He's still a plodder. And he's on course to join the short list of U.S. Amateur champions who have gone on to success as professionals.

Before the combination of Arnold Palmer and television raised the profile of pro golf, the Amateur was regarded as one of the game's "majors." It's contested at match play, and because of the vagaries of that format -- where disastrous holes can be overcome -- the U.S. Amateur has often produced unlikely winners. For every Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods to hoist the Havemeyer Trophy, there's a Bill Sander, Nathaniel Crosby, Mitch Voges or An Byeong-hun who's won it, too.

When Knost scored the Publinx-U.S. Amateur double in '07, he became only the second golfer to win both titles in the same year (Ryan Moore, in 2004, is the other). For him to have any chance of becoming the second player to win both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open at the same course (Nicklaus won the 1961 Amateur at Pebble Beach and the '72 Open there), he first must play his way into the Open field.

Knost has three avenues available: Win the Players Championship next month; go on a tear between now and June 11 and crack the top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking (he's No. 206; placing third at Harbour Town vaulted him into the top 300 for the first time); or play well enough at U.S. Open Regional Qualifying to earn a spot. (Knost was assured a berth in 36-hole Regional Qualifying when he advanced to 42nd on the PGA Tour money list after the Heritage. That's significant because it allows him to skip Local Qualifying, which awards a limited number of spots into Regional Qualifying and, at 18 holes, can often be a crapshoot.)

If it sounds like an uphill climb, Knost is used to it.

He held off turning pro after graduating from Southern Methodist in May 2007, with the long-shot goal of earning a spot on the American squad for the Walker Cup that September. His two U.S.Golf Association victories did the trick, but even though the win at Olympic came with berths in the 2008 Masters, U.S. Open and British Open if he remained an amateur, Knost opted to begin his professional career after the Walker Cup.

He made his pro debut at the '07 Valero Texas Open (then played in the fall), tying for 49th. In his next Tour start, at the Frys.com Open, he tied for 38th. But succeeding on that stage wasn't as easy as it seemed.

Knost tied for 85th at Q-School that December, relegating him to the Nationwide Tour. He won twice at that level in 2008 and earned PGA Tour status thanks to finishing sixth on the Nationwide money list. But he also missed the cut four times in five PGA Tour starts that year, a precursor to not making the weekend 13 times 25 starts in '09, with a best finish of T25. After failing to regain his PGA Tour card at Q-School, he focused on the Nationwide Tour in 2010. He didn't win that season, but played well enough to end up 15th on the money list and back in the big show.

Alas, in 27 PGA Tour starts last year he missed the cut 15 times, posting a best finish of T15. It was back to Q-School, where he tied for 27th and earned yet another reprieve. In his fourth start this season, he notched his first PGA Tour career top 10, a tie for third at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. His performance at the Heritage, where he led after 36 holes, was further validation of his progress.

"I don't really know why it happened that way," Knost said when asked at the Heritage about his slow ascent. "I had a great amateur career, and I came out on the Nationwide Tour, which I felt was the best spot for me at the time. I won twice quickly. I felt like I was ready for this level out here, and apparently I wasn't.

"I don't know if I just didn't continue with the same work ethic or not or I didn't have the belief, but it was a struggle for a few years out here," he said. "But now I feel like I'm starting to get my game back where I like it, and I'm starting to play really well, I'm starting to play really consistent."

Nevertheless, Colt shot himself in the foot early during the final round at Harbour Town. Trailing eventual winner Carl Pettersson by one shot after 54 holes, Knost opened with a bogey Sunday and made triple-bogey 7 on the third hole.

A couple of bad swings aside, Knost said it was still a good week. "I believe in myself," he said. "I think things are starting to turn for me."

Just in time for his Olympic effort.

Dave Seanor is an award-winning golf writer who has covered the game for more than 20 years, including 13 years as Editor of Golfweek magazine. He was at the Olympic Club the week Colt Knost won the U.S. Amateur.

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