“This is for Brandon,” Cheyenne Knight exclaimed on the 18th green after winning the Volunteers of America Classic, crying through the heavenly moment.
When Knight was 12 years old, she lost her brother Brandon Burgett to a tragic drunk-driving accident. His football jersey, No. 33, became her lucky number.
“When I’m on the golf course, I always feel Brandon’s presence,” Knight explained to LPGA.com before the start of her rookie season. “And he is going to be with me every step of my journey on the LPGA Tour.”
Burgett was omnipresent in Knight’s victory, as the 22-year-old Texan polished the hometown victory with 33s on both nines to win her first career LPGA Tour event.
Knight pointed to the sky in Brandon’s honor after tapping home the final putt.
The emotions of the maiden win carried even more weight than normal. Sitting 120th on the Official Money List coming into the week, the Volunteers of America Classic was Knight’s last opportunity to make a jump, as it’s the final full-field event of the 2019 season. She needed to move up 20 spots to get full status for the next year.
She more than met that challenge, jumping to 65th and securing full status via Category 4, reserved for winners in the last two calendar years. But it required a career performance. Prior to this week, Knight’s best result in her rookie season was T29 at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Ranked 270th in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings coming into Texas, Knight had a wave of talent to take down to reach the winner’s circle. Jaye Marie Green, who tied for fifth at the U.S. Women’s Open, was searching for her first career win. Brittany Altomare and Katherine Perry, a Solheim Cup star and a fellow player chasing status for 2020, were right on her tail. Sei Young Kim, a nine-time winner on the LPGA Tour, lurked close behind along with 15-year veteran Alena Sharp.
Neither her struggles nor who she had to stare down were on her mind as Knight teed off Sunday. “I thought of every possible outcome and I knew I was going to be fine with that, but I was playing to win,” she said.
Her ability to rise to the top at the tournament she circled on the calendar started with earnest reflection. The Aledo, Texas, resident played Old American Golf Club two weeks ago, getting her scouting in early for the event. Her preparation culminated Wednesday evening on the driving range. Knight found something that let her hit pure shot after pure shot under a familiar Texas sunset.
She also decided to turn to her old reliable college putter for her presumed final 2019 LPGA Tour start. It delivered with 23 putts in the closing round.
The putter wasn’t the only part of her short game to shine on Sunday. She carded back to back chip-in birdies at holes 9 and 10.
“No picture on the scorecard, but two birdies in a row, which I think definitely changed the momentum for me,” Knight explained. She carded four other up and downs to go bogey-free Sunday.
She was a shot back with eight holes to go after the chip-ins, with the tension rising. Knight focused on staying in the present down the stretch. She turned to Burgett’s spirit when she got too far ahead of herself.
“I felt like he was a second caddie and a guardian angel right there with me,” said Knight. “When I was getting nervous, I just took a deep breath and I thought of Brandon. I know that he’s so proud of me.”
Her parents and friends watched Knight through the entire hometown event, with her uncle flying in overnight to catch the final 18. Her family, on earth and in heaven, is the pillar of support that Knight has leaned on throughout her rookie year.
“I knew win or lose, they were going to love me no matter what. It's my family being here and my friends seeing this, my first LPGA win, is just really incredible,” Knight said.
Surrounded by family and friends and with her guardian angel on the bag, Knight was lifted by wings on a day that none of them will ever forget.