Tom McKnight: Local golf champion shifting focus to instruction

Local golf champion shifting his focus to instruction

Tom McKnight of Bluffton’s Berkeley Hall has distinguished himself as an amateur, as well as a professional golfer.

McKnight, 60, a native of Galax, Virginia, took up golf as a teenager and eventually played on the University of Virginia golf team before graduating in 1976.


After he graduated from Virginia, McKnight turned professional and tried to get his PGA Tour card. He failed several times at the qualifying school.

Then he broke his arm.

After doctors told him that he might never reproduce the swing he once had, he decided to give up the professional game and settled in at a non-golf career, going on to own a petroleum and distributorship business.

He still played a lot of golf, and over time he re-established his golf swing and competitive instincts as an amateur.

He played in the U.S. Amateur and many other amateur events around the United States, including a stint on the Walker Cup team.

In 1998, he made it to the finals of the U.S. Amateur Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, and finished as runner-up.

That performance earned him a berth at the 1999 Masters Tournament, where he made the cut. He also earned a berth at the U.S.

Open that year.

“That was one of the most exciting weeks of my life,” he said of the Masters.

But those weren’t his first amateur wins. He won Virginia State Amateur titles in 1984, 1985 and 1989; Eastern Amateur Championships in 1993, 1995 and 1997; Virginia Mid-Amateur 16 championships in 1985 and 1996; and a State Open title in 1985.

It was in the fall of 2004 when McKnight’s golf game took a dramatic financial turn for the better.

He participated in the PGA’s Seniors Tour qualifying school and finished second in the tournament, earning a card for the tour.

He played in 111 tournaments between 2004 and 2010 and won nearly $2 million on the tour, which is now known as the Champions Tour.

Even though he wasn’t winning, his best years were in 2005, when he won $524,000, and 2007, when he won $415,000.

“I had a lot of chances to win, but it’s very competitive,” he said. “The guys were good to me for five full seasons. I still had some good years and also had a lot of fun.”

McKnight said he developed back issues in 2009 and eventually lost his tour status in 2010.

But McKnight, who helped create the popular Players Amateur golf tournament, still plays golf at least once a week and stays involved with the game.

“I’m thinking of doing some teaching,” he said. “While playing on the tour, I specialized in my short game. So perhaps I’ll offer some lessons around the green.”