Knapp Time? This Pennsylvania Family Never Sleeps on Golf August 23, 2019 By Dave Shedloski

Kensey Knapp (left) and her father, Sean, the 2017 U.S. Senior Amateur champion, have a special bond through golf. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Senior Amateur Home

Sean Knapp and his wife, Suzanne, and their two daughters might just comprise one of the most avidly consumed golf families in America. And we’re about to share a story validating such a claim.

The daughters, Kensey and Taylor, separated by six years, both have June birthdays. Kensey was born on the 2nd, Taylor on the 5th. That was not at all a mere coincidence. 

Start in 1994. Sean, who this week prepares for his third appearance in the U.S. Senior Amateur – after winning in 2017 and finishing runner-up to Jeff Wilson last year – had plans to play in the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur in Johnstown, Pa., for the first time in several years, but he didn’t want to miss Kensey’s birth. Suzanne, mindful of her husband’s golf aspirations, asked the obstetrician if they could speed up Kensey’s arrival. They induced on the Thursday before the tournament. 

The date was June 2. Sean finished second the next week.

The same scenario confronted Sean and Suzanne in 2000. The doctor was ready. “He said to Suzanne, ‘Hey, isn’t the Sunnehanna next week? Want to schedule for this Thursday?’” Sean recalled the doc asking.

Taylor arrived on June 5. Yep, Sean finished fifth the next week.

“I figured, well, I’m never going to win it,” said Knapp, who has played in the event more than 25 times. “Though we did try to get around it.”

The Knapps decided to adopt a dog from the local animal shelter. They brought home a Sheltie Terrier on June 1 and named him Scamper. “Yeah, that didn’t work,” Sean said with a laugh. “Got a nice dog, though.”

Fortunately, Knapp has had more luck in the U.S. Senior Amateur.

His victory two years ago at the Minikahda Club in Minneapolis represented a breakthrough in USGA championships after coming up empty in 40 previous individual competitions. (He teamed with best friend Nathan Smith and Mike Van Sickle to win the 2009 USGA Men’s State Team Championship). His 2-and-1 win over Paul Simson came in his first year of eligibility, and when he arrived home in Oakmont, Pa., Suzanne, Kensey and Taylor had the place decked out, “like I was arriving for the prom,” Sean said.

All was right with the world, and it was only going to get better. Knapp was invited to the inaugural Celebration of Champions at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., and later that summer he enjoyed exemptions into the U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor Resort and the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. 

“That was the year of a lifetime,” Sean said of 2018.

Kensey, who like her father grew up working as a caddie at famed Oakmont Country Club, was on Sean’s bag for both events, and at the U.S. Senior Open, a photo was taken of the two of them walking off the 18th green, arm in arm. Both keep the snapshot on their respective mobile phones. 

At Pebble Beach, a photograph of all four Knapps was taken on the iconic 18th hole off Stillwater Cove. Sean had competed in the 1999 U.S. Amateur at Pebble and gotten a photo of himself with Suzanne and Kensey. He wanted to make sure Taylor made it into the frame this time.

“It sounds corny, but the golf didn’t really matter that much to me, though I was excited about playing,” said Knapp, who missed qualifying for match play. “It was just the fact that we were all together. It was truly a magical year.”

Kensey was on the bag for her father again in late June at the U.S. Senior Open at the Warren Course at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. The family, minus Scamper, was all together again. This time Sean called it “a blessing.”

Indeed, it was. In December 2018, at the end of that magical year, Kensey was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was gearing up for her final semester at Penn State University, hoping to graduate in May. The news was devastating to the close-knit family. But Kensey set a goal. She had been carrying her father’s bag in events since she was 14 years old, the first time coming in the West Penn Open. Sean nearly won it, shooting 66 in the first round, but four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith emerged with the title.

Kensey underwent a month of radiation treatment and was determined to make it to South Bend. She came through the radiation tired but hopeful. So far, it appears that she is in remission, but doctors are monitoring her progress. Despite the sweltering heat in South Bend, she persevered.

“We set a goal to be here. And we’re here,” Kensey said after the second round at Notre Dame, where Sean missed the cut. “We wanted to see what we could do. We didn’t quite have the week we had hoped for, but we had the week we wanted, which is to be here together.”

“My sister is a fighter,” Taylor said. “She’s an inspiration.”

Sean agreed, though it hasn’t translated over to his golf. He also missed the cut at last week’s U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, although he harbored the notion that the No. 2 and revamped No. 4 courses might be too long and trying for him at 57 years old.

He probably missed Kensey, who wasn’t on the bag at Pinehurst. And she won’t be on the bag this week at Old Chatham after hoping she might get another go-around with dad this year. But it’s all good. It’s just that her new job as an analyst at DHL in Harrisburg, Pa. – her first after graduation – prevents her from taking the time off.

“Either she makes too much money, or she can’t get away,” Sean joked. “I don’t think it’s the money.

“Sadly, she may be retired [from caddie duties],” he added. “That’s what made the Senior Open even more special. That’s why Pebble Beach is a memory our whole family cherishes. That year we had … again, it was incredible. And then there were some trials after that. And that’s OK. We got through it.

“How can we feel anything except extremely lucky?”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work regularly appears on USGA digital channels.

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