Knapp impresses McIlroy, but notes a surprising idol

Knapp impresses McIlroy, but notes a surprising idol

One of the benefits of winning on the PGA Tour is getting into more marquee groups during early tournament rounds.

Jake Knapp, fresh off his maiden Tour title at the Mexico Open, is playing alongside Rory McIlroy and defending champion Chris Kirk during the first two days of the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches.

“Not nearly as nerve-racking as I thought it was going to be, to be honest,” Knapp said Thursday afternoon. “I met [McIlroy] this morning in dining and had some casual conversation, and he's a super, super nice guy. So is Chris. It was just a good, easy morning.”

“I like to put people at ease,” McIlroy told Golf Channel’s Kira K. Dixon after their round.

Knapp shot 3-under 68 on a windless Thursday, while McIlroy and Kirk each carded 67. The early lead was 7 under, held by Chad Ramey and S.H. Kim.

Knapp, a PGA Tour rookie, was 5 under through 12 holes before back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5 (the group started on No. 10).

McIlroy, for his part, was impressed with Knapp’s game and personality.

“He could definitely be a star. It looks like he's got the full package. He's obviously got the speed. He can control that speed pretty well. He hit some beautiful shots out there today. Looks like his short game is pretty good,” McIlroy said.

“He's got charisma and we had a good chat out there for a lot of the round.”

As for what they talked about, Knapp said it was just regular conversation – with some invaluable advice.

“Just as most guys know out here, just talking about what you do in your off weeks or how often you go home and how is the family and all that kind of stuff,” Knapp said. “I tried to pick his brain about a few things for the next few weeks, and hopefully the rest of my career, and he was really generous on giving very thoughtful answers, and we just had great conversation all day.”

Knapp is making only his eighth Tour start as a professional. He was asked on Thursday if he grew up a McIlroy fan – or, perhaps, was he a Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson guy?

The 29-year-old from California said he was definitely a Tiger fan but noted a couple of others who influenced him.

“I was actually a big Luke Donald fan, big Dustin Johnson fan,” he said.

“Growing up, I was super undersized as a kid, and I didn't grow until like my junior year in high school. At the time [Donald] was around world No. 1 and [had] just an insanely good short game, really good at putting, so I tried to take after his game and focus on those two things. And then as I started to hit it farther, started to transition more into the DJ category.”

And now he’s in the Tour’s winner’s category, which means more rounds with players like McIlroy and Kirk.