Alex Knoll to get his chance
Alex Knoll could tell you that the odds were probably against him.
The likelihood of a Palmerton math teacher playing in one of golf’s major tournaments likely weren’t in his favor.
But Knoll knows golf. And he knows anything can happen.
When the PGA Professional Championship - scheduled for July 19-22 in Austin, Texas - was canceled, Knoll found himself among a select group of players that would be playing in this year’s PGA Championship event.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” said Knoll, who graduated from Liberty High School. “It’s been a lifetime goal of mine to play this tournament. And even though I didn’t qualify in the traditional sense, I still feel like I did last year during the season that I deserve this opportunity.
“It’s surreal, because we’re still five weeks away, and with how fast our world is changing day-in, and day-out, we still don’t know what’s going to happen. But from all the information I’ve been given, they are making a major, concerted effort to make sure that this event happens, and in a safe way.”
The PGA of America announced last Monday that it had been canceling the qualifying event due to rising COVID-19 concerns in the area.
That meant those placing in the top-20 of the 2019 PGA Player of the Year list will be eligible to represent the PGA of America in the 2020 PGA Championship, set for Aug. 3-9 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
Knoll has been on a roller coaster of emotions since the PGA Championship was rescheduled from its mid-May date back on March 17. He knows what it feels like to just miss out on one of the sport’s biggest events of the season.
“Last year, I missed out on the PGA by two shots,” said Knoll. “I finished 33rd in the club pro last year (in South Carolina). And then I won our section championship, and that led me to winning our Player of the Year Award in our tri-state section.
“So all three of those combined got me to where I’m at for this year. Last year was a great year, and this is just an incredible award for all of that.”
Knoll, who coaches the Palmerton golf team with Mike Brennan, and is the head teaching professional at Glen Brook Golf Club in Stroudsburg, has experienced plenty of highs during his playing career, like breaking a 78-year-old course record previously held by Sam Snead to win the Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship last September.
But earning a spot alongside the likes of Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson in a field full of the sport’s elite is unmatched.
“It’s No. 1 by miles,” Knoll said of the significance of the event. “Playing in a major, it’s a privilege that only such a select few ever get in. And that I can say that in maybe five weeks that I attempted to play in one, is incredible.
“And it gives me more confidence in what I’m doing helping out at Palmerton and helping out with my instruction at Glen Brook in Stroudsburg. It gives me a different perspective on what I can provide to any golfer, but especially the junior golfers that I definitely want to help improve from this experience that I’m going to get during that week.”
Palmerton finished undefeated (13-0) in the Colonial League last season. The team then went on to take second place at the league championship tournament.
The Blue Bombers went on to capture the program’s first-ever District 11 Class 2A team title and saw freshman Tyler Hager, the Times News/LVHN Golfer of the Year, qualify for states.
“It shows that the message that Mike and I have sent to the kids and what I try to teach them, and what I teach my students at Glen Brook is kind of this positive attitude and if you work really hard, sometimes you might get a break,” said Knoll. “And this is a break. Life sometimes gives you the good ones. Amid all of this bad right now, this is a good break.
“And I will cherish every moment when it happens.”
Despite the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Knoll has worked to stay on top of his game in preparation for whatever might come his way.
“It hasn’t been too much different,” he said. “I’ve been getting in a better workout regimen physically, which was in preparation for Texas and playing 110 degree heat every day. And I play a pretty healthy tournament schedule; I’ve always done that, so that gives me some good extra preparation. In between lessons, I try to find some extra time to get in extra putts and extra shots.
“And we really didn’t know what was going on with the Texas event until yesterday. I’ve played in that club pro four other times, so I was just kind of doing what I had usually done to prep for it, and this kind of came out of it, I guess.”
What comes next is the opportunity of a lifetime for Knoll, who will try to keep the calculations to a minimum.
“I just want to truly enjoy it,” he said. “I know I will put personal expectations on score, and I know that. But you have to be realistic. I know statistically speaking here, that I know where I’m going to finish, which is a missed cut, and that’s OK. I can have a career week and maybe make the cut, which would be absolutely incredible. But that’s probably not going to happen, and that’s OK.
“But this is such a big achievement for me that I’ve succeeded by getting there, and anything else is beyond extra. I’ll be excited to be there, be inside the ropes, say I got to do it one time. It’s the beauty of the sport; that’s why people love the U.S. Open, where you can have anyone try to qualify, and in this case for the PGA Championship, it gives any golf pro a chance to qualify and play with the big boys. And this was my year, I guess.”