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2024 PGA Tour: Jake Knapp Takes the Crown At Mexico Open

2024 PGA Tour: Jake Knapp Takes the Crown At Mexico Open

In a pro career that spans less than a decade, 29-year-old Jake Knapp has seen more troughs than crests since joining the money ranks of professional golf in 2016. On February 25, however, the Tour rookie and former nightclub bouncer finally tasted sweet success by emerging tops at the 2024 Mexico Open — a Latin America stopover on the PGA Tour schedule.

Jake Knapp’s final round at the Vidanta Vallarta Course was rife with drama, when he first lost the four-shot lead he carried into Sunday. But he remained unfazed and quickly restored order to notch a two-shot win with a final score of 19-under 265 (67, 64, 63, 71).

From nightclub bouncer to PGA Tour champ: Jake Knapp’s journey to the Mexico Open

Taking the long route to victory is something that Knapp knows all too well and has persevered throughout. There have been doubts along the way, especially when he lost his Korn Ferry Tour card  — his feeder line to the PGA Tour — in 2021 after making it from the PGA Tour Canada as a winner in 2019.

The latter could have been a career-ending moment, but Knapp chose to walk away to gain perspective. Golf had defined him till then, and when it became a cause of pain, he knew he had to take a step back and recalibrate. His bank balance was at an all-time low, so he took up a job as a nightclub bouncer in his home town of Costa Mesa, California.

This experience helped him to focus on other things beyond golf. He never stopped practising his sport, but staying away from the anxiety of making or missing the cut helped him regain his courage and confidence.

Revitalised, Knapp returned to full-time golf in 2022, and clawed his way back up. Notching personal highs on the familiar turfs of the PGA Tour Canada and Korn Ferry Tour, Knapp finally secured his PGA Tour rookie status at the end of 2023.

Going with a lesson he’s come to trust over time — “whoever digs the most dirt wins” — Knapp’s 2024 PGA Tour statistics are no reflection of his past struggles. A tied third at the Farmers Insurance Open a month ago and now the winner of the Mexico Open, Knapp has secured his playing rights on the PGA Tour through 2026, and is exempt for the remaining five Signature events on the 2024 schedule including the Players Championship, Masters Tournament, PGA Championship and The Sentry 2025.

Along with bragging rights as champion, Knapp earned 500 FedExCup points, picked up a cheque of USD 1.458 million and moved to No. 8 in the 2024 FedExCup standings. All of this in just five starts this season. Knapp is now the third rookie winner of the PGA Tour season, after Nick Dunlap and Matthieu Pavon.

Like his career chart, Knapp worked his way up in Mexico in a way that by the time Sunday closed he led the field in Birdies (25), Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (11.532) and Strokes Gained: Approach the Green (8.649).

Pillar of strength

It wasn’t a smooth path to victory at the Mexico Open. Knapp stood in danger to losing the lead to fellow rookie Sami Valimaki, who eventually finished two shots back at second. But as he has done in similar situations in the past, Knapp thought of his late grandfather’s advice. “A whack on the head and he’d be like, ‘c’mon, get to work’,” said Knapp, in an interview after the event.

Jake Knapp wins Mexico Open on the 2024 PGA Tour schedule
Jake Knapp’s “GSFB” forearm tattoo pays tribute to his late grandfather. (Image: Jake Knapp/ Instagram)

His beloved grandfather passed away from cancer last year, but Knapp has maintained his tradition of texting the latter after every round. He even has a tattoo of his grandfather’s initials on his forearm as remembrance.

When Knapp finally fulfilled their shared dream of winning on Tour, he was filled with emotion. “Twenty-nine years old and first win, there’s a lot of people who helped me along my way. Keeping them in the back of my mind and just no quit, no surrender and just grind it out.”

“It would have been, ‘winner, winner, chicken dinner’…and [my grandfather would] probably say, ‘gars on me, cigars on me’ when I get home,” he mused fondly.

A surreal experience

From striving to make doors open on tour, to suddenly being spoilt for choice in terms of playing opportunities, the Tour rookie has certainly come a long way. He’s still coming to terms that he’ll be playing the remaining five Signature events, and as for The Masters, “that part hasn’t sunk in yet”.

“That’s going to be surreal stepping on the grounds there [at the Augusta National]. [My caddie] Mike and I just keep talking about it, it’s like just keep putting in good work, keep putting ourselves in positions in these tournaments, put our heads down, go to work and good things are going to happen and sure enough this week it worked out,” Knapp said in the interview room after his win, adding that he’s grateful for the “number one experience” of his career.

Time will tell how Knapp’s career pans out, but the die has already been cast for more wins on the rest of the PGA Tour schedule. Choosing words worthy of a champion, Knapp admitted learning from both the good and bad experiences. What he did right got him the title, but there was introspection on what could have been avoided.

“I probably should have given myself a little bit more time to warm up this [Sunday] morning. I feel like I probably was rushing through it a little bit. I think next time around just get to the course a little bit earlier, get to the range a little bit earlier, give myself time, don’t feel like I’m rushing because the entire day you need to be working on lowering your heart rate, not raising it,” said Knapp.

Promising players at the PGA Tour’s Mexico Open

Another rookie’s family didn’t have to scroll down the leaderboard to track their star member’s fortunes this week. Sami Valimaki finished sole second at 17-under 267 (64, 67, 67, 69) for his best finish on the PGA Tour. Valimaki missed out on becoming the first Finn to win on the PGA Tour, but his massive improvement on his previous best (T24 at the 2022 Genesis Scottish Open) will certainly add momentum to a promising season.

A two-time winner on the DP World Tour, Valimaki came from four shots back to run Knapp close on Sunday. This made him realise that he is equipped to win on the PGA Tour after all, just that “some more putts need to roll in”.

One of the objectives of the PGA Tour’s foray into Mexico is to empower local talent with the belief that they can compete with the best. Of the eight Mexican players in the fray, Alvaro Ortiz (T13) and 2024 Latin America Amateur Championship winner Santiago De la Fuente (T46) made the cut in what was a huge validation of the hard yards at practice.

A couple of other players also left an impression. It took Justin Lower 70 starts on the PGA Tour to post his best finish and his T3 was a rung better than the T4 he achieved at the 2022 Fortinet Championship.

Similarly, Chan Kim, an eight-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour, saw his first top-10 (T8) in his 27th start in Tour.

CT Pan steps up

As a winner on the PGA Tour, CT Pan has seen better days. After missing a significant portion of 2023 with a wrist injury, the Taipei player was walking the edge. Playing on a medical exemption, Pan had to secure his card for 2024 within 13 starts.

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He put up a good fight the past weekend in Mexico, despite suffering from a high fever and cough. With seasoned caddie Mike Cowan on the bag, Pan matched Sunday’s joint lowest round of 6-under 65 while popping painkillers.

“My caddie and I did not give up, we encouraged each other, stayed patient to fight and finally achieved a good result,” said Pan on the T3 finish which sealed his card for the 2024 season.

Rising from the lowest point of his career where his prospects hung in balance, Pan can now plan for a strong finish at The Players Championship next month, and even eye a spot at the Arnold Palmer Invitational the week before with his trademark short game.

(Main and featured image: Orlando Ramirez/ Getty Images)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

– Who won the Mexico Open golf tournament?

Jake Knapp won the Mexico Open golf tournament, which took place from February 22 to 25 at Vidanta Vallarta and is part of the 2024 PGA Tour schedule.

– How much did Jake Knapp win?

Jake Knapp won USD 1.458 million.

– Does the PGA run the US Open?

The US Open is run by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and is an event on the schedules of both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

Source: Prestige Online

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