SOUTH BEND, INDIANA | After holing a 10-foot par putt on the 18th green for an opening 71 in the U.S. Senior Open on Friday afternoon and shaking hands with his playing partners, amateur Sean Knapp put his arms around his daughter/caddie Kensey and they gave each other a hug.
Just like last year at the U.S. Senior Open at the Broadmoor and so many other times in the 10 years Kensey has caddied for her father.
Only this time was different because this was a hug that might not have been.
In late 2018 at the end of what Sean Knapp called a dream year – he played the USGA’s Celebration of Champions at Shinnecock Hills, the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach and the Senior Open at the Broadmoor all with his daughter as his caddie – Kensey found out she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Both Sean and Kensey keep a photograph in their phones from the 18th green at the Senior Open last year, a shot of the two of them walking off the final green arm in arm in the fading light.
“I said some day when your mom and dad are not around you will remember this moment, not just because of golf but because our whole family was there,” said Sean, glancing at the photo.
“I never would have thought that Kensey would be the one fighting for her life.”
The Knapps – Sean, wife Suzanne and daughters Kensey and Taylor – are a golf family, living near Oakmont Country Club where Sean, who has played in more than 40 USGA championships, caddied growing up and Kensey did the same.
The diagnosis was a shock to the family. When the reality sunk in, Kensey set a goal for herself. She wanted to be where she was Thursday – with her dad at the Senior Open just like the year before.
“She told my wife but she didn’t tell me,” Sean said. “She said not ‘I want to live, I’m 24 and I want to have kids and I might not be able to have kids, I’d like to get married some day.’ It was, ‘I know Dad is exempt for the Senior Open and I hope I can be on the bag.’ ”
“And here I am,” Kensey said, standing with her father after the round.
Kensey said she is “hesitantly very positive” about her prognosis. Doctors have been encouraging and she has none of her earlier symptoms.
When treatment began, Kensey approached it like a competition. She had someplace she wanted to be – at the Warren Course with her father – and doctors laid out a path to help her get there.
“Obviously there is only so much you can do,” Kensey said. “We were very fortunate with the type of cancer I have. It was caught early. We had phenomenal doctors and they were aware of all this. They took it a little more on the extreme side, a little more aggressive with my treatment.
“We were fortunate. I got to finish all this up before I graduated (from Penn State) in May so it gave me some time to recover so we can be here.”
For others, the golf side of this may seem unusual but the game is a part of the Knapp family. Both daughters were born one week before their father played in the Sunnehanna Amateur. One was induced on the second of the month and Sean finished second the next week. The other was induced on the fifth and Sean finished fifth in the Sunnehanna.
“This isn’t ceremonial,” Sean said. “It was ceremonial 10 years ago when she started and her dad was a better player.
“There was a day when I said, ‘We live next door to Oakmont Country Club and I grew up as a caddie at Oakmont,’ and I said to my wife Suzanne, ‘This is nuts to have her to go work at Starbucks or wherever. Why not caddie? There is a caddie scholarship. Where else could a kid make that kind of money for school?’ ”
She did that, looping 75 times a year while also working as a USGA intern at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
Caddying for her father, Kensey considers herself more of a mental coach, offering guidance when she senses he needs it. She calculates yardages but her father is a numbers guy so he likes to do the figuring for himself.
“It’s an understatement from an emotional standpoint to say what she provides,” Sean said. “Anytime I get down all I have to do is look over and say, ‘Man, there’s bigger problems.’ ”
Kensey said she is “hesitantly very positive” about her prognosis. Doctors have been encouraging and she has none of her earlier symptoms. She will be examined early next week but she knows it will be at least six months before doctors could give her the all-clear.
One thing is certain: Kensey Knapp is where she wants to be this week.
“One of my favorite verses in the Bible is life is like a vapor,” Sean Knapp said. “It’s there for a little while and it disappears.
“Kensey has been such an emotional pillar for us.”
Sean Knapp and daughter Kensey at the edge of the 18th green at the conclusion of last year’s U.S. Senior Open. Photo courtesy Sean Knapp
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