Rookie pro obliterates front nine record to take the lead, then gets emotional

Jake Knapp at the Mexico Open

Poised third-round play by Jake Knapp gave way to tearful post-round emotions.

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On his long, grinding road to the PGA Tour, Jake Knapp worked as a security guard at a club in Costa Mesa, Calif., a job that he says helped him develop a thick skin.

The 29-year-old Tour rookie looked plenty tough, all right, during Saturday’s third round of the Mexico Open, where he showed little emotion while seizing the lead on the strength of an eight-under 63.

But golf is one thing. Real life is another. And when asked about the latter, after his round, Knapp’s impassive manner shifted. His voice broke and his eyes welled with tears.

It happened as he responded to a question about the initials tattooed on his upper left arm. The letters read ‘GSFB’ and they pay homage to Knapp’s grandfather, Gordon Bowles, who died last year, at 85, as the 2023 season was getting underway.

“I got a matching one with my cousin, ” Knapp said of the tattoo, which he chose to have imprinted in a visible place. “I know that that’s like an area I wanted to save just because I know it’s seen in like every single golf photo. I wanted to make sure it’s seen every time when I finish.”

He then choked up again and apologized.

“Haven’t gotten asked about him before,” he said.

In a game known for fostering inter-generational ties, Knapp and his grandfather built especially strong bonds. A fixture at family dinners on Sunday night, Gordon, Knapp said, was also “the guy I talked to after every single round.”

They would have had plenty to discuss after Knapp’s performance on Saturday. Paired with local favorite and Mexico native Alvaro Otiz, Knapp opened with a searing front-side 28, the lowest nine-hole score in tournament history. Though he cooled off on the back side, he will enter Sunday with a four-shot lead, his first final-round lead as a professional.

Arriving at this potentially career-changing moment wasn’t easy. A graduate of UCLA, Knapp turned pro in 2016 and struggled on the PGA Tour Canada before scrapping his way onto the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020, where he spent another three years honing his game.

Along the way, Knapp worked nighttime security at The Country Club, in Costa Mesa, where he earned a modest wage and gained a rich dose of perspective. 

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“I think standing there at one in the morning every Friday and Saturday night, you know realize how good you have it when you get to travel and play golf for a living,” Knapp said. 

The job, he said, also made him gritty. But not so hardened that he lost his soft spot for things that really matter. 

“Just very thankful to have a grandparent that was so close and so involved in my professional life and just our lives in general,” said.

Though he can’t speak directly with his grandfather anymore, Knapp he still texts him after every round.

What would be his message from Mexico?

“Just that I miss him, miss talking to him, wish he could see it,” Knapp said. “It was always my dream and his dream as well for me to get out here.”

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