Cheyenne Knight didn't know what to do when University of Alabama football head coach Nick Saban popped up on the video screen.
The LPGA Tour recruited twelve celebrities and professional athletes to announce the members of this year's United States Solheim Cup team, and out of everyone, Knight was arguably the most surprised at who spoke about her in the star-studded video. She was in total shock seeing Saban's face, unable to believe he knew who she was and how to say her name, let alone that he knew anything about the Solheim Cup.
"I was sitting on the couch like waiting for my name and Nick Saban – I thought I was about to cry. The girls were like, 'Are you okay?'" said Knight, who left the University of Alabama to turn professional in 2018. "I met him before (during) my time at Alabama. He would come out to the golf facility. But just for him to like, pronounce my name correctly and know about the Solheim Cup was really cool, and it's something I'll keep forever because everyone knows Nick Saban. He's the G.O.A.T."
Knight will be teeing it up in her very first Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin in Andalucia, Spain, and unlike many of her counterparts on the United States squad, this is the first time that the Texas native has ever represented her country in a team competition. The Alabama standout was never a member of any Junior Solheim or Ryder Cup teams and didn't ever qualify for the Curtis Cup while she was an amateur, and with limited opportunities for LPGA Tour athletes to compete for their nation that only include the Olympics, Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown and Solheim Cup, Knight will get her first taste of repping the Red, White and Blue when she finally touches down in Spain.
"It's always been a goal. I watched the Solheim Cup growing up. I never have been on like Junior Solheim Cup or Curtis Cup in my amateur career, so this will be the first time representing my country, which I'm super excited about," she said. "Feel like I'm playing a little bit better than I have the last month or so right now. It's a long year, so I'm super excited to hopefully be in good form going into the Solheim Cup, and just getting to represent my country is a huge honor."
Luckily, Knight isn't alone this year when it comes to teeing it up in her first Solheim Cup. The 2023 U.S. Solheim Cup team boasts four other rookies, including U.S. Women's Open winner Allisen Corpuz, 2022 Portland Classic champion Andrea Lee, two-time major champion Lilia Vu and Mizuho Americas Open winner Rose Zhang. And though she hasn't ever played for the United States before, the 26-year-old has been a force to be reckoned with on the LPGA Tour as of late.
Knight recorded three top-20 finishes in her first five starts of the 2023 season, most notably tying for 18th at The Chevron Championship, which was played at the Club at Carlton Woods in Houston, Texas, for the very first time. She then rattled off three consecutive top-10 results, tying for sixth at the JM Eagle LA Championship presented by Plastpro and earning back-to-back ninth-place finishes at the Cognizant Founders Cup and Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards. Knight picked up two more top 20s right after that stretch, tying for 13th at the Mizuho Americas Open and tying for 20th at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give.
Cooling slightly with a T30 and a T48 at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and U.S. Women's Open, respectively, Knight finally broke through alongside playing partner Elizabeth Szokol at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational at Midland Country Club in Midland, Mich. The pair won by one shot over Matilda Castren and Kelly Tan, making Szokol a Rolex First-Time Winner and giving Knight her second career LPGA Tour victory and first since the 2019 Ascendant LPGA benefitting Volunteers of America.
"Elizabeth told me on 18, she said, 'Thanks for waiting for me to win this year,'" said Knight in the duo's winning press conference in July. "I've had a few close calls this year. I've been in contention a few times, and I really haven't handled the pressure. Kind of let it get to me a little bit. Honestly, Elizabeth, we've been friends for such a long time. I couldn't have asked for anything better than to get the win with her."
The two-time LPGA Tour winner struggled after Dow, missing two cuts in her next three starts, and came to the CPKC Women's Open needing one last push to impress U.S. Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis and earn a coveted captain's pick. Luckily, it didn't take much to persuade Lewis, and a T41 finish that saw Knight birdie five of her last nine holes was enough to nab a spot on the team, something that was a dream come true for the 26-year-old American.
"I was a little bit involved in the process in 2021 but didn't make the team; wasn't that close at the end of the day," said Knight. "I grew up watching the Solheim Cup. I remember watching Angela, Gerina and Stacy, just them all being from Texas and watching it on TV growing up and hoping I would be there one day. I'm just so honored to be a part of it."
Having the opportunity to play for Captain Lewis, who is also a Texan, makes this moment that much more special for Knight. The major champion and former world No. 1 is one of the most well-respected players on the LPGA Tour and has done so much for women's golf both on and off the golf course, and Knight knows that the experience she brings to the table in her captaincy will be invaluable to the team's success. But she is just as excited to have six-time U.S. Solheim Cup team member Angela Stanford serving as an assistant captain as she is another player that Knight has looked up to for much of her life and professional career. Stanford is also someone Knight would consider a friend, especially considering how often they tee it up together at their home club in Fort Worth.
"(Stacy Lewis and Angela Stanford), they're the two I looked up to growing up," she said. "I remember, I was in middle school and Angela gave me some of her old Solheim Cup shoes. I don't think Angela would like to point out how long ago that was, but really cool coming full circle. I played in Stacy's AJGA tournament growing up and watching them throughout their career and how well they've played and watching them in the Solheim Cup, I looked up to them and Gerina, just being from Texas. To be the next (Texas girl) to be a part of the team is really cool. I see Angela like a good bit of where we practice and our home course at Shady Oaks. To have Angela as an assistant captain is special for me because we see each other a lot and we both practice together and play a lot at home."
With the Solheim Cup right around the corner, Knight is ready to tackle all the challenges of being a rookie in the biennial team competition. Nerves are a constant when your salary depends on how quickly you put a little white ball into a hole on a weekly basis. But the butterflies that come with competing in a Solheim Cup are unlike any other that a player might experience throughout their career, much different from the ones felt when in contention or coming down the stretch with a chance to win a major. And while she will likely be feeling nervous more than she might during a typical week, Knight will take a veteran's mindset when it comes to keeping her mentality in check at Finca Cortesin and hopes that she will contribute as many points as possible to the U.S. team and help them win their first Solheim Cup since 2017.
"I've been in contention, and I experienced those nerves," Knight said. "Everyone just talks about just like the atmosphere and the environment and having people root against you. I think that's gonna be the most different part. I think you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable and handling the nerves. People say the first tee, like your hands are shaking. It's just not like anything else but try to slow down take it all in and not let the moment be bigger than it is because it's already a huge moment. Just enjoy it and not let the nerves become more than what it is.
"I hope I can be someone that my teammates can rely on and know I'm gonna put them in good positions, or I'm gonna do my job well. My personality, I feel like I'm pretty easygoing, and I'll be excited to play with whoever I'm paired with. Being able to lean on each other and help each other out that week and be a team is what I'm looking forward to."