U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Knapp Lowers Expectations, Raises Level of Play
August 27, 2017 | Minneapolis, Minn.
By Dave Shedloski
Sean Knapp is enjoying his second athletic career considerably more than his first, having squared off against Tiger Woods in the U.S. Amateur and being paired with Tom Watson in the U.S. Senior Open. And at 55, he is far from finished attempting to accomplish more.
That’s why on Sunday morning at The Minikahda Club in the second round of stroke play at the U.S. Senior Amateur, Knapp gave himself a stern talking to about where his game was headed. Early on, it looked like it was bound for out of town after he bogeyed the first two holes, inching closer to the cutline for the top 64 players who advance to match play.
“I was in the panic mode,” Knapp admitted. “It’s a different environment for me. There were expectations, and I wasn’t living up to them. After the two bogeys, I said to myself, that’s it. If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down fighting. And I turned things around. I actually got more relaxed. I was playing such defensive golf, and not executing at all. It was a continuation of the first day, and I just said I’m not going to do that anymore.”
The Pittsburgh native, who was playing with a backup driver after cracking his primary club during Saturday’s opening 76, immediately sank a 12-footer for birdie. He played his final 16 holes without a bogey to card a 1-under-par 71 and easily advance into Monday’s Round of 64 at 3-over 147.
He appeared more relieved than satisfied. In one respect, he hadn’t yet accomplished anything in his first start in the U.S. Senior Amateur after turning 55 in March.
“Nathan Smith [a five-time USGA champion from Pittsburgh] is a good friend of mine, and the concept we talk about a lot is dealing with pressure when you’re expected to win,” Knapp said. “He faces that all the time. I’m not talking about winning here, but making the cut is the same feeling. You expect to at least make the cut, and everyone around you expects you to do that.
“I’ve been playing great all year, a lot of ‘young guy’ tournaments, results have been good, but for the last two or three weeks I’ve been iffy. Then I cracked my driver last night. You think, ‘What else can happen?’ But now I’ll be OK. The hard part is over. Now it’s a matchup game. Going to have to play well and get a little lucky.”
A three-sport standout in high school, Knapp didn’t start playing golf until he was 19 years old when he took a summer job as a caddie at venerable Oakmont Country Club. “I fell in love with the game right away,” said Knapp, who played college basketball at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Natural athletic talent and coaching from his brother-in-law, Robert Stoner, who is a teaching professional, turned him into a top-flight amateur player. In addition to numerous titles in Western Pennsylvania, Knapp has competed in 42 USGA championships and was a member of winning Pennsylvania team in the USGA State Team Championship in 2009. In 1995, he lost to Woods, 2 and 1, in the U.S. Amateur’s Round of 16, and in the third round of 2012 U.S. Senior Open he found himself paired with Watson.
“I say this all the time, but a lot of athletes, they have their time, and it’s a very glorious time. But it ends. I feel so blessed to get a second chance with golf and do it in a way that I could only dream of in basketball,” said Knapp, who twice has been a semifinalist in the U.S. Mid-Amateur. “It’s really cool. That’s the reason this game is so great.”
It’s also great because of the friendships that players forge, even as fellow competitors. Knapp is rooming this week with David Brown of Ligonier, Pa., who held a share of the lead after Round 1 of stroke play. They recently roomed together while playing in their state match-play tournament, beating a host of younger players along the way.
“I felt like I played the whole Temple University team, watching them all bomb it 380 [yards],” Knapp joked.
As they continued to advance toward the final, they decided that in order to improve their chances of playing in the U.S. Senior Amateur, they should compete in different sectional qualifiers.
“It didn’t seem right that we not be in Senior Am together,” Knapp explained. “So we decided that whoever lost the next day would have to go to Philly or wherever. I had to play Nathan Smith in the morning, so naturally I lose. Dave won. I was going to tell him I would go to Philly, but he says, ‘Too late. I woke up at 3 a.m. and entered. I’m going to Philly. You go to Pittsburgh.’
“And here we are.”
And thanks to his determined rally, here is where Knapp is staying, for at least one more day. And whatever happens, he was feeling good about pulling himself out of the doldrums and reaching match play.
“I just feel really blessed about the whole experience of playing this game,” he said. “And I’m excited going forward.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.