KELOWNA, British Columbia — It was on this course three years ago this week that Jake Knapp got his first real taste of professional golf. The wide-eyed UCLA product had earned his way into the GolfBC Championship by way of that Monday’s open qualifier and finished with a promising T45 showing.
Knapp hopes to celebrate his anniversary here later this weekend with a win, and he took the first steps toward that goal on Thursday with an opening 7-under 64. Grant Leaver trails him by one stroke, while Drew McCullough, Patrick Fishburn and David Pastore all sit two shots back at 5 under.
“This place holds a little sentimental value to me, and my dad came up and caddied for me that event, too,” Knapp said. “It’s just a great event and it’s one of my favorite venues to come to. It’s one of the most scenic golf courses we play and the city is great. It’s definitely a special event for me.”
Knapp is still riding high from his comeback victory last month at the season-opening Canada Life Open, where he roared back from a five-shot deficit on Sunday to claim his first career win. He built on that momentum Thursday, when he posted a front-nine 30 to overtake Leaver atop the leaderboard.
Knapp, who started on the back, made the turn at 1-under before going birdie-eagle-birdie over his next three holes. The highlight came at the par-4 second, when he holed out his approach shot from 117 yards. He closed with birdies on three of his last four holes, including a 40-footer from the fringe at No. 7. The 25-year-old later got up-and-down from the bunker at the ninth to take the lead for good.
“It’s nice to see some of those goes in,” he said. “When you shoot 7-under you have to have one of those (long putts), or you have to have something like that hole out. Little rounds like that get you jumpstarted. It was a little bit of a slow start, so it was nice to keep carrying on and see some putts go in on the back.”
His strong finish was enough to overcome Leaver, who connected on a 20-foot birdie putt at the 18th to temporarily pull into the lead. The 33-year-old used a solid putting performance to piece together his best round in more than a year, as he rolled in multiple birdies from 12- to 15-feet.
“I was converting, I was scoring,” Leaver said. “I had two good saves down the stretch when I needed it. It kind of fell together. I definitely hit my share of bad shots out there, but it never really hurt me. I chipped out a few times and made bogeys but minimized it.”
- Knapp has encountered success at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club before, as he finished tied for ninth here in 2017.
- With a win this week, Jake Knapp would become the second player to claim the GolfBC Championship after opening the season with a victory in Vancouver. Dan McCarthy also accomplished the feat in 2016, the inaugural year of the Kelowna event.
- Grant Leaver’s 65 was his best score in more than a calendar year. He carded a 64 last May at the Web.com Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation.
- The lows Canadian are Riley Wheeldon and amateur Chris Crisologo, who bothshot a 3-under 68 to pull into a tie for 16th.
- Paul Barjon opened with a 1-under 70 and is currently tied for 37th. Barjon won the Bayview Place DCBank Open presented by Times Colonist two weeks ago, his first win on the Mackenzie Tour since 2016. The New Caledonia native is the top-ranked player on the Order of Merit.
- Doc Redman, ranked No. 3 on the Order of Merit behind Barjon and Knapp, shot 1-under. He is tied for 37th. Brian Carlson, ranked No. 4, opened with a 7-over 78, with Canadian James Allenby, ranked No. 5, posted a 2-over 73.
- Drew McCullough is in a three-way tie for third after posting a 5-under 66. He claimed the last open qualifier spot on Monday after outlasting Mathias Lynne Schjolberg on the second playoff hole.
- 14-year-old amateur Cooper Humphreys posted a 5-over 76, with birdies at Nos. 5 and 6. He is the second 14-year-old in as many events to play on the Mackenzie Tour, after Abhay Gupta posted a 4-over 144 at the Bayview Place DCBank Open presented by Times Colonist. They are the youngest players to ever compete in a Mackenzie Tour event.
“The only thing that changes in your confidence. Anytime you can win on any Tour it feels good, and you know you’re doing the right things. Just staying consistent with the work that I’ve been doing. Day to day I’m trying to do the same thing to give myself the best chance to win. It seems to be working, so I’ve just got to keep plugging away.” – Jake Knapp on his hot start
“If you don’t get off to a good start here, it’s not necessarily that you can’t make it later on … but it puts you behind the 8-ball a little bit and mentally it gets a little tougher. You start thinking a little bit more about the money list. I think I’ve freed myself up to get out there and go play and give myself as many chances to win as I can.” – Jake Knapp
“I hit a good shot and knew it was going to be somewhat close. The guy behind the green was pointing that one in. That’s always a bonus when you can get one of those to fall. That doesn’t happen too often.” – Jake Knapp on his hole out for eagle at No. 2
“I’ve come to expect nothing but surprises when it comes to golf. That’s what keeps me optimistic when I’m feeling down, and level-headed when I feel good. I try to keep myself even keeled. It’s just about numbers. No matter how the shot looks, if you can put it in the fairway, find the greens and your putter can make some, anything is possible as far as scores. Especially out here.” – Grant Leaver
“My dad encouraged me to try and take advantage of small opportunities and get back to where I know I can play. Whether that will happen or not, I don’t know. I haven’t felt very confident about that recently, but rounds like this definitely help. It gets you back to feeling like you know you can win, and that’s really all it takes.” – Grant Leaver on continuing his career
“I’ve always said that if I felt like I had reached my potential and wasn’t good enough that I would give it up. I still knew I hadn’t reached my potential just because I’ve been struggling. It started last year on the Web.com Tour when I really started struggling mentally. I didn’t want to give up then, didn’t want to quit on a down (note).” – Grant Leaver
“I wasn’t very nervous. Maybe a little bit, but there wasn’t a lot of pressure. I just wanted to go out and have fun and play my best. I had fun, but overall, I wasn’t thrilled with how I played. My putting was decent, but my iron play was not good today. But there is always tomorrow.” – 14-year-old Cooper Humphreys
First-Round Weather: Sunny. High of 32. Wind WSW at 22 kph.