It was on the same course three years ago this week that Jake Knapp got his first real taste of professional golf.
The wide-eyed UCLA graduate had earned his way into the GolfBC Championship by way of that Monday’s open qualifier and finished a promising T45th at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf and Country Club.
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 round 7-under 64 at the Mackenzie Tour event.
Grant Leaver trails him by one stroke, while Drew McCullough, Patrick Fishburn and David Pastore all sit 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.”
The low Canadians are Riley Wheeldon and amateur Chris Crisologo, both of Richmond, who both shot a 3-under 68 to tie for 16th.
Kelowna’s John Mlikotic was just one shot back after a 2-under 69. Calling Gallagher’s Canyon his home course, the 26-year-old Mlikotic needed three putts on No. 1, but settled down nicely from there.
He birdied both par-5 holes on the front nine, Nos. 6 and 9, to make the turn 1-under.
Two more birdies on 12 and 15—sandwiching a bogey on 14—brought Mlikotic home within sight of the leader.
Kelowna’s Cooper Humphreys posted a 5-over 76 as he became one of two 14-year-old players to play an event on the PGA Tour’s Canadian arm this season.
“I wasn’t very nervous,” he said. “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.”