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Being recognized, Augusta National tee times and lunch with Jack Nicklaus: Jake Knapp’s star is rising

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Ever since Jake Knapp won the Mexico Open at Vidanta last month, his life has changed. Instead of hearing fans say, “hey, player, will you come and sign this,” he said they actually know his name, and he has been recognized in the grocery store and restaurants, even last night.

“This lady asked me if I was Rickie Fowler,” Knapp recalled, though not a ringing endorsement for his new-found popularity. “I said, ‘No,’ and then it sunk in and she was like, ‘Wait, you won Mexico. My husband and I were watching. We were so excited.’ I was like, all right, that changed a lot from Rickie Fowler.”

A lot has changed for Knapp, who played his college golf at UCLA, since he claimed his maiden victory on the PGA Tour as a 29-year-old rookie and cashed a seven-figure check. Now, he’s making his debut appearance at the 2024 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course.

Knapp surprised even himself the way he controlled his emotions down the stretch in Mexico, noting his face tingled on the 18th green. He took a deep breath and asked his caddie how many putts he could take and still win.

“Just go hit your first putt,” his caddie said. “You’re going to be fine.”

2024 Players Championship
2024 Players Championship

Jake Knapp of the United States speaks to the media during the First Timers Press Conference prior to THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 13, 2024 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Fellow Bruin Patrick Cantlay remembers playing with Knapp when he was a high school senior and Knapp a freshman in the California high school state championship, and said, “He didn’t hit it as far as he does now.”

Knapp took a long and winding road to the Tour, bottoming out two years when he lost his Korn Ferry Tour status. His hard work finally began paying dividends last season as he recorded 13 top-10 finishes and earned his PGA Tour card for the first time.

“If you’re good, really, really good, you’re going to make it out here eventually and have success,” Cantlay said. “From relatively unknown to winning and then top-10ing a couple times on Tour, I mean that’s what’s so great about our game.”

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The story of Knapp working as a bouncer to make ends meet during his lean year grabbed headlines when he won but he said that narrative has been overplayed.

“Just slightly,” he said. “People love to talk about how I was a bouncer but I’m not a bouncer that decided to play golf. I’ve been playing golf since I’m 3 years old. I’ve been a pretty good junior, a pretty good amateur and a decent pro. It feels like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

That has included a featured-group pairing with Rory McIlroy at the Cognizant Classic in which he more than held his own.

“It feels very normal-ish,” he said of being admitted into the higher ranks of the game, including a spot in last week’s limited-field, signature event at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But he conceded that getting an email that his invitation to the Masters has been delivered – he’s been on the road four straight weeks and won’t get to open it until next week – booking a practice round for next week at Augusta National and lining up a lunch with Jack Nicklaus to pick his brain on how to play the Masters venue qualifies as surreal.

“Stuff like that doesn’t feel very real,” he said.

Knapp played in The Jake, the Golden Bear’s charity event at the Bear’s Club, and went over and shook his hand, smiled for pictures and then said, “I’d love to ask for some tips if you have any.”

Said Knapp: “I want to let him rant and take notes. He told me there are only six tough shots. You’re saying there’s not a single other tough shot on the golf course? Sounds good. I’m only going to prepare for those six.”

Knapp’s time is now, and he’s not sleeping on any of the opportunities.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek