Jake Knapp was an O.C. bouncer. Now he's Masters bound after winning Mexico Open, $1.45 million

Jake Knapp of the United States is showered with water bottles as he celebrates after winning the Mexico Open golf tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Jake Knapp is showered with water bottles as the 29-year-old PGA Tour rookie celebrates after winning the Mexico Open in Vallarta on Sunday. (Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

One-time Costa Mesa bar bouncer Jake Knapp lives by two acronyms, one a reminder of how good he has it these days, the other an intensely personal cue he literally wears under his sleeve.

The PGA Tour rookie from UCLA and Estancia High in Costa Mesa won in his ninth career start Sunday at the Mexico Open near Puerto Vallarta, taking home $1.458 million, moving into the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings, and earning invitations to the Masters, the PGA Championship and the remaining five $20-million signature events.

So, yes, he's "living the dream," as his @KnappTime_LTD handle on X (formerly Twitter) references. The other acronym was visible during the follow through of every swing en route to his 19-under-par 265: tattooed on his arm are the letters GSFB, which stand for Gordon Sydney Frederick Bowley, his grandfather who died at age 85 in April.

Knapp, 29, still shoots him text messages after every round, and succeeding on the Tour was a dream Bowley instilled and his grandson fulfilled.

After tapping in for a par on 18, Knapp pointed to the sky as he walked off the green and said, “Papa, thank you."

Knapp also began his day talking to his grandfather.

"I had a little conversation with him this morning and talked about the day, and wished he could be here to watch it and experience it," Knapp said after the round. "He's one of those guys who, if I got down on myself or got nervous, he's the kind that would whack me on the back of the head and say, 'Get to work.'"

Read more: Costa Mesa's Gordon Bowley remembered as a big-hearted advocate for youth sports

Knapp began the final round with a four-shot lead but lost it through the first seven holes, plagued by a balky driver. He hit only two fairways, the fewest in the final round by a PGA Tour winner in the past 40 years, according to golf statistician Justin Ray. But Knapp pulled two shots ahead of Sami Valimaki of Finland with a birdie on 14 and his clutch short game helped him maintain the lead.

Jake Knapp tees off on the 11th hole during the final round of the Mexico Open
Jake Knapp tees off on the 11th hole during the final round of the Mexico Open. (Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

Knapp learned toughness during a nine-month stint as a bouncer at a Costa Mesa watering hole a couple years ago.

"It was mostly people being drunk and stupid," he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Yeah, there were fights every night.”

He reflected on that low-paying, high-stress job during the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines a month ago, emphasizing that he bounced out of the bouncer gig as soon as he could. He finished tied for third that week, taking home $477,000, by far his best finish on the Tour until Sunday.

“It was just a speed bump [of a job]," he said. "I think I always knew this was my potential.”

Read more: PGA Tour rookie Jake Knapp wins Mexico Open to earn spot at the Masters

Knapp spent four seasons on the Canadian tour and two on the Korn Ferry Tour until earning a PGA Tour card.

"If I look back on my career as a whole, I always struggle the first jump on," he said. "Now that I feel my feet are under me, I know myself and what I'm doing, it feels like the right time."

Knapp's family held a watch party in Costa Mesa over the weekend and his girlfriend, Makena White, surprised him by flying to Puerto Vallarta to catch the final round.

Family was on his mind. The "living the dream" line is something repeated by him and his older brother, Ryan, who played golf at UC Irvine and Orange Coast College. And their grandfather had his own time-worn expression whenever Knapp played well on his way to the PGA Tour.

"'Winner, winner, chicken dinner,' that was his go-to," Knapp said. "And, 'Cigars on me when we get home.'"

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.