Senior Open to Publinx, Knapp keeps grinding

Sean Knapp (left) lost to long-time friend Nathan Smith in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

Sean Knapp (left) lost to long-time friend Nathan Smith in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur.

LORTON, Va. – A week ago, Sean Knapp was in Omaha, Neb., getting ready to compete against the world's best 50-and-older players in the U.S. Senior Open.

This week, he’s in suburban Washington, competing in yet another U.S. Golf Association championship – the 34th of his career – at the U.S. Amateur Public Links at Laurel Hill Golf Club.

Here, Knapp, 51, of Oakmont, Pa., is one of the rare “old-timers” among the 156 players in a field whose average age is 23.6.

“The older guys, these younger guys, they’re all good. It’s just a different kind of good,” said Knapp, who has won just about everything there is to win in Pennsylvania golf over the years. “You just get yourself prepared and go out and play.”

He’s done just that so far in his eighth APL start. After qualifying as the No. 33 seed, Knapp followed Wednesday morning by defeating Jon Trasamar, 22, a fifth-year senior at Minnesota, in the opening round of match play.

It was an intense match that Knapp squared with an eagle on the par-5 18th hole – then won with a par on the 19th.

“I just kept plugging along. When you’ve played in as many USGA events at match play as I have, you learn to stay patient and never give up,” said Knapp, who in past USGA championships has lost in match play to the likes of Tiger Woods, Luke Donald, Notah Begay and his close friend Nathan Smith, the four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion.

Knapp was 2 down after 10 holes, but won the 11th and 14th with pars to square things. Trasamar grabbed the edge with a birdie at 17 to place big-time pressure on Knapp, a two-time U.S. Mid-Am semifinalist.

At 18, Knapp knew he had to go for broke. He hit driver onto the fairway, some 220 yards from the water-guarded green. He then cut a hybrid shot to 30 feet, but Trasamar played safe and knocked his third shot some 5 feet from the hole.

“I made it; he didn’t, and on we went,” Knapp said.

He continued to make it exciting at the first extra hole, No. 1. Both players missed the green, and while Trasamar had a 6-footer for par, Knapp was still some 18 feet away and off the green after three shots.

Knapp chipped in, and Trasamar missed his putt.

“I feel bad for Jon,” Knapp said. “He’s an outstanding young player. I’ve gone through the same thing a number of times over the years. But I also know that’s the game of golf. Sometimes it works in your favor; sometimes it doesn’t. Today, for me, it did.”

At last week’s U.S. Senior Open, Knapp was 3 under and leading the tournament eight holes into his round. Then it was downhill after that, as he went on to miss the cut by three strokes.

“Talk about going from pillar to post. That was certainly the case,” Knapp said. “I pride myself in handling tough situations. I didn’t do that at the Senior Open, but I did do it today.”

Playing against the younger guys is nothing new for Knapp, who is vice president of sales at Fuhrer’s Inc., a financial company.

“Each year I usually play in a lot of big events against these young guys,” Knapp said. “I understand how good the talent is out there.”

To reach Saturday’s championship match, Knapp will have to play 36 holes in each of the next two days. Not only is he used to it, but he trains for it all year.

Although he doesn’t get to play much during the week while he’s home, he does play 36 holes every Saturday and Sunday – and carries his own bag.

“That’s my time to get myself conditioned both physically and mentally,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve played in a lot of events that require a 36-hole day. You have to prepare yourself so when you face one of these situations you’re ready and not going out there just hoping. And, I’m not talented enough to hope. I have to know.”

Next up for Knapp is the opening match Thursday in the Round of 32 against Joshua Stone, 23, of Stockton, Calif,, who upset this year’s qualifying medalist Garrett Rank, 25, of Elmira, Ontario, on the 19th hole.

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