Rookie Jake Knapp earns first PGA Tour win at 2024 Mexico Open at Vidanta

When Jake Knapp texts his grandfather, as he does after every round, he can report that he did it, holding on to win his first PGA Tour title at the Mexico Open at Vidanta at Vallarta, Mexico.

It wasn’t always pretty in the final round on Sunday at Vidanta Vallarta as Knapp closed with an even-par 71 for a two-stroke victory over Sami Valimaki.

Knapp’s grandfather, Gordon Bowley, died of colon cancer in April after a two-year battle, and Knapp and his cousin both got matching tattoos with the initials GSFB – for their grandpa’s full name of Gordon Sydney Frederick Bowley – just below his left bicep so that it would be visible during his swing. Asked what his grandfather would think of his victory, Knapp said, “He would be pumped. He’d probably say, ‘Yo, dude, good playing. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.’ So, Papa, thank you.”

Knapp appeared to put a sleeper hold on the tournament in the third round with birdies on seven of his first nine holes on Saturday en route to shooting 63 and grabbing a four-stroke lead entering the final round.

But Sundays are payday and Knapp, a 29-year-old rookie who played his college golf at UCLA, had never held the lead on the Tour let alone the Korn Ferry Tour, where he graduated to the big leagues after recording 10 top-10s last season. Knapp is a late bloomer, having turned pro in 2016 but lost Korn Ferry Tour status in 2021 and was mired outside the top thousand in the world as recently as May of 2022 (No. 1476).

Two years ago, he was out of money and worked as a bouncer for roughly nine months at a restaurant/bar in his hometown of Costa Mesa, and also did a stint as security at weddings, which is where he met his sports psychologist.

He was making just his ninth career Tour start and fifth this season, which included a T-3 at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

The final round turned into a two-man race between a pair of rookies and fellow hockey fans seeking their first Tour title. Knapp sports the logo of the Anaheim Ducks on the right sleeve of his shirt while Finland’s Sami Valimaki has a cousin, Juuso, who is a defenseman for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, and when asked to describe his skating skills, claimed, “I think still better than him.”

On Sunday, Knapp struggled off the tee, hitting just two fairways, the fewest fairways hit by a Tour winner in the last 40 years. That included snap-hooking his drive into the water at the third, leading to his second bogey in his first three holes. After shooting 28 on the front nine on Saturday, he shot eight strokes higher a day later. After making 23 birdies in the first three rounds, he’d make just two on Sunday.

When Valimaki, 25 and already a two-time winner on the DP World Tour, drove the seventh green to 6 feet and rolled in the eagle putt, Knapp’s overnight advantage, the largest 54-hole lead of the season, was gone. Knapp noted that his grandpa never would let him get down.

“He would just kind of whack me on the back of the head and be like, ‘C’mon, get to work,’” Knapp said.

That he did. It didn’t hurt that Valimaki made two bogeys on the final nine and managed just one birdie while Knapp followed his own advice, settling in and pitching to 2 feet for birdie at the par-5 14th and keeping his card clean to finish with a 72-hole total of 19-under 265.

“I feel like I have the game to win over here, it just wasn’t this Sunday,” said Valimaki, who closed with 69. “I mean, I was four behind, yesterday was Jake’s day and he kept it going on the back nine so I feel like I didn’t lose it today.”

Knapp choked up recounting how he spent family Sunday dinners with his grandfather and that he was the person he talked to after every single round. Asked what he would be texting him after Saturday’s stellar performance that sent him on his way to victory, Knapp said, “Wish he could see it. It was always like my dream and his dream as well for me to get out here.”

But there was no doubting the response on Sunday after becoming a Tour champion: Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Source: GolfWeek