HARTFORD, Conn – One of the best and most heartwarming stories in all of golf this year transpired Sunday October 6 in Colony, Texas.
Cheyenne Knight, on the verge of losing her LPGA Tour card, mustered enough courage, strength and game to win the Volunteers of America Classic at Old American Golf Club about 65 miles from where she made a name for herself capturing two state high school championships in Aledo, Texas.
Knight’s maiden LPGA Tour victory that had to feel like a major championship came a decade after her brother, Brandon Burgett, was killed by a drunk driver traveling down the wrong side of the road when she was only 12. And adding to the emotional scenario on Sunday is Knight closed with 33-33, her favorite number because Brandon wore No. 33 on his high school football team jersey.
“Growing up, I wanted to do everything Brandon did,” said an emotional Knight, who dropped her putter and pointed to the sky in Brandon’s honor after her 2-foot par putt on the 18th green disappeared. “He was a great athlete, and I’m super competitive, I think, because of him. He really helped me become the athlete I am today.
“He was a great man, and I felt like he was a second caddie and a guardian angel right there with me. When I was getting nervous, I just took a deep breath and thought of Brandon. I know he was watching in heaven, and he’s so proud of me.”
Knight’s bogey-free 5-under-par 66, which came after she slept in her own bed Saturday night, gave her a 72-hole total of 18-under 266, two less than fellow countrywomen Jaye Marie Green (69) and Solheim Cup Team member Brittany Altomare (67) in what she thought would be her last tournament in the final full field of the year. The win in the LPGA Tour’s only event in Knight’s home state was witnessed by her family and friends near the end of a rookie season in which the 22-year-old had missed nine of 18 cuts and hadn’t finished better than tied for 29th.
Knight arrived in Colony at 120th on the LPGA money list and needing to be among the top 100 to keep her card. Her career performance vaulted Knight to 65th on the money list with $266,346 and secured full LPGA Tour status via Category 4, reserved for winners in the last two calendar years.
“I’ve always dreamed of having a putt to win a LPGA event, and when I got my card, I said this is the one I was most looking forward to since I was nine years old,” a tear-eyed Knight told Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz on the 18th green. “Who would have thought this would help me secure my card? I was planning to go back to qualifying school, and with this win, it means everything, knowing I can persevere, and I’m strong enough to do anything.”
Knight was only the fourth American to win in 26 LPGA stroke-play tournaments this year, joining Cydney Clanton and Solheim Cup Team members Lexi Thompson and Nelly Korda. It was worth $195,000 and a two-year exemption and made Knight the first player from the University of Alabama to win an LPGA title. She also joined U.S. Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6 as the only rookies to triumph in 2019 and makes her eligible for the Asia swing. At No. 49 in the Race to CME Globe standings, she is virtually assured of getting to the Tour Championship next month.
“I’ve prayed about days like this,” Knight said. “It’s been a really hard year. I always knew that even though I didn’t understand the timing, God was in control.”
Knight’s strong Christian faith is very important to her. She said Hillsong Worship’s “Seasons” is one of her favorite songs, and she listened to it on her playlist while making the hour-long drive from Aledo to Old American Golf Club on Sunday morning with her mother, grandmother and boyfriend. The song’s about winter’s grip and how “nature acquaints us with the nature of patience” and how the “barren” becomes “beautiful” at harvest time.
Knight was plenty “beautiful” as she rallied from one back entering the final round, turning mistakes into successes with a brilliant short game. After missing the ninth green, she chipped in for birdie. After missing the 10th green, she holed out again for birdie. She also made a brilliant up-and-down for birdie at the 17th hole that secured the victory.
And to think that only a week earlier, a flying divot accidently moved her ball in the final round of a tournament in Indiana. If she found herself in contention in Colony, Knight knew that penalty might come back to haunt her when it came to keeping her card. Instead, she went from a flying divot to flying high.
With her father, Gene, and mom, Jayna, watching greenside, Knight two-putted for par at the 18th hole. She said about 25 family and friends, including her 80-year-old grandmother, Pat, and an aunt and uncle, were a source of unwavering support. So was her caddie, Brian Mahoney.
“I have the best support system, and I knew even if I lost that they were going to love me no matter what,” Knight said. “Having all my friends and family here is just incredible, and having my first LPGA win in my home state means more to me than anything. This is for Brandon.”
Now that’s what makes sports – especially individual games such as golf – so appealing and inspirational.