State golf: Jake Kneen overcomes 5-shot deficit to win second Michigan Open

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

He still wears the bear, and now he's conquered The Bear. Again.

Jake Kneen, a White Lake native and Oakland University alum, rallied from five shots back to start the day to win the Michigan Open on Thursday on The Bear Golf Course at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme.

It was the second Michigan Open win for Kneen, who won in 2018 as an amateur. He's the second player to win the tournament as both an amateur and a professional in the 105-year history of the state's most prestigious tournament, joining Chick Harbert.

Oakland alum Jake Kneen celebrates his second Michigan Open championship.

For winning, Kneen receives the first-place check of $12,500, which will help him pay for fall Q School.

"I'm still trying to wrap my head around it," Kneen, 26, said in a telephone interview Thursday night. "It's huge. Getting a check like that is going to really help pay for Q School and other qualifying tournaments.

"Yeah, it's definitely gonna help me tremendously."

Kneen started the day five shots back of Ann Arbor's Patrick Wikes-Krier, who had led since Day 1 of the four-day tournament after jarring a double-eagle en route to a first-round 64.

But, playing together Thursday, by the end of the front nine, they were tied. They still were even through 14 holes, when Wilkes-Krier made bogey at the par-5 15th while Kneen parred.

Then, with winds gusting at up to 40 mph, the wheels fell off for Wilkes-Krier, who made double-bogey at both the 16th and 17th hole to fall out of contention.

Kneen credits a huge par save at the 17th hole for keeping him in the thick of it. He went on the tee at the tough par-4 18th with a two-stroke lead, made par and lifted the trophy for the second time. Kneen shot a final-round 73 to finish 7 under and win by two. Wilkes-Krier shot a 9-over 81 to finish 4 under, tied for third.

"I mean, I was five shots back but I looked at the forecast (Wednesday night) and I knew it was going to be pretty crazy windy," Kneen said. "I just tried to take it one hole at a home and focus on what I can control in front of me, and not what Patrick did. I was trying to block that out and try to do the best I could.

"I felt like I did a really good job of doing that today."

It was the second straight heartbreaking final day for Wilkes-Krier, who lost in a playoff at the 2021 Michigan Open, but still received the $12,000 first-place check because the champion, Michigan State's Bradley Smithson, still was an amateur.

“I played terribly and I don’t really understand it,” Wilkes-Krier told reporters afterward. “I had no confidence and I played that way.”

Baker Stevenson of Hartland finished runner-up, at 5 under after shooting a final-round 72. Tying with Wilkes-Krier for third was Westland's Donnie Trosper (Michigan State), who finished with a 71.

Smithson, of Grand Rapids, tied for 12th at 2 over. The reigning Michigan Amateur champion, Michigan alum Patrick Sullivan, tied for 33rd at 8 over.

Asked to compare this win and his 2018 Michigan Open title, Kneen admitted this one probably was more special, because he's now had four years of living the tough, grueling life of a pro golfer on the mini-tours. Kneen said he can appreciate this more now.

"When I was in college and just turning pro the first time I won, I knew the dream was to turn pro and I knew there were a lot of good players out there," Kneen said. "But I didn't know how incredibly deep the pool is.

"It's just incredible how many good players that are out there.

"To get it done twice here is an accomplishment that I can't really wrap my head around right now."

When Kneen won in 2018, he wasn't eligible for the first-place check because he still was an amateur, so instead, he received a $750 gift card to the pro shop. He bought a couple polos, a pullover and some shoes.

Now, Kneen gets to deposit the $12,500 check.

That certainly will go a lot longer than some golf gear from The Bear, for The Bear.

Michigan Women's Amateur

Sisters Anika and Anci Dy from Traverse City both made the Final Four of the Michigan Women's Amateur, and could meet in Friday's final match after winning two matches Thursday at Great Oaks Country Club in Rochester.

West Bloomfield's Mikaela Schulz, last year's runner-up and a Michigan golfer, will meet Anci Dy in one semifinal Friday, and recent Northville High graduate Megha Vallabhaheni will play Anika Dy, another Michigan golfer, in the other morning semifinal.

The 18-hole championship match will be Friday afternoon.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984