May 17th, 2024

Former security guard Jake Knapp leads the Byron Nelson after 2 rounds

By Stephen Hawkins, The Associated Press on May 3, 2024.

McKINNEY, Texas (AP) – Jake Knapp is spending his weekends much differently now as a rookie on the PGA Tour, just more than two years after working security at a restaurant in his hometown that was also a late-night hotspot.

A first-time Tour winner earlier this year, Knapp went into this weekend leading the CJ Cup Byron Nelson after a second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday. At 14-under 128, he was a stroke ahead of Troy Merritt (62) and first-round leader Matt Wallace (66), and two ahead of Kelly Kraft (66).

“Even when I was doing any of that stuff, I always knew this was what I wanted to do, and felt like it’s where I should be. Just wasn’t there yet,” Knapp said. “Just kept working away and sticking at it.”

Merritt closed is season-low round with an eagle at the 531-yard ninth hole, where he hit his approach to 16 feet and made that putt. He had birdied four of the previous six holes.

Wallace finished on the same par 5 later in the day, and saved par after driving into a native area and then chunking a shot from there to under a bridge.

Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., had a 67 to remain the leading Canadian at 11-under overall, good for a four-way tie for fifth. Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., shot a 64.

Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., and Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., both missed the cut after a 69 on the day.

Hometown favorite Jordan Spieth, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 20, shot a 70 to finish at 4-under 138 and miss the cut by two strokes. On the 16th, his wayward drive ricocheted off the elbow of a male spectator back into the fairway. He still bogeyed the hole, then parred his last two.

Defending champion Jason Day closed his round with a 35-foot par putt for a 70, and was just on the cut line at 6-under 136.

Kris Kim, a 16-year-old from England, made the cut in his PGA Tour, shooting 68-67 to enter the weekend 7 under. His South Korean-born mother played on the LPGA Tour in the 1990s. He is the first amateur sponsored by South Korean Company CJ Group, the first-year sponsor of the Nelson, and is playing on a sponsor exemption.

Spieth was a 16-year-old amateur at the Nelson in 2010, when the Dallas native tied for 16th in his first PGA Tour start.

Knapp’s only bogey through the first two rounds was on his 12th hole Friday, the dogleg No. 3, where his drive went into the left rough. But he birdied four of his last six holes, that stretch starting with a 32-foot putt at the par-3, 192-yard fourth hole.

“Obviously, a putt you’re not trying to make,” he said. “Hit it a little bit harder than I would’ve liked and luckily it was on a good line and went in.”

Knapp, who turns 30 on May 31, lost his card on the developmental Korn Ferry Tour before taking the part-time job in the fall of 2021 at the place in Costa Mesa, California, where for nearly nine months he worked Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights – often until 2 or 3 a.m. The former UCLA player would practice and go to the gym in between his work shifts.

He got his third win on PGA Tour Canada in August 2022, and last year earned his PGA Tour card by finishing the season 13th on the Korn Ferry Tour. He won the Mexico Open in his fifth start this season, and his ninth overall, including two as an amateur in 2015.

His PGA Tour biography also touts that he can solve a Rubik’s Cube, loves to work out and would pursue a career in the fitness industry if he wasn’t playing golf.

“Yeah, few interesting ones about me,” Knapp said. “I do my best to, I’m kind of a golf-only guy. Just play a lot of golf and practice a lot. That’s been my focus for the last four, five years.”

At TPC Craig Ranch north of Dallas, Knapp hit 16 of 18 greens each of the first two rounds. He also had the same number of putts (28) both days, though the combined distance of those shots on the greens went from 75 feet on Thursday to 139 feet on Friday.

“For the most part hitting it pretty solid and keeping in the right areas. Made it relatively easy on myself.” Knapp said. “Early on in the year felt like I was putting well, and for the last month or so the stroke felt the same and ball wasn’t going in the hole. … Nice to see a few more going in.”

Merritt opened his round with consecutive birdies before a three-putt bogey at No. 12, though he got that stroke right back with a 52-foot chip-in at No. 13. He made only his second cut in his past six tournaments, and finished 67th in the other one.

“It’s fantastic, especially when you hit the ball solid and making a lot putts,” said Merritt, who is in his 331st PGA Tour event and last won in 2018. “You’re not accidentally there. You’ve actually played well to get there. I haven’t done that. I’ve accidently back-doored a couple top 10s last fall.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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