Jim Knous: The perfect professional

Basalt native, Mines alumnus wins the NTO, his first pro tournament

One career tournament as a professional. One victory.

Jim Knous could get used to this professional golf thing.

Basalt’s Knous, a recent Colorado School of Mines graduate, fired a 4-under 67 to finish with a 9-under 204 after starting the day two shots out of the lead to capture the Navajo Trail Open championship Sunday at Hillcrest Golf Club.

“One hundred percent. I love it. Yeah, that’s something for the confidence, I’ll tell you what,” the grinning champion said moments after his final putt touched the bottom of the cup.

Knous rolled his way to a championship in his first pro event by avoiding too many big mistakes and making critical putts when needed. Up by a stroke over Day 2 leader Brad Besler heading to the 18th tee, Knous said he was dealing with butterflies, among other maladies.

“It was hard, man. I’m, like, hungry, and I’m nervous, so it’s kind of like a stew pot in there of just emotions,” said Knous, the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Golfer of the Year.

If he was nervous, he didn’t show it.

Knous knocked his tee shot dead center of the fairway, while Besler’s went right, landing in the trees lining the final fairway. Besler’s approach fell short of the green, while Knous gave himself a long birdie putt, then knocked it within three feet of the cup.

Besler finished with a bogey, and Kane Webber’s putt for birdie, which would’ve put some pressure on Knous to hole out to avoid a playoff, just missed. That left Knous with perhaps the best shot in golf – a tap in for the win.

“Couldn’t ask for more, man. ... It’s just a bonus getting a win with (my dad) on the bag,” Knous said.

Besler and Webber finished tied for second at 7 under, while Derek Tolan, who at one point was tied for the lead, and Micah Rudosky tied for fourth at 6 under. Richard Gaona and Ricky Romano ended the weekend at 5 under.

Gavin Lyons, a Fort Lewis College alumnus, was the low amateur, finishing with a 1-under 212.

It looked dicey for the eventual champion early on. After a pair of birdies pushed him even with Besler at 7 under, Knous four-putted the par-three sixth hole, taking a double bogey. Knous’ dad, Steve, was on his bag and reminded his son to stay patient with 13 holes to play, and Jim Knous responded with a birdie on No. 8 to answer birdies from Besler and Webber on No. 7.

Steve Knous missed the first two days of the 54-hole tournament but was there for the final round, and his son asked him to man the bag as his caddie on Father’s Day because he thought it’d be a fun way to spend the holiday. Little did Jim Knous know how important his father’s advice would turn out.

On hole No. 16, Knous was about 10 feet from the hole with his ball on the fringe. A few words from his dad changed his mind about which line to take, and he knocked in perhaps the biggest putt of the day for birdie. That putt turned out to be huge when Besler answered with a tricky birdie putt of his own minutes later to stay within one.

“I was reading the putt to go straight, and then my dad looked at it again and said, ‘Look at this. I think it’s going to break a little bit left to right.’ I said, ‘OK, dad, Father’s Day, I’m going with your read,’” Jim Knous said. “And sure enough, man, I hit it dead on that line, perfect speed, and just nailed it.”

Putting was critical all day for the final group of Knous, Besler, Webber and defending champion Rudosky, with several players saving par with putts from 10-plus feet on the front nine.

“I think finally everyone got used to the green. ... Jim sunk some great putts, putted well all day, and that’s why he’s on the top,” Webber said.

Putting would come back to hurt Webber on the par-three 15th. His three-putt left him with a bogey, dropping him a shot behind Besler and two behind Knous. He managed a birdie at 17 but could get no closer after being tied for the lead with Besler at 8 under earlier in the round.

“The big probably momentum crusher was not getting up-and-down on the par three (No. 2) after the two birdies, but then also three-putting that one on the par three probably hurt a little,” Webber said. “I still had a chance, but then I didn’t hit a good wedge up (hole No.) 16.”

The day, however, belonged to Knous, decked out in an Orediggers cap and NCAA Division II Men’s Golf National Championships shirt – an event in which he finished second last month. He’ll take the winner’s plaque, a champion’s towel and $5,500 back to Basalt. More importantly, he’ll take confidence and the memories of his first professional win with him.

“I was skeptical about this whole pro status, but this just kind of solidifies that my game is up there with those elite guys, you know?” Knous said.

rowens@durangoherald.com