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Jake Knapp wins in fifth PGA TOUR

PGA TOUR rookie, former nightclub bouncer wins in fifth TOUR start as member

Jake Knapp jokingly told his girlfriend, Makena White, that if he had a three-shot lead going into Sunday at the Mexico Open at Vidanta, he’d fly her down to watch the finale.

Turns out, the lead was four.

Makena showed him the booking Saturday night when they spoke on FaceTime. She paid for her own flight and arrived at midday Sunday. Knapp walked over and gave her a kiss. There was a sweet moment on the broadcast when the cameras caught him waving to her.

Knapp’s whole family was at a watch party back in Costa Mesa, California, but with one special guest missing in person – his grandfather Gordon Bowles, who passed away in April. Knapp’s grandpa was with him Sunday, though. Tattooed on his arm and heavy on his mind.

Knapp proceeded to win the Mexico Open by two shots over Sami Valimaki, becoming the third TOUR rookie to win this season – matching the total number of rookie winners from last season – and even though his Sunday even-par 71 wasn’t pretty, it worked.

"I’m so glad I made it there to watch. Especially seeing as his family didn’t make it out," White said. "He’s worked so hard and kept his head down and put in the hours and it was so awesome to see it all pay off. He deserves it so much."

It was a win for himself, of course. You don’t get to the PGA TOUR for the first time at 29 without making some decisions for just you – like working as a nightclub bouncer to earn some extra cash. But Knapp sharing the win with those close to him makes it all the more special.

“Even though I didn't have my best stuff (on Sunday), kind of doing it for (my grandfather) and everybody else who has been a part of my team and my family and everything for so long,” Knapp said. “Keeping them in the back of my mind and just no quit, no surrender and just grind it out.”

Knapp started Sunday with “the three worst holes” he could have played, going bogey-par-bogey. The lead, however, was still two shots. The numbers show that his strengths from the first 54 holes of the week – his ball-striking, and especially his putting from the previous round – just weren’t there. He made up for it, however, with his short-game prowess. He was 56th in the field on Saturday in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green but ranked 13th in the same stat in the final round. He hit only two fairways Sunday, the fewest by a TOUR winner on record. But he ranked No. 1 for the week in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green and didn’t miss a putt inside 5 feet. That’ll work.

Knapp finally made his first birdie Sunday on the par-4 seventh and added just one more circle on his scorecard on the par-5 14th. His four closing pars were plenty; when Valimaki had to take an unplayable after his tee shot on the 72nd hole ended up against an out-of-bounds fence, Knapp was able to enjoy the walk up to the 18th green and soak it all in.

“If I would have seen a bunch of the guys at 12 (under, starting the day) get to 17 under through nine holes, I'd be like ‘Yeah, the course is very gettable,’ but I felt a lot of them were at 12, 13, 14 (under) and not really moving. It was windy and it was playing tough; pins were in tough spots,” Knapp said. “Once we got to like (hole) 14, I looked at the leaderboard and I was like, ‘OK, it's a two-man race,’ and I've just got to focus on kind of what (Valimaki) does and kind of play it basically as match play from there.”

Knapp, who finished third at last month’s Farmers Insurance Open, zipped up to eighth in the FedExCup standings. He’s also in the season’s remaining Signature Events and will make his Masters debut in April.

“I jokingly talk about it with (my caddie) and my family when all these people ask me for autographs and pictures and questions and podcasts and all that stuff, it's hilarious to think two years ago I was working security at a bar and it was a much different scenario in my life,” Knapp said with a smile.

While his success has been propped up by good play, there was some good fortune in there, too. A few years ago, the lifelong Anaheim Ducks fan played a casual (and chance) nine-hole round with long-time Ducks executive Tim Ryan. The team formed a partnership with Knapp and that belief meant a lot when times were tough. Aaron Teats, the Ducks’ club president, couldn’t be happier to see Knapp breakthrough on the PGA TOUR.

“We are so thrilled to see Jake’s success today and know it’s just the beginning for him on the PGA TOUR,” Teats said. “Jake and his family have supported the Ducks for years, so we know the hard work and determination he and his family have invested. The Ducks organization is so proud and excited for the entire Knapp family.”

While it was great to have his girlfriend fly down and pretty sweet to have the support of a Stanley Cup-winning franchise, that spiritual and loving connection to his grandfather helped Knapp to win the day.

Knapp said he had “a little conversation” with his grandfather Sunday morning, wishing Bowles could be here to watch and experience it all. With a smile, Knapp said whenever he’d get down on himself, his grandfather would be the one to tell him to get to work. Knapp didn’t have his best stuff Sunday, but he got to work. "Winner, winner, chicken dinner" was his grandfather’s go-to line. Knapp knows the congratulatory text probably would have led with that, and then an offer of cigars on him when he got home.

There would have been a moment to celebrate a moment.

For all the people who have always been there.

“Twenty-nine years old and first win,” Knapp said, “there are a lot of people who helped me along my way.”

SOURCE: [pgatour.com]

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