Hayden Knapp emerges as a young standout on the golf course

Adrienne Knapp was a bit worried about her daughter, Hayden, joining the South Glens Falls golf team this fall.

Playing on a team with older teenagers was going to be a huge step forward for her daughter, a seventh-grader at Oliver W. Winch Middle School.

“I was a little worried how they would accept it,” Adrienne Knapp said. “But the guys on the team have been great with her.”

Hayden Knapp has a game – and a maturity and focus – that defies his age. She’s still 12, but she can hit the ball further and straighter than many older kids.

That’s a good thing, because on the high school team, she has to play from the white tees, which are further back than the red tees, or forward, the traditional “ladies” tees.

The fact that Knapp started shooting 39s and 40s over nine holes in Foothills Council matches certainly helped her gain acceptance as a teammate.

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“They’re really nice, they’ve been great in all of this,” Hayden Knapp said. “The first part of the season was a real adjustment, but they helped me find my rhythm.”

“Having a 12-year-old girl on a mixed competition team with a group of junior and senior boys, I wasn’t worried about her, but more about how they would react,” said the South High coach, Mike Yeager. “And they immediately accepted it.”

Yeager said he didn’t know anything about the Gansevoort preteen until he got the call from his parents over the summer about playing for the Bulldogs.

“I was doing camp at Airway Meadows, and I needed to see her hit the balls a bit, so I brought her to the driving range,” Yeager said. “I knew within five strokes of the golf club that she would be a good fit.”

At the Foothills Council tournament last month, Knapp shot a 75 – one of the best scores of the day at Fox Run in Johnstown. She helped South High win the tag team title.

“It felt good – it wasn’t an easy course,” said Hayden Knapp. “My putting was really good, I made a few birdies, and even when I bogeyed I knew I could still birdie.”

On Monday, Knapp finished tied at three for fourth place in the Section II women’s golf tournament, shooting an 80 at the Edison Club in Rexford. This qualified her for the state tournament team.

“She’s done some amazing things — keeping everything in perspective, she’s 12, she won’t even be 13 until May,” Yeager said. “She ended up averaging 39.6 this season – statistically she was our No. 1 golfer. She’s very competitive, that’s what makes her so good. She sets a very high bar for herself.”

Knapp’s first exposure to golf was with her grandfather – Tom Knapp, Hudson Falls’ former longtime teacher and coach – at Queensbury Country Club when she was very young.

“It was fun, but I mostly went there for the snacks,” she said.

“Her grandfather was great with her – he took her with him and she always loved going with him,” Adrienne Knapp said. “He passed away in 2018, and it was really difficult for her, but she loves golf and she feels that connection with him.”

Hayden Knapp said she decided to take up golf when she was around 7 years old and started playing competitively soon after.

His primary golf coach is Bob Cain, the head pro teacher at Saratoga National, where Hayden is part of the junior golf academy. She has worked with Cain for almost six years.

“She just took off with it,” Cain said. “She took what I taught her, went home and trained, and before you know it she was getting really good. She worked, for sure. That’s the one of the hardest working children I have ever met.”

Knapp’s junior golf career was exceptional. This year alone, she placed in the top 15 in New York State Women’s Amateur at McGregor Links and in the top 10 in New York State Women’s Junior Amateur. She qualified with a 1-under 71 for the Notah Begay III National Junior Championship in Louisiana next month. This week she played in the Junior League Championship this week in Scottsdale, Arizona with the Saratoga National/Anders Mattson Golf team.

“It’s really exciting – I love Arizona,” said Hayden, the eldest of Adrienne and Tom Knapp’s three children. “It will be more of a challenge, but we’re the first team from New York to qualify for this, so we’ll do our best and see what we can do.”

“We limit ourselves to one or two tournaments a month in the summer, and in the winter we go to one tournament a month,” said Adrienne Knapp. “We go to Arizona every February, plus we make it a family vacation.”

Hayden Knapp practices year-round at Mattson’s Saratoga Golf Studio indoor facility in Saratoga Springs during the winter months.

A member of Glens Falls Country Club, Knapp started playing from the white tees only this year, preparing for the challenge of playing for the South High team.

“She loves the challenge of distance,” Adrienne Knapp said. “She’s a longball player – against the girls she beats them all. Playing with the boys forces her to focus on her technical skills.”

Knapp’s tee shot is his “super-strength,” Cain said.

“She hits him farther than most kids her age, and farther than a lot of girls a few years older,” he added. “That will be key for her going forward. Her driver is her weapon. Her ball shot in general is exceptional; she hits it really hard and hard.”

“She rarely misses a fairway,” Yeager said. “She’s very systematic in what she does and she gets results. Her intention is to birdie every hole.”

“Driving is my favorite part,” Hayden said. “I hit it at 230 (meters) on average, maybe 240 in Arizona because it’s warmer.”

Cain said cleaning up his short game — chipping, shimming and putting — was key to Knapp’s success.

“Even the best players in the world don’t hit straight every time, that’s just the nature of the game,” he said. “So your wedging has to be the glue that holds it all together. Now she has a wedging game that saves her on the days she hits badly.”

“It was a little transition into competing with older kids,” said Hayden Knapp. “All I changed was working on my chipping and my short game, so if I missed the green I could go up and down and save my par.”

Knapp’s coaches are impressed with his skills, approach and competitiveness, even at a young age, and predict good things to come.

“She’s a great kid, very smart, very mature for her age,” Yeager said. “She has a future playing golf.”

“She’s past her age, that’s for sure,” Cain said. “And as good as she is at golf, she’s an even better kid, and she has an incredibly supportive family as well.”

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