USGA MEN'S STATE TEAM
Notebook: Knapp Playing MST With Heavy Heart September 29, 2014 By David Shefter and Jonathan Wilhelm, USGA

Sean Knapp said playing competitive golf has been therapeutic since losing his father to cancer in mid-August. (USGA/Chris Keane)

FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Sean Knapp was going through his final on-site preparation for this year’s U.S. Amateur at Atlanta Athletic Club when his cell phone buzzed. It was his sister, telling Knapp to contact his ailing father. Once he heard his mom’s voice, Knapp understood the gravity of the situation.

He withdrew from the Amateur and made the 11-hour drive home to Pittsburgh with his family, arriving in the wee hours of Aug. 12. Two days later, his father, 74, died from multiple myeloma, a condition he had battled for 3½ years.

"Losing dad at the Am was tough," said Knapp after shooting a 4-over 76 for Pennsylvania in the first round of the 2014 USGA Men’s State Team Championship on the Dye Course at the French Lick Resort. "It’s nice to get back on the bicycle."

The day before Roger Knapp passed, Sean, 52, was able to enjoy one last visit, lasting 90 minutes with the man he admired and loved. For more than three decades, Roger Knapp served as the superintendent for the Riverview School District in suburban Pittsburgh. As a youth, Roger was a talented baseball player, a left-handed pitcher good enough to earn a scholarship to Division I Elon (N.C.) University. Yet he chose to pursue an academic career, earning a doctorate in education.

When he was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma, doctors put him on experimental stem-cell treatment. It worked for more than three years – Roger had enough strength to follow Sean at the 2013 U.S. Senior Open at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club – until the cancer reappeared earlier this year. Sean didn’t expect to get the phone call from his family at the Amateur. But once the call came, he told his father to hold on long enough for him to get home.

Fully coherent and conscious, Roger’s first thought upon seeing Sean was that his son had missed the match-play cut at the Amateur. Sean told him, No, Dad, we came home for you.

He then confided with Sean that I have great children. He would die later that day.

While the ensuing days were difficult, Sean has found some solace on the golf course. Being selected for Pennsylvania’s team was a huge lift. In 2009, Knapp, along with close friend Nathan Smith (a four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion) and Mike Van Sickle, won the title at the Country Club of St. Albans in suburban St. Louis.

"We had so many good players [in Pennsylvania], including Chip Lutz, to select for this team, and I was the at-large pick," said Knapp. "That puts a little added pressure, especially when you have Nathan Smith on the team.

"[But] it’s been therapeutic. Everything went as well as it could for having your father pass. I kind of feel like he is here [this week]."

Playing In MST Ends Grimmer’s High School Career

The Men’s State Team Championship marks a bittersweet end to a memorable golf season for Will Grimmer. Representing Ohio, Grimmer is competing in his fourth USGA championship this year. This summer, which began with him qualifying for the U.S. Open and included a quarterfinal run in the U.S. Junior Amateur, has been filled with positive milestones for the 17-year-old high school senior. However, due to an Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) rule, Grimmer’s participation in the Men’s State Team means his prep career must come to a premature end.

The OHSAA rule states: A member of an interscholastic golf squad (any student who has played in a scrimmage or regular season/tournament contest) sponsored by the Board of Education, shall not participate in a non-interscholastic contest during the school’s golf season (Sports Regulation 7.2.2).

The Ohio Division II State High School Golf Tournament is scheduled for Oct. 10-11, meaning the Men’s State Team occurs during the active season. So when Grimmer accepted the invitation to compete for his home state, it rendered him ineligible to compete for Cincinnati’s Mariemont High School golf team. While it’s not an ideal way for a high school career to end, Grimmer, who plans to sign with Ohio State University in November, is nonetheless excited about the future. His focus this week is bringing a Men’s State Team title home to Ohio for the first time in the biennial championship’s 19-year existence.

The course is in great shape, said Grimmer, who opened with an inconsistent 7-over 79 on the Dye Course at the French Lick Resort. I had a good round today, but just put myself in some tough spots behind some of the mounds. We’re still in good shape.

Grimmer’s 79 was tossed out in the 3-count-2 format. Teammates Jeffrey Scohy and 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up Bill Williamson carded 73 and 78, respectively.

Decker Keeps Going and Going and Going …

Keith Decker has become the Men’s State Team’s version of the Energizer bunny.

The 54-year-old from Virginia continued his improbable Men’s State Team streak this week as the only competitor to play in all 11 of the biennial competitions.

Decker finished third on the Virginia State Golf Association’s points list to qualify with teammates Justin Young and Scott Shingler. Young and Shingler carried Virginia in the first round by posting 1-under 143, with Young shooting a 4-under 68 to match the lowest round of the day.

I sort of gear my year toward it, said Decker, who carded a non-counting 79. I knew it was coming this year and I was trying my hardest to get on the team. Fortunately, they asked me to play again.

My teammates shot 1 under, so I am happy as I can be. This is great. There are not two better guys to have on your team.

Decker said he doesn’t feel pressure to continue the streak, but he also understands he isn’t getting any younger. Walking the hilly terrain of the Dye Course has taken its toll.

I’m not a spring chicken like [my teammates], he said. I’m sort of aging out of [the Men’s State Team]. There’s a bunch of young good kids in Virginia. Fortunately, I was ahead of them this year, but that’s not going to last much longer.

New-Look New York Hoping To Defend Title

Consistency is usually a key when trying to repeat as a national champion. However, for defending champion New York, consistency is its biggest question mark.

No, it’s not inconsistency in its play. What the Empire State is missing is all three competitors from its 2012 championship-winning team. Two of the players turned professional (Mike Miller and Max Buckley), while the other (Joseph Saladino) was not selected for this year’s team.

The new team, however, carries plenty of credentials. Playing captain Tim Spitz was a runner-up to Nathan Smith in the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur, and he is joined on the team by fellow Rochester-area resident James Scorse, along with 2014 Yale University graduate Sam Bernstein, of the Bronx. Bernstein was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year, while Scorse has teamed with Spitz to qualify for next year’s inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at The Olympic Club.  Bernstein also has qualified for the Four-Ball Championship, with Gregory Shuman.

It’s interesting being the defending champions when you didn’t play in the event, said Spitz after New York opened with a 4-over 148 to place 16th in the 52-team field. It’s a whole new game, so you just try to do as best as you can.

As best as you can may not be reflected in New York’s opening-round score, but Spitz is confident in his team’s ability to find a groove on a difficult course. The second-round game plan is to be a little less aggressive and pick better lines – a concrete strategy on any Pete Dye design.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org. Jonathan Wilhelm is the USGA’s social media specialist. Email him at jwilhelm@usga.org.

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