Top Links:

Get A Golf Handicap

UK Golf Guide

Golfshake Top 100s

Find Golf Travel Deals

Golf Competitions


Community Forum


Tee Times | Search | Reviews


Gear | Tour | Industry Insider


Video Library | Tuition Sections


Join | Log In | Help | Useful Links


Why First Time Winners Are The Lifeblood of Pro Golf

By: | Tue 27 Feb 2024

You may or may not have heard of Mark Lye. He is a 71-year-old American who won a solitary title on the PGA Tour. As such, you would expect him to be singing the praises of Jake Knapp’s memorable victory at the Mexico Open.

Not a bit of it. Instead, he took to social media with the following: “I don’t know how the PGA Tour can defend the leaderboard in Mexico. Very good players, but who the hell are they? This is a new low…”

I can say with some certainty that Knapp, who won his maiden PGA Tour title on Sunday, will not be including Lye on his Christmas card list. Lye should also bear in mind that Knapp is a muscle-bound individual who stands 6ft tall and weighs in at 190lb. Not a man you would want to get on the wrong side of.

I could not disagree more with what Lye has had to say on this subject. And I am delighted to say that many social media users took Lye to task, with one writing: “Everyone starts somewhere Mark. One day long ago someone said, ‘Who the hell is Mark Lye?’”

Knapp’s victory is one of the feel-good stories of 2024. This is a man who struggled horribly to make ends meet but was determined to follow his dream and even worked as a nightclub bouncer to keep body and soul together. He was probably the only one who believed that he could win at the highest level. 

And let’s not forget that before his victory in Mexico, Knapp finished third at the Farmers Insurance Open, a full-field event that boasted many of the world’s leading players. And many people who know about these things were quick to admire Knapp’s golf swing.

Jake Knapp

Finland’s Sami Valimaki finished second behind Knapp. Lye may not have heard of him but anybody who knows anything at all about professional golf will be aware that he is a proven winner on the DP World Tour - and is a great addition to the sport on the other side of the pond.

Others on the leaderboard included Robert MacIntyre, Cameron Young, Erik van Rooyen, CT Pan, Tony Finau, Keith Mitchell and Cameron Champ. On what planet has Lye been living?

In the run-up to the Mexico Open, we had two signature events in the Genesis Invitational and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where all the usual suspects were in attendance. Of course we all enjoy seeing the likes of Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Wyndham Clark and Max Homa going at it like hammer and tongs. But professional golf is all about dreams coming true. 

First-time winners are the lifeblood of this sport. Sometimes they will never win again but, more often than not, that first win opens the floodgates for more success. 

The Magical Kenya Open was won by Dutchman Darius Van Driel. At the age of 34, this was his maiden DP World Tour victory. Van Driel has spent most of his career battling away on the mini tours. He finally made it to the DP World Tour just in time for the Covid pandemic to stall his career. He lost his card and looked to have blown it. 

If he had listened to Mark Lye he would probably have walked away from the game. Instead, he persevered, regained his playing privileges and is now in wonderland, riding high in the Race to Dubai, with his card secured until the end of 2026.

And what about Joe Dean? He started the Kenya Open ranked 2,930th in the world. He ended it with a cheque for £170,000 which he described as life-changing after finishing second. 

Dean, who works a delivery driver for Morrisons supermarket, carded a closing four-under-par 67 and walked off the golf course almost unable to quite grasp what he had achieved.

"It's got to be life changing. It's what people dream of," said Dean.

The 29-year-old from Sheffield qualified for the DP World Tour in 2023 but did not compete until the Qatar Masters in February as he could not afford to fund the travel and hotel costs. He missed the cut in Doha and returned to his job delivering for Morrisons, which he was still doing the week before competing in Kenya.

He said: "After the last three or four years I never thought I'd get another chance. There are still some gremlins to get past in order to get to my full potential, but like anyone you've got to get over them, squash them and keep going.

"I've never been one of the most over-confident people - coming to Kenya was a bit daunting. Second event, you don't really feel like you belong and feel like you're trying to prove something. Luckily, I managed to get over that quickly and figure out how to get around the golf course."

On both sides of the Atlantic, this season has been full of heartwarming success stories - written by some pretty unlikely characters. Grayson Murray came from nowhere to win the Sony Open in January. This is a young man who has battled with alcohol addiction and depression and who suffered serious injuries in a scooter crash in 2022. But he never stopped believing, sorted out his life and is now a winner again, benefitting from everything that comes with that. Presumably, Mark Lye would not have had Murray in the field in Hawaii for that tournament.

Who would ever have believed that Nick Dunlap would win the American Express Championship while still an amateur? Would Lye deprive us of such a magical moment? Dunlap won with a 72-hole total of 259, an incredible 29 under par. He beat Schauffele, among others.

While the Arnold Palmer Invitational is being played, the Puerto Rico Open will also be staged. One is a signature event, the other will give those who have not yet reached the peak of the sport the opportunity to pick up a life-changing victory - and I, for one, welcome those tournaments. They give young players a chance to get where they want to be, offer those who have been struggling for a number of years an opportunity to turn things around and create a platform for players such as Knapp to pick up a victory and join the big boys. And that is exactly how it should be.

Be part of the action with a selection of unique golf tournament experiences, from playing in a pro-am with the stars to watching the action at golf’s most illustrious events. Whether it’s the Masters or The Open, The Ryder Cup or WM Phoenix Open, build your own bespoke package with the experts at Golfbreaks.com.

What do you think? post your thoughts and feedback on the Golfshake Forum: https://forum.golfshake.com/

Tags: PGA Tour dp world tour

Scroll to top