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Oakmont native Sean Knapp excited to take part in event at Shinnecock Hills ahead of U.S. Open

| Monday, June 11, 2018, 11:55 p.m.
Oakmont resident Sean Knapp hoists the USGA Senior Amateur trophy Aug. 31, 2017, at Minikahda Golf Club in Minneapolis, Minn.
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Oakmont resident Sean Knapp hoists the USGA Senior Amateur trophy Aug. 31, 2017, at Minikahda Golf Club in Minneapolis, Minn.

A couple of weeks after Oakmont native Sean Knapp won the U.S. Senior Amateur last year for his first USGA title, he learned he was going to be a part of something unique during 2018 U.S. Open week.

Knapp earned a nice trophy and a coveted USGA title after 42 tries. But what flew under the radar were the exemptions that accompanied the win. That includes playing in an inaugural exhibition before the sport's national championship.

Knapp, 55, will participate in the first Celebration of Champions on Tuesday at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island, two days before to the 118th U.S. Open gets underway.

The event will be televised at 4:30 p.m. on FS1.

The Celebration of Champions is a four-hole exhibition that pairs the winner of a men's USGA event from last year with a women's USGA champion in an alternate-shot format. Knapp isn't sure with whom he will be paired, but he's looking forward to meeting all the other USGA winners and seeing plenty of old friends.

“For me at this stage of my career ... it's going to be a cool experience,” Knapp said. “To be able to reconnect with a lot of people that I've met throughout the years will be overwhelming. It will be like a big class reunion, if you will, and to be at the site where our national championship is going to be held tops it off.”

The Celebration of Champions will take place on holes 10-13 at Shinnecock Hills, which is hosting the U.S. Open for a fifth time. It will become an annual part of U.S. Open week and is designed to add another feature to the week much like the annual Par 3 Contest at Augusta National during Masters week. Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is scheduled to be on hand to welcome the players, and Knapp said four-time U.S. Open winner Jack Nicklaus is scheduled to be the honorary starter.

“They're attempting to do some new things that help amplify what the U.S. Open is about,” Knapp said. “It's important what the USGA is doing here. It's a good step toward bringing more attention to the tournament.”

Knapp is taking his family with him to Shinnecock Hills. His daughter, Kensey, will serve as his caddy. Kensey also caddied for Knapp at a U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier last week in Maryland, where he finished a few shots back of qualifying.

Having his daughter on the bag adds another positive element.

“Kensey's internship was with the USGA last year in Wisconsin at Erin Hills for the U.S. Open,” Knapp said. “She was up there for six months. It's cool for her, too, because she's going to know a lot of the people that will be there. It's just going to be a great week.”

After the Celebration of Champions, Knapp and his family will leave Long Island for Johnstown, where he will play in the Sunnehanna Amateur at Sunnehanna Country Club beginning June 20. It will be a record-setting 25th consecutive appearance for Knapp at the Sunnehanna Amateur, one of the most prestigious amateur events in the country.

Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson and Lucas Glover won at Sunnehanna before becoming PGA Tour stars.

“The people at Sunnehanna have done so many great things throughout the years that I feel indebted to them in so many ways,” Knapp said. “It's something that I wanted to do, and it's something they wanted me to do, so we're going to get in the buggy and drive down to Johnstown after the event. We'll get halfway and stop, then drive the rest of the way in the morning. I'll catch a late tee time and play.”

Knapp won the Pennsylvania Senior Amateur in May and the rest of the USGA exemptions for this year have set up what he called a “surreal summer golf schedule.”

He will play in the U.S. Senior Open beginning June 28 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, where he will be paired with defending champion Kenny Perry for the first two rounds. The U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach is next on the schedule in August, and then he will defend his U.S. Senior Amateur title in Eugene, Ore., a couple of weeks later.

Knapp will finish his USGA schedule with the U.S. Mid-Am at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club in September.

There's plenty to look forward to on the horizon, but Knapp is ready to take in the surroundings at Shinnecock Hills first.

“With this thing at Shinnecock Hills, there isn't a whole lot of pressure,” Knapp said. “I mean, if I hit a foul ball, I'll really look bad, but it is four holes and it is alternate shot. It's more about the ability to reconnect with people. How priceless is that? And to have the whole family with me is special.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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