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Kneen just the 6th amateur to win Michigan Open in 101 years
Jake Kneen (Michigan PGA photo)
Jake Kneen (Michigan PGA photo)

ACME, MI (June 14, 2018) – Jake Kneen played what he called one of the grittiest round of his life, overcame a triple-bogey bite from the Bear’s 16th hole, and held on to win the 101st Michigan Open Championship at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.

The 22-year-old amateur from White Lake shot 75 for an 8-under 280 Thursday for the two shot-win over mini-tour player James Holley of Howell, who shot 72.

“Wow, I think I had six birdies, six bogeys and a triple (bogey),” he said. “Man, it was up and down today. I just kept my head down and kept fighting. I knew I still had the lead even after the triple at 16. I just kept telling myself, ‘you are still ahead, just make some pars and steady out the round.’ Fortunately, I was able to do that.”

Kneen, a former Michigan Junior Amateur champion who just this spring was the Horizon League Golfer of the Year for Oakland University, become just the sixth amateur to win the state Open championship, and just the second in the last 43 years. Tom Werkmeister of Grandville, who became a professional this year at age 50, broke a streak of 38 wins by professionals in 2013.

“I means a lot, and just really validates a lot of the work that I’ve put in,” he said. “This is one of the biggest tournaments of the year for me personally, and it also validates what I want to do. My dream is to be a pro and me winning a tournament like this shows that it is not outrageous that I want to do that.”

As an amateur Kneen won the maximum allowed of $750 in a golf shop certificate, and the $8,000 first-place check from the purse of $55,500 went to runner-up Holley.

“There you go,” said Holley, who moved to Michigan four months ago with his fiancé and plans to go to Web.com Qualifying in the fall.

“Not bad. I just had to put an air conditioner in our house last week and it cost a lot of money. This will help with that.”

Kneen, who started the day with a three-shot lead on Eric Lilleboe and five on Holley, had a lead as big as six shots after birdies on Nos. 9 and 10, but Holley said the Bear doesn’t lend itself to a golfer pressing the issue.

“The big lead he had at the end of the day helped him,” he said. “On a course like this you can’t get too aggressive. I had to stick to my game plan and that helped me. He played good golf. He probably wants to forget about hole 16. If he made pars the whole week on 16 he probably would have won by 20.”

Kneen, who double-bogeyed 16 in Wednesday’s third round, started it the same way on Thursday with a drive right into the tall grass that lines the fairway. He had to play out to the fairway, but then missed the back left hole placement with a shot that ended up short and plugged in a deep greenside bunker. He thrashed it out to about 25 feet above the hole and off the green, left a chip on the steep hill halfway to the hole and two-putted from there.

“I made an absolute mess of 16 again,” he said. “I hit six poor shots and a good tap-in for triple.”

With his lead cut to two shots on Holley, Kneen made a two-putt par on the par 3 No. 17 hole with an 80-foot first putt from the back edge to five feet.

“I absolutely nuked a 4-iron 240 yards, adrenalin I guess, but I made a good par, and then at 18 I striped a drive, hit a good shot on the green and was able to two-putt and win,” he said. “I told myself on 17 tee ‘just make two pars, just keep grinding.’”

Former PGA Tour players Tom Gillis, awaiting age 50 and the PGA Tour Champions in five weeks, closed with a 70 for 283 and third place.

Mini-tour player Michael Nagy of Manistique, and Andrew Walker of Battle Creek, a Michigan State University golfer, shot 68s for 284 and a tie for fourth.

Mini-tour player Eric Lilleboe of Okemos, who shot 77, and Saline amateur Ian Martin, who shot 68, tied at 285.

Kneen, who starting Tuesday will play in the Michigan Amateur Championship at Country Club of Detroit and turn pro in the fall, reasoned while he had anxious moments coming down the stretch in the final round, he would prefer leading over chasing.

“I mean, if you can make a triple and still lead, that’s a good thing,” he said.

ABOUT THE Michigan Open

72-hole stroke play open to amateurs and professionals who are residents of Michigan. Starting field will consist of 156 exempt and qualified contestants. The field will be cut to the low 70 and ties after second round play.

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