Why this is a big week for 1 Tour rookie — and how he used his Monday pro-am to prepare

Jake Knapp hits drive off the fifth hole tee during the final round of the 2024 Farmers Insurance Open, at Torrey Pines.

A good performance at this week's WM Phoenix Open would go a long way for Tour rookie Jake Knapp.

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For PGA Tour rookie Jake Knapp, this week’s WM Phoenix Open is kind of a big deal. For one thing, Knapp is a local. After growing up in the Southern California beach town of Costa Mesa and attending UCLA, Knapp moved to Scottsdale in November, and he’s made TPC Scottsdale, host of this week’s tournament, his home track.

Another reason this week could be a big one for Knapp is his current PGA Tour standing. Two weeks ago, Knapp posted the best finish of his career: T3 at Torrey Pines. The performance launched him to 42nd on the FedEx Cup Points list and to the cusp of the Top 100 in the OWGR, at 106th. But more importantly, Knapp is currently No. 6 on the Aon Swing 5 ranking — a lifeline for players who aren’t already qualified for the limited-field, no-cut, guaranteed-money Signature Events. If Knapp can claw his way up one more spot, he’ll earn a berth at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera and its $20 million purse — that’s a pretty big deal for a 30-year old embarking on his first lap around the Big Show.

On Monday at TPC Scottsdale, I had the honor of caddying for my GOLF colleague Michael Bamberger in the Carlisle Pro-Am. We were lucky enough to draw Knapp as our pro, and it was a treat to watch him dissect the course. As I watched him prepare for each shot — often under the watchful eye of his swing coach, Top 100 Teacher Dana Dahlquist, who walked with him for most of our first nine, I wondered: How does a young pro, who’s under a lot of pressure to perform, make sure a five-hour pro-am round is time well-spent? Unlike a regular practice round, pros in this format have to play their own ball as part of the team score, and don’t often have the luxury of do-overs or dropping extra balls to feel out tricky chips or putts. So I asked Knapp: How do make sure you get value out of a round like this?

“Today is mainly about tee shots and approach shots,” Knapp said. “So, making sure I’m getting distances and those sorts of things dialed in. Whether it’s a pro-am or not, you can always work on that stuff. Putting, and things like that, I’m not as worried about today, because we’ll never see these pins in these locations. I’m not really trying to read the green too much, just get a general feel for pace and everything else and then leave my practice for when I putt on the putting green on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“But yeah, in pro-ams like this, just focus on lines on tee shots and then distance control and that sort of stuff.”

Dahlquist’s presence is mostly about the comfort of having a second set of eyes, Knapp said.

Scottie Scheffler of the United States plays a shot on the 14th hole during the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links on February 02, 2024 in Pebble Beach, California.
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“It’s a little bit of confirmation, knowing that things you’re doing are going in the correct direction,” he said. “And then, after having a good week at Torrey, we haven’t seen each other since then. So just making sure we kind of bounce back and forth about what I was doing well, and what I want to improve on. So, yeah, it’s just good to have another set of eyes, someone who knows when I’m hitting it well, or when I’m doing something right, what it should look like and feel like.

“I have a tendency to kind of fall back in transition and swing out to the right a little bit too much,” Knapp continued. “So he just helps me find the feels, to stay a little more on top of it, and cover the ball a little better. He knows my swing really well. He’s known me for a long time and we’ve worked on and off for a really long time together, but it’s nice having him, most weeks I would say, just for little check-ups.”

Knapp said he tries not to rely too much on technical swing work via video, but rather by focusing on feel.

“Sometimes I’ll take a video just to see what my overall kind of rhythm looks like to see if anything looks off,” he said. “But for the most part, I play a lot off just, like, ball flight. And if the ball is doing what I wanted to do, I just kind of try to feel it out there the best I can.

“We’ll meet later today after I’m done, I’ll eat some lunch and then come back up and some balls with him,” Knapp continued. “We’ll work on some of things we were talking about today and then if everything is working well tomorrow, I probably won’t send any videos or do anything. I’ll just give him a thumbs up.”

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It’s that level of confidence that saw Knapp through his best finish at Torrey, where he birdied three of his final six holes to post a final round of three-under 69.

“I finally started to get some confidence in my ball striking,” he said. “I’ll tell you, this game is just all about confidence. All the guys out here are really good. It’s just a matter of who’s feeling the best in between the ears that week.”

Knapp’s towering ball flight and textbook precision should serve him well on a course like TPC Scottsdale. And while golf is fickle, if Knapp’s current game — not to mention his laid-back and personable demeanor — is any indication, it appears this could be a good week for him indeed.

Golf.com Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.