Sean Knapp followed his formula to a U.S. Senior victory (USGA photo)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN (August 31, 2017) - 156 players teed off on Saturday at the 63rd U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Minikahda. By Thursday morning, 154 of them had been eliminated, and the final two,
(Raleigh, NC) and Sean Knapp
(Oakmont, PA), played for the championship in what promised to be one of the more intriguing matchups in the tournament's history.
Simson was the 66-year-old two-time champion who had plowed through his last three opponents, and Knapp was the 55-year-old senior "rookie" who earlier in the week admitted to being in "panic mode" battling high expectations
for his first U.S. Senior Amateur.
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Earlier in the week, Knapp spoke about the many conversations he has had with good friend and five-time USGA champion Nathan Smith
about handling the pressure of high expectations
, and about his tried and tested formula for approaching high-pressure matches: "playing solid golf, and forcing your opponent to make mistakes, and try to not give any holes away".
He couldn't have described the final match any better than that.
Knapp became the 63rd U.S. Senior champion on a day where he didn't record a single birdie. He played solid golf: sixteen pars and only one bogey. He didn't give any holes away. And it was Simson who would make the mistakes that would tilt the match in Knapp's favor, with Knapp rolling in a twenty footer for par on the 17th hole to close out the match 2&1.
Bobby Jones wrote that he learned to compete against "Old Man Par" in match play, as a way of detaching himself from being affected by what his opponent would do. Sean Knapp turned himself into Simson's Old Man Par, the inflexible opponent that would never give an inch, and by doing so ensured that he would be the last man standing.
Championship Match Recap
Simson made plenty, but his short
misses cost him (USGA photo)
For the third straight match, Simson birdied the first hole, rolling in an eight-footer for birdie. But in a foreshadowing of things to come, he would give the hole right back at the second, leaving his approach short in the bunker and missing his five-foot par putt. Knapp made a seven-foor par putt on the third for the halve and they moved to the par-five fourth.
On the fourth, Simson chipped it close for birdie while Knapp blasted his bunker shot over the green, and Simson was back to one up. But once again Simson would give back a hole with a short miss, this time from just over three feet on the par-three sixth, and the match was back to all square.
Simson took his third lead of the match at the par-five ninth, hitting his approach to five feet and converting. But for the third time, he could not sustain the advantage, three-putting the par-four 10th and falling back to all square.
Simson's putting woes continued on the next hole with a second straight three putt, and for the first time in the match Knapp had the lead. A par save from over the 12th green kept Knapp in front, but Simson squared the match again at the par-five 13th, wedging it close and making his three-footer for birdie.
Both players missed the green on the par-four 14th, Simson short left in the rough and Knapp just short in the fairway. Simson left his pitch 25 feet short and made bogey while Knapp was able to chip to three feet and make par, going one up in the match. Neither player was able to convert his birdie putt on the 15th, and Knapp remained one up with three holes to play.
At this point Simson had little room for error, and Knapp had shown that he was not going to give Simson anything. Perhaps pressing, Simson made a sloppy double bogey six, and Knapp was now two up with two to play.
The moment you become a USGA champion
The match would end on the 17th. Simson hit his approach to about 40 feet away, while Knapp bunkered his approach shot, and blasted out to about 20 feet. After Simson rolled his putt to within four feet, Knapp had a putt to either win or likely go to the 18th tee just one up. With about three feet to go, he knew it was in and he let his putter go and his hat fly as the jubilation of becoming a USGA champion washed over him.
And so the Senior "rookie" beat the older champion, and joined him on the U.S. Senior Championship trophy. The two will see each other again next summer: as a result of making the final match, the two champions are exempt into the 2018 U.S. Senior Open at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO.
On his way to the championship, Knapp knocked out three U.S. Senior past champions: Doug Hanzel
(2013), the defending champion Dave Ryan
(2016), and Simson (2010, 2012). With the code finally cracked after over 40 tries in USGA events, no one would be surprised if Knapp were to repeat the feat next year as the championship moves to Eugene Country Club in Oregon.
Final Result of the 63rd U.S. Senior Amateur
ABOUT THE U.S. Senior Amateur
The USGA Senior Amateur is open to those
with a USGA Handicap Index of 7.4 or lower,
who are 55 or older on or before the day the
championship begins. It is one of 14 national
championships conducted annually by the
USGA, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
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