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Sean Knapp denied repeat title at U.S. Senior Amateur

September 25, 2018

Sean Knapp on the ninth tee during the round of 16 at the 2018 U.S. Senior Amateur at Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Ore. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. (Copyright USGA/J.D. Cuban)

Oakmont’s Sean Knapp played against the owner of a car dealership in the championship match of the 64th U.S. Senior Amateur.

But Jeff Wilson, the man who denied Knapp a repeat title Thursday in Eugene, Ore. with a 2 & 1 victory in the 18-hole final, isn’t some secondhand gas-guzzler with too many miles.

He’s a souped-up Cadillac.

“How is this his first win?,” Knapp asked in a USGA post-match press conference. “Anybody that’s played amateur golf at a high level has known Jeff Wilson. He’s a superstar. You know, you did not see a senior golfer out there. You saw one of the best amateur golfers in the country. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. We got out ahead of him, and that’s what champions do. They respond.”

Knapp is no clunker, either. The 56-year-old who negotiated tight match after tight match all week -- two of them lasted 19 holes Wednesday -- was trying to become the first repeat champion in the event since 1980.

He won last year in his Senior Am debut, besting two-time champion Paul Simson, 2 & 1, at the MiniKahda Club (Minn.).

Knapp, a new member at Hannastown Golf Club, is now 11-1 in Senior Am matches.

“Obviously I’m a little disappointed, but I’m happy to have made it this far,” Knapp said. “What is there to say? Sometimes you lose.”

Wilson, 55, from Fairfield, Calif. is the first stroke-play medalist -- he shared the low 36-hole total with Gregory Condon, of Monte Vista, Colo. -- to win the title in 31 years.

The USGA title was the first for Wilson, who has been medalist or co-medalist in the U.S. Amateur, Mid-Amateur and Senior Amateur. He has new trophy now for the showroom.

Wilson, who has been playing in USGA events since junior golf and has played in four U.S. Opens, was conceded a par putt on the 17th hole after the 16th was halved with birdies.

The title match could have gone either way had Wilson not played the final eight holes in roughly 4-under-par.

“I think Sean said it best: it’s really hard to win one of these things,” Wilson said. “First you’ve got to get over yourself and then you have to beat the guy playing with you. And it’s difficult.

“I always thought I was good enough to be a USGA champion, but I never put the work in. And that shows up when the matches are on the line. This year, I put the work in.”

Knapp’s first lead Thursday came at the ninth hole when he made a par. The match went back and forth during a seven-hole stretch. Knapp made a 12-foot putt for par on the 12th before Wilson birdied the par-5 13th to square it again.

“He comes right back at 10, I come right back at 11. We were playing great golf,” Knapp said. “I make a great save on the next hole. “How many players do you take in this situation and this environment under this course setup and tell them, take even par, 1-under around here and then you lose 2 & 1? I think that’s more of a testament to Jeff.”

On 14, Knapp three-putted and Wilson went ahead. A clutch approach from the rough on 15 gave Wilson a five-footer for birdie which he made for a 2-up advantage.

Maybe the opening hole was an indication of how the day would go for Knapp. He had won the par-4 first with birdies five times in seven tries this week but missed an 8-footer for birdie this time after Wilson stuck a wedge to 2 feet. His birdie was conceded.

Knapp is now exempt into next year’s U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Amateur, as well as next month’s U.S. Mid-Amateur in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m blessed, and this has been a year that’s been great,” Knapp said. “You know, I’m going to get to do some great things next year. ... It’s a little painful. It hurts right now. I’m not happy and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, I just look at golf, and I’ve seen enough golf, and sometimes you lose and sometimes you’re beaten, and I was beaten today, and all the credit to Jeff again.”

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