Jake Knapp continues ‘surreal’ experience at Cognizant Classic

Jake Knapp said last week’s maiden PGA Tour win still is sinking in as he prepares to tee off at the Cognizant Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“Doing my best to focus on this week,” he told reporters Wednesday at the PGA National Resort & Spa. “Last week was pretty amazing to say the least. Played really solid the first three days and the last day obviously wasn’t pretty but was happy I was able to get it done.”

The 29-year-old PGA Tour rookie lost a four-shot lead over seven holes on Sunday then held on to win the Mexico Open at Vidanta by two strokes over Finland’s Sami Valimaki.

The breakthrough win came with a $1.458 million check and spots in the remaining five signature events, including The Masters.

The victory, under nerve-rattling circumstances, also came with a confidence boost for Knapp, a California native who makes his home in the Phoenix area.

“(I learned) I don’t need to have my A-plus game to win,” he said. “I mean, obviously having a four-shot lead definitely helps, but I’ve always told myself ever since college — my assistant coach told me make the putts on Thursday, Friday, Saturday so you don’t have to make them on Sunday.

“No lead is safe on this tour, especially with how good these guys are. Saturday I did my best to try and build on that lead and not get too comfortable. Then Sunday, yeah, just — I mean, learned a lot of little things about my game.

“But just for the most part, that I can grind it out and rely on different parts of my game if a few things aren’t working.”

He called being paired with Rory McIlroy to start the Cognizant Classic a “very surreal” feeling.

“I’ve never met Rory, so super excited to play with him. You know, be a fun group. Be cool to see his action in person, and I’m sure there will be a bunch of people around and all that stuff,” he said. “But for the most part, I’m going to go out there and play golf. I heard he’s a super nice guy, so looking forward walking inside the ropes with him.”

With the win in Mexico and a T3 at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last month, Knapp enters this week ranked 12th on this season’s PGA Tour money list and eighth in FedExCup points.

He said success won’t change his approach to the game.

“I just never really had any like quit in me for the most part,” Knapp said. “Just never — like I said, I just kind of changed my goals in terms of needing to be on the PGA Tour at this point or need to go win, and just changed everything internal. It’s like if I just keep working hard, doing the right things, good things are going to happen.

“Just put a lot of faith in myself that the things I’m doing are right. It’s just kind of slowly started to pay off over the last few years.”