NEWPORT BEACH — To say Jake Knapp is in a groove is like saying Jack Nicklaus was and is a successful golfer. Both are understatements.
The Estancia High senior has more work to do to reach "Golden Bear" status, but Knapp is proving he can score with the game's best.
Knapp shot 10-under-par 61 Wednesday in U.S. Openlocal qualifying at Newport Beach Country Club, site of the annual Toshiba Classic senior pro golf tournament. His 61 was one stroke shy of the course record, shared by Nick Price (2011) and Tom Purtzer (2004) en route to Toshiba Classic victories.
Knapp's bogey-free round is also the lowest score at anyU.S. Openqualifying in the country this year, according to the Southern California Golf Assn. website.
His round began on the 10th hole and included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle on the par-five third hole. He hit a five-iron onto the green for his second shot and made the putt.
He capped a 29 on the front side with a 7-foot birdie roll. Knapp, bound for UCLA, walked off the green into embraces from his father, Bob, and older brother, Ryan, a redshirt sophomore for UC Irvine.
"I struck the ball well all day; I was hitting my driver good," Knapp said. "I hit most of the fairways and hit every green, so giving myself opportunities on every hole is big. Being able to two-putt for par and make some long putts for birdie was good."
Knapp was one of six golfers to qualify from a field of 85 for the sectional round June 4, the final hurdle before theU.S. OpenJune 14 through 17 at San Francisco's Olympic Club.
Knapp began the week with a six-under 66 to earn medalist honors in the CIF Southern Section Individual Regional at Skylinks Golf Course in Long Beach on Monday, and picked up where he left off.
"I'm playing well so there is no need to change anything," Knapp said. I'm just trying to build confidence.
"Here the competition is better. You have a lot of good amateurs and professionals. You're not shooting for a number, you're trying to go as low as you can."
Knapp started with birdies on two of his first three holes and ended his first nine with birdies on Nos. 16 and 18.
"Ten through 18 are scoring holes, so I tried to attack the back nine," Knapp said. "I took advantage of the good shots and made them count."
The next closest player to Knapp was Sasan Shahi (Laguna Niguel), who shot 67. The cut was 70, with four players finishing at that score, including Costa Mesa Amateur Amit Chopra. Patrick Stolpe (Muskego, Wisc.) was the one player at 70 to earn automatic entry into the sectional round. Chopra is the second alternate.
Nick Kumpis, a pro at Santa Ana Country Club, and Marcus Mercado-Kiel, an Orange Coast College sophomore and former Newport Harbor player, were two of seven golfers to finish even-par 71. Costa Mesa resident Jordan McRobie shot 72, while Corona del Mar senior Mike Moorhead finished at 73. Joe Doody (former OCC golfer) Hale Furey (Corona del Mar sophomore), Dan Kupfer (Costa Mesa resident), and Carlo Borunda (Newport Beach CC pro) all shot 74.
Borunda said the course was playing tough, adding value to Knapp's feat.
"I hit it solid, just didn't make a putt all day," said Borunda, who chipped in for eagle on the par-five 18th. "[Greens] are faster than they have been the last few days. The golf course was beatable today."
Asked about Knapp's score, Borunda replied, "Shooting 61 is abnormal. It's pretty special stuff."
Dennis Harwood, president of the SCGA board of directors, was at Newport Beach Country Club Wednesday and said, "I've been out here eight or nine years and that's the lowest score I've seen."
Knapp chose Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, Calif., for the sectional qualifier.
"To be able to qualify for [the U.S. Open] would be life-changing," said Knapp, who made it out of local qualifying for the second year in a row. "That and the U.S. Amateur qualifier are what I'm really focusing on this year."
Knapp didn't reach the U.S. Open last year after coming up short at the sectional qualifier at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale. This year he'll try again at Lake Merced.