So many times, Sean Knapp had found himself willing to settle. If he played well in the early stages of a golf tournament, he convinced himself to be happy with the result, even if it fell short of what he might be capable of achieving.
That attitude ended with a painful loss in the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur. From that moment on, Knapp decided, he never would be passive again — and Thursday, he finally got the reward he sought. Knapp persisted through a taut championship round to win the U.S. Senior Amateur at the Minikahda Club, defeating two-time champ Paul Simson 2-and-1 in the match-play final.
Though he didn't record a single birdie, Knapp, 55, played a cool, steady round. He won his first USGA title in his first year of eligibility for the Senior Amateur, raising his arms in triumph after dropping in a 20-foot par putt on the 17th hole.
"I said, 'If I ever get in this situation again, I'm going to put the throttle down the best way we can,''' Knapp said, recalling the mental shift he made five years ago. "That's what I tried to do.
"To emerge victorious is such a blessing. I'm very humbled.''
Knapp is a veteran of 40 USGA championship events but played in a final for the first time Thursday. The resident of Oakmont, Pa., did not lead until he won the 11th hole.
He got some extra help from his pal David Brown, the medalist during the stroke-play portion of the tournament. After Brown was knocked out in the second round of match play, he stayed in Minneapolis to caddie for his fellow Pennsylvanian and provided invaluable advice — including the line to take on the winning putt.
Simson, 66, was trying to become the second person to win three U.S. Senior Amateur titles. The champion in 2010 and 2012 raced through five rounds of match play to make the final, but his putting touch abandoned him Thursday. He held a 1-up lead through nine holes, then missed putts on the par-4 10th and the par-3 11th to lose both holes and turn the match in Knapp's favor.
"You have to have a little bit of match-play luck,'' said Simson, of Raleigh, N.C. "I thought maybe the stars were with me this week. But it just didn't come up as good as I hoped.''
Knapp wasn't sure how his week was going to turn out. His game started to slide just before coming here, and he cracked his driver in the opening round.
Using three different drivers over three days, Knapp tied for 20th during the stroke-play portion of the event to advance to the 64-athlete field for match play. After a tough 1-up victory over defending champ Dave Ryan in Wednesday's semifinals, he felt the pressure dissipate.
Knapp kept his wits Thursday throughout a back-and-forth duel. The big-hitting Simson birdied the first hole to snatch the lead, and Knapp squared it on the next hole. Though Simson twice regained a 1-up lead, his play grew erratic over the back nine.
The Minikahda Club drew raves from the golfers. Simson spoke with wonder at walking in the footsteps of Bobby Jones, who won the 1927 U.S. Amateur there, and Chick Evans, whose 1916 U.S. Open title came on the course.
"We had a ball,'' Simson said. "It's a special golf course.''