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A ‘rough’ day, but an incredible day for Knoll

Perspective hasn’t been hard for Alex Knoll to find recently.

Knoll kept it at the front of his mind when he arrived at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco for the PGA Championship.

And it was front and center before, during and after the first round of golf’s first major of the year on Thursday.

“Today was incredible,” Knoll said in a phone conversation following his round. “It accomplished a dream-come-true scenario for me - I teed it up at a major. You can’t take that away.

“It was just awesome to be inside the ropes. It was a beautiful day weather-wise, and it was just a really nice day.”

And it started before Knoll even made his way to the tee box.

“I had a really cool interaction with Phil Mickelson (five-time major champion) before my round started. I almost spilled a chip (shot) right into him, and he just kind of laughed,” said Knoll. “We got to talk a little bit, and he was a really gracious guy. So that was a really cool experience before we teed off.”

Knoll, who teed off at No. 10 with Scott Piercy and Andrew Putnam, finished the first round at seven over par with a 77.

“I was very nervous,” Knoll admitted. “I actually hit a pretty good drive to send it up in the rough. Unfortunately for me, that was kind of the story of my day. The driver, which I really had supreme confidence in, was not good today; it was just shaky on some tee shots, and that hurt me. I was in the rough too much in order to play that golf course.

“I actually had a nice little stretch in the middle of the round, from holes 15 through 1 … where I was one-under for that stretch and was playing really well. And I finished up parring the hardest hole on the course, No. 9. All in all, I think I acquitted myself pretty well, and it was just another day of an incredible experience.”

The Palmerton golf coach and math teacher made it on ESPN at No. 18, where he made par. Knoll also birdied No. 17.

“Our game plan was fine,” said Knoll, who is the head teaching professional at Glen Brook Golf Club in Stroudsburg. “This course depends on me hitting the fairway. When I don’t hit the fairway, it’s going to be tough. When I missed five or six fairways that I wasn’t planning on missing today, it becomes ‘OK, try to take your medicine, try to advance the ball as far as you can, but safely, to get in the fairway. And then try to rely on the short game.’

“And I actually had four really good up-and-downs for par. I mean, the score actually could have been higher if my short game wasn’t doing pretty well for some stretches.”

Jason Day and Brandon Todd finished the first day tied at the top of the leader board with a five-under 65. Day won the PGA Championship in 2015 and has been the No. 1 ranked player in the world.

Knoll finished the day with six bogeys and a double bogey in addition to his birdie on 17.

“If you’re in the rough, it’s potluck, and I would say I had some poor luck today on some of the lies,” said Knoll. “But, you shouldn’t hit it in the rough, and when you do, it’s kind of (about) whatever break you get.”

For Knoll, it’s all about making the most of every shot - something he’s had no trouble doing so far.

“I’m trying to mentally stay in the moment and focus on me,” said Knoll. “There wasn’t as much chatter today and experiences like that the way there were the first three days (during practice rounds). But the experience was about playing the tournament; playing in an actual competition.

“I think if I can get the driver going Friday, I can shoot a little better number, and that would be OK with me.”

Knoll knows anything can happen. A lot already has.

He’s hoping there’s still a little more to come.

“I had the best warmup session of my life today, and that didn’t lead to the scores I wanted,” he said. “In golf, that doesn’t necessarily translate to anything, and that’s why the game is so unique. It doesn’t mean if you hit the ball well on the range you’re going to hit it well on the course. I put in a lot of prep the first three days; I don’t feel like I need to overextend myself … you’re mentally going through a lot of reps out there with what do, where not to go (with the ball) and trying to keep yourself in the moment.

“I would say for the most part, I did pretty well with that. It was a great day, and I’m really looking forward to Friday. Maybe I’ll catch lightning in a bottle and do something really special. But if not, it’s OK. I’m enjoying it, and I think I acquitted myself pretty well, all things considered.”

Knoll will tee off from hole No. 1 at 5:42 p.m. (eastern time) to begin Round 2.

Check out Monday’s Times News for another update on Knoll’s experience in the tournament.

Alex Knoll (left) waits on the tee during a practice round at the PGA Championship earlier this week. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO