Basalt golfer second at DII tourney

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Golfer Jim Knous held the clubhouse lead at the NCAA Division II Championships for a few hours.

It slipped away in a matter of minutes, however, on a dramatic Wednesday afternoon at Cardinal Club Golf Course in Simpsonville, Ky.

The Colorado School of Mines senior and Basalt native could do nothing but watch as his lead, which had ballooned to as many as three strokes, vanished. Thirty-six-hole leader Josh Creel of the University of Central Oklahoma mounted a charge on the back nine, birdying two of his last three holes to match Knous’ 54-hole total of 10-under and force a sudden-death playoff.

Creel tapped in for par on the first playoff hole, No. 18, then Knous’ bid to prolong the match did not fall.

“It was just bad luck for me, having to wait around for that long,” Knous said. “All you can ask for is to be in contention and have a shot at it. I felt like I did that. Things didn’t fall in my favor, but I felt like I played good golf.”

The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference’s player of the year did just that in Mines’ first-ever national championship appearance. Knous’ rounds of 70, 67 and 69 helped the 25th-seeded Orediggers finish in a tie for 11th with a cumulative score of 18-over.

Chico State (13-under) captured the team title, finishing four strokes ahead of Nova Southeastern.

Tied for third after Wednesday’s second round, Knous got off to a fast start Thursday with three birdies on the front nine.

By his own admission, Knous ran into a “speed bump” at No. 12.

“I mis-clubbed there and ended up in a really bad lie in the rough,” he recalled. “I thought the ball was embedded … but the rules official said it wasn’t. I made bogey there.”

He regrouped quickly, birdying the 558-yard, par-5 13th. He finished with five straight pars.

“I had pretty legitimate birdie chances from 20 feet and in on almost all those holes. I just burned the edges,” Knous said. “I thought I hit some really solid putts, but none of them went in. … I saved a really good par on 18, though. At the time I thought I needed to make that one, so that was clutch.

“I just wanted to put something out there that (the others in contention) would see and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to play at least as good as this to win.'”

While Creel began his back-nine push, Knous and his teammates had lunch at Dairy Queen and passed the time playing cards in the clubhouse.

He knew his lead was anything but safe. Consequently, he opted to hit the driving range.

“I played the two days before with Josh Creel, so I knew he could make some birdies down the stretch,” Knous said. “When I heard he had birdied both (16 and 17), I was like, ‘Oh, god.’ I wasn’t really surprised, but I was a little disappointed.

“After he parred 18, I was out on the putting green and my coach said, ‘Alright, let’s go.'”

Knous admittedly was a little stiff while standing on the 18th tee; he wound up pulling his drive left into the rough. He had a good lie, however, and chose 7-iron for his 195-yard second shot.

“With all the adrenaline, I caught a flyer-lie. I thought I hit a good shot,” Knous said. “I thought I had stiffed it close, but it was all the way in the back of the green and the pin was in front. It was a 45-yard green, and I was putting down two tiers.”

He lagged his first putt to about 10 feet before Creel tapped in for par. Knous’ ensuing 10-footer failed to hit the cup.

“It was a tester. I played too much break, and it just never turned enough,” he said. “It stinks. I didn’t think I hit a bad (second) shot. I just couldn’t come away with the victory.

“I have a whole lot of positives to take away from this tournament – that’s how I have to look at it. I can sulk all I want, but that doesn’t get anybody anywhere. … For 54 holes,

10-under is not too shabby.”

That mark tied Knous’ best 54-hole effort and caps an impressive Mines career.

Now, he’s looking forward to taking the next step. He’ll compete in a few tournaments this summer, then is slated to take part in PGA Q-School this fall.

“It’s crazy to think the college chapter is already done, but a new one’s starting,” Knous said. “It’s nerve-wracking for sure. It’s all up in the air as of right now – anything can happen. We’ll just see how this summer and fall goes, then go from there.”