Editor’s note: Our head coaches have been invited to submit one nominee for the MLT Athlete of the Year from their team from the past school year. The Murray Ledger & Times will open an online poll for the readers to choose one athlete from each school (Calloway High School, Murray High School and Murray State). Keep reading our series and watch for the opportunity to cast your vote.
MURRAY—Murray State senior golfer Austin Knight has made tremendous strides since beginning his collegiate career with the Racers three years ago, and he’s poised to achieve even more in his senior season.
Knight, who was nominated for Murray Ledger & Times Athlete of the Year by Racers men’s golf head coach Eddie Hunt, had a slim margin for improvement from the very beginning. As early as his freshman season, Knight was the Racers’ top scorer with a 74.5 stroke average that ranked No. 19 in the OVC in 2016-17.
Knight was thrust into the rotation from the jump, which he attributes to Hunt’s faith in his leadership despite his inexperience. Being called upon so early, Knight said, afforded him more time to grow as a leader and command the respect of his teammates.
“Honestly, right away, coach knew I could be a leader, so he challenged me to be as much of a leader as I could and made me learn as I go. So now, three years later, I feel like I have learned a lot from being around my guys and taking things my coach has told me, and I feel like I am a team leader in a positive way for our guys and I think they all respect me for taking that role.”
Hunt said Knight’s unique ability to shoot consistently low on the course puts him in rare air among the many Racer players Hunt has seen in his 18 years with the program.
“The good thing about Austin is that you can count on him as your low man, or awful close to it,” Hunt said. “Austin’s expertise is that he might not shoot a 66 everytime, but he’s not going to shoot any 76’s. He is very very consistent, probably one of the most consistent golfers I’ve had in a long time.”
Still, the Hopkinsville native has made a deliberate effort to bolster those numbers even more. He’s gradually improved his stroke average from 74.5 his freshman season to 73.6 his sophomore year and finally to 72.1 his junior season, good for fourth-best in the OVC.
And if history is any indicator, Knight can expect yet another incremental improvement next season.
“I am very proud of how I have continued to compete with everyone in the OVC,” Knight said. “Each year I have progressed and moved up in the OVC rankings. I definitely think I can continue that trend and hopefully stand dominant at No. 1 for my last year.”
Despite Knight’s inspired focus on improving his stroke, he failed to attract the attention of OVC coaches this past season. Although he registered fourth in stroke average in the OVC, he wasn’t voted onto the All-OVC First Team last year, while seven golfers with lower averages than Knight made the team. Rather than being discouraged by the snub, Knight has opted to use it as fuel for his next season.
“That really puts a fire under me for my last year to prove all the coaches wrong in their voting,” Knight said. “The main thing I am going to try to do my last year that I struggled in this year is head-to-head battles with other players in the OVC. I want to eliminate the bad rounds and tournaments and try to keep every tournament score at even-par or better.”
Regardless of what any post-season poll may indicate, Knight had an unmistakable impact on the Racer golf team this past season. After netting a 10th place finish out of 11 teams in the 2017-18 OVC Championship, Murray State was predicted to finish ninth in the conference in 2018-19. However, the team overcame some inconsistent regular season play to finish third in the OVC Championship, their highest finish since taking second in 2014-15.
Last year’s overachieving team will return all but one player, which has instilled a lot of confidence in Knight that his Racers can be increasingly competitive next season. And with Knight as the anchor, Hunt believes the sky is the limit.
“I think Austin will be one of the best players, if not the best player in the conference (next season),” Hunt said. “He has gotten better every year, and that’s what you want to see in a college athlete and that shows you he’s working for his goals. I think he should be in the running for Player of the Year next year.”
Knight has plenty of reason to feel confident, with a slew of accolades under his belt through three years.
Apart from being the Racers’ top scorer for two of his three years, Knight was named to the OVC All-Newcomer team his freshman year, the All-OVC team his sophomore year, two individual titles his sophomore year, back-to-back wins at the Tennessee Valley Golf Association Match Play Championship, and a Barron Championship title last year.
However, Knight’s proudest moment came in the third round of the OVC Championship his freshman year, when he sunk a hole-in-one from 186 yards out, becoming the first Racer since Nick Newcomb in 2008 to hole-in-one in the OVC Tournament. Knight said getting to share that moment with Hunt by his side was a memory he’ll always cherish.
“I’ve had three [hole-in-ones] prior to that, but that was my first in competition play and it was at the OVC tournament and I was just a freshman. The looks on mine and my coach’s faces are something I will never forget.”
When he’s not sinking hole-in-ones or winning individual championships, Knight is an education major with a 3.2 GPA. He’s involved with the Middle Education Club, which discusses strategies to improve area schools, as well as the Murray State Student-Athlete Advisory Council, which works to improve the student-athlete experience at Murray State and plans community outreach events, which Knight is a big proponent of.
“I love helping my community in any way I can, and I love how the city of Murray supports Murray State University, whether it’s academics or athletics or whatever the cause may be,” Knight said.