Waiting game no longer - Knapp wins U.S. Senior Amateur
Posted September 4, 2017 - By Mike Dudurich, Freelance writer and host of The Golf Show on 93.7 The Fan Saturday mornings from 7-8 AM. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeDudurich
Sean Knapp with the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship trophy at The Minikahda Club.
As he walked out of the clubhouse at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis last Thursday afternoon, a promotional poster for the 2017 U.S. Senior Amateur caught Sean Knapp’s eye.
He noticed a picture of Dave Ryan, the defending champion, who lost his chance to defend when Knapp defeated him in the semifinals. Knapp took a couple more steps before he stopped.
“It was then that I realized next year, my picture was going to be on that poster,” Knapp, 55, said. “That’s when it started to be real.”
It actually became official a few hours earlier when Knapp defeated two-time champion Paul Simpson of Raleigh, North Carolina, 2 & 1, to win the Senior Amateur.
Calling Knapp’s victory significant would be like referring to the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s as a fairly successful football team. With his win, Western Pennsylvania players have won 12 of the 14 individual championships the USGA conducts. The only two that haven’t been won by someone from the area are the U.S. Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.
But for the man himself, the hard-earned victory was a combination of a significant personal accomplishment and what he hopes will be a springboard to even greater things on the national senior amateur stage.
Knapp earned a hearty helping of opportunities with his win. He’s now exempt into the U.S. Senior Amateur for the next 10 years, the U.S. Mid-Amateur for the next three years, the U.S. Senior Open for the next two years, the U.S. Amateur for the next two years and the U.S. Open sectional qualifier for one year.
“I looked at the third round of match play as a de facto qualifier,” Knapp said. “I was playing to get in the tournament next year. And with each win, there were more exemptions, ones I coveted very much. For a guy like me, they are very important. Finally, it got to the point where it was just playing golf. After being nervous all week, I was very calm in the final.”
The man who has won 36 West Penn Golf Association titles and was playing in his 42nd USGA event was obviously pleased with how he kept his game together, his emotions in check and his foot on the pedal of playing “grind golf.”
Knapp said he felt very blessed and had some things that went right for him, but those who know him best say this was a reward for decades of hard work.
“Sean’s been out there on Saturday morning at Pittsburgh National, playing 36, carrying his own bag and it’s paid off,” said his best friend, Nathan Smith. “I’m really happy for him and to be able to watch him do it, I’m almost as happy as if I won. Playing with each other and against each other, we’ve made each other better. Nobody has worked harder or deserved it more.”
Knapp got an unexpected and very important contribution to his victory from another friend. David Brown of Ligonier was the medalist in stroke play qualifying and won his first match in the match play portion. The two roomed together and when Knapp started talking to him about getting him to the airport for his trip home, Brown said he was going to stay and caddy for him.
“It’s a long week, two qualifying rounds and six matches,” said Brown. “And I think it helped him having someone else out there, not only for the physical part, but just to be there with him and for him. When I caddied for him Tuesday and watched his short game, I thought he could win this thing. So I wasn’t about to leave him.”
“I simply would not have won it without Dave Brown on the bag,” Knapp said. “He did a lot of little things for me and I’ve always believed little things done well turn into big things. Very few people, a small percentage of the people I know, would have done what Dave did.”
Knapp’s relationship and rivalry with Smith have been well-documented and Knapp said what he learned from the four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion played a part in this victory.
“Nathan has a formula and I’m well aware of it,” Knapp said. “I can’t always execute it. He can. It’s about being patient, not giving holes, and forcing your opponent to get uncomfortable. If you can force them into that level of uncomfortability, they might make poor decisions. I’m not saying that that’s what happened today, but certainly it kept my emotions at bay.”
One of the traits that has made Knapp such a likable player throughout his career has been the humility he shows on the golf course. It would be impossible to tell how he was doing to look at him.
That changed, however, when the difficult, downhill putt he had on the 17th hole to clinch the win fell in the cup. He executed a mini-leap (ala Phil Mickelson) and fired his hat into the air (ala Arnold Palmer).
“I’ve never reacted that way in my life,” he chuckled. “It was just a reaction to knowing the quality of the situation and the accomplishment.”
Among the many things the Senior Amateur victory did for Knapp was the elimination of a significant hole on his resume.
Arnold Palmer never won the PGA Championship; Nathan Smith has not won the U.S. Amateur; and Knapp did not have a USGA championship to his name.
“There was a hole there, but I really didn’t realize it until after I won on Thursday,” Knapp admitted. “But I didn’t look back. I felt I had been good enough to win, but I was at piece with it.”
Knapp, inducted into the West Penn Golf Hall of Fame in 2015, became the 16th golfer from Western Pennsylvania to win an individual USGA championship and the first since Smith’s fourth Mid-Amateur title in 2012.