(Photo by Joy Chakravarty/MENA Tour)
The English amateur’s rookie MENA Tour campaign has him rethinking his pro plans
By Kent Gray
A bit like his impressively tidy game, Curtis Knipes doesn’t give too much away. Asked to divulge something even his mates don’t know about him, the 18-year-old Englishman is stumped.
“To be honest, I don’t know. I’m quite an open person and haven’t got any secrets.”
Nor any quirky golf superstitions it seems, unless of course, you count the fact he lines up putts so that the brand name on his ball is the right way round to ensure it’s readable. “But I think that’s just personal preference.”
It’s just as difficult to get a read on the Essex teen during the heat of a tournament round. Let’s just say he’s less your poker-faced Dustin Johnson, more your Hideki ‘who knows what hand the Japanese star is playing from one shot to the next’ Matsuyama type. In fact, Knipes’ pals rib him for it.
“I’d say my biggest strength is my misses, which sounds strange,” he says. “I hit it pretty straight and haven’t really got a big miss in me. It keeps me out of trouble most of the time and helps me keep the big numbers off of the card. My mates call me Hideki Matsuyama sometimes because I tend to hate shots I don’t think I hit well, but they’re never that bad.”
It’s a nice problem to have. Indeed, it’s taken the Chelmsford Golf Club-attached, +3.2 handicapper into the MENA Tour’s summer break at the summit of the amateur order of merit, more than 1600 points ahead of Josh Hill, his Dubai-domiciled England International team-mate.
“I was lucky enough to be scouted, if you like, by the chairman of my golf club, David Nairn. He kindly offered to support me during the trip [to the Middle East for the MENA Tour] and let me stay at his house along with a few other guys he helps out. I decided it would be more beneficial for me to play MENA instead of the amateur competitions I had lined up in Europe,”
So far, it certainly has been. After finishing T-7 in the first of the circuit’s two Q-Schools, Knipes rattled off T-10, T-13 and T-9 placings in Ayla, Ajman and Oman respectively. His form cooled slightly with T-38 and T-28 finishes at Dubai Hills and The Royal Golf Club in Bahrain prior to the summer break but he’s finished no worse than two-under-par in any event thus far, is a collective 21 under for 15 rounds and will take a 70.6 stroke average into the final five events of the season which resumes in Jordan in September.
“My worst round is currently plus one at Dubai Hills in the second round [of the Troon Series- Dubai Open presented by Turkish Airlines] which I’m happy with. However, I’m yet to shoot any lower than four under out there which is what I need to be doing more if I seriously want to compete.”
Competing in the paid ranks is definitely something Knipes is serious about. In fact, his rookie campaign has him reconsidering his pro plans.
“I planned on turning when I was about 21, hopefully after playing in the 2021 Walker Cup. But playing the MENA Tour has taught me amateur golf is not important at all when you turn pro,” he said.
“If you play Walker Cup you might get a few invites after that but not a lot of people capitalise on them. Unless you’re incredibly good as an amateur it doesn’t help your pro career. That’s why I’ve changed my mind and would like to turn pro in early 2020. I’m planning on playing European Tour school in September and if I get some sort of Challenge Tour category I’ll most probably turn when those events start [in 2020]. I just have to see how this year goes and let it happen.“
It’s not to say Knipes is done with amateur golf just yet. Last September he won the English Men’s Champion of Champions title off the back of his second Essex Country Championship triumph. It’s earned him an invite to the prestigious Brabazon Trophy, one of the key amateur events he’s eyeing during the MENA Tour’s summer hiatus, along with the Lytham Trophy, St. Andrews Links Trophy and British and European Amateur Championships. He’s also earned an invite to the Northern Ireland Challenge Tour Open (Aug. 15-18) as a reward for his MENA Tour performances so far and knows it will be an eye-opener as he eyes the play for your mortgage ranks.
He’s also looking forward to the final five events of the MENA Tour season and getting back on the road as the circuit’s autumn swing bounces around Jordan, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.
“Not long ago I didn’t think I’d be flying from country to country by myself but I’ve learned I enjoy travelling to different countries and actually the independence. Not that travelling is all fun and games. It can be very tiring and boring but getting to see the new places makes it worth it.”
Knipes believes he has the game to join trailblazer Rayhan Thomas (2016 Dubai Creek Open) and Dutchman Pierre Junior Verlaar (2017 Royal Golf Mohammedia Open) as amateur winners on the MENA Tour. He knows being pushed along by Hill will also help him achieve his ultimate 2019 goal of winning the amateur OOM title come to the conclusion of the ‘Journey to Jordan’ Tour Championship at Ayla Golf Club in late November.
“Josh’s game is very impressive…it’s easy to forget he’s just 15!” Knipes says of Hill who was a team-mate when England won the Boys Home Internationals at Royal Dornock last August.
“He hits it long off the tee and putts well which is proving to be a very good way to play when you look at the best players in the world.
“Josh and Jack Floydd [another Englishman who is third on the amateur OOM] are both exceptionally good players and it won’t be easy to hold them off in the last five tournaments. However, I can’t think about them too much, I just have to focus on the main goal; I cannot control what they’re doing at the end of the day.
“I believe I do have the game to win on the MENA Tour. I actually played with Rayhan at Dubai Hills and Pierre [Junior Verlaar] in Oman at Ghala. I just have to start having some lower rounds which I know I can do, it’s all about piecing it together at the right time. I’ve just got to keep practising and working hard.”
Hard work is certainly not an issue for Knipes who is clearly not your typical English teen.
“Because of family, I support West Ham United, not that it interests me too much,” he reveals. Indeed, Knipes’ focus is tunnel-visioned, something his friends know well.
“Interests outside of golf? It’s fair to say I don’t have many, to be honest. I enjoy socialising on the rare occasion but I think the sad reality of a full-time golfer trying to make it on tour is that they haven’t got much time to put into other things that may distract them. I only have one goal.”