From The Sports Desk: Knapp could be great

Eleven days ago Aaron Peirsol confirmed to the Daily Pilot that he retired as a swimmer. He just might be the greatest athlete to come out of the Newport-Mesa School District, as the Newport Harbor High alumnus won five gold medals over three Olympics.

It got me to thinking: who could become the greatest athlete to come out of the district from today's high schoolers?

The obvious answer would appear to be Corona del Mar High sophomore Jack McBean, the soccer phenom who recently signed a professional contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Yes, he could become great.

But there's another athlete, in Costa Mesa, at Estancia High, who has the makings to be the greatest Newport-Mesa District product. It's Jake Knapp, a junior who has been tirelessly working to become a professional golfer.

Knapp actually wants more than that.

"My goal has always been to be the No. 1 player in the country," Knapp told me during a telephone interview before he went to the Estancia Winter Formal Saturday night.

Knapp is not hesitant to dream big or set lofty goals. "You've got to," he said.

For now he is preparing for the boys' golf season, which begins Feb. 28. He senses there could be something special this year. Last year, he finished second at the CIF Southern Section Individual Championship, and then lost in a one-hole playoff to take third. He had a successful summer playing American Junior Golf Assn. events.

In October, he verbally committed to compete at UCLA.

"I called the coach and told him that I wanted to be a Bruin," said Knapp, who will be 17 in May. "It really hasn't hit me yet that I'm going to UCLA. But I think it will. I really do think it's going to be an amazing experience."

He said five years from now, he would like to be playing on the PGA Tour, but his family has stressed to him the importance of an education. So he plans to stay at UCLA until he earns a degree.

But he's determined to become a pro. If you go to Costa Mesa Country Club most days you would notice that. He's usually there, working to become the best.

"He's going to be a great college golfer," Estancia Coach Art Perry said. "He's one of the few guys we've had who is on track to possibly turn pro. He's destined to have a good golf future, just because of his personality and hard work ethic."

John Ortega, the director of instruction at Costa Mesa Country Club, has also seen Knapp work hard. Ortega believes Knapp wants to become great, but he notices it's more about taking care of what's going on now.

However, Ortega can't help but be aware of the great potential Knapp possesses. Ortega says Knapp is starting to exhibit the qualities of those on the PGA Tour.

"He has really good distance off the tee and deft touch on the greens," Ortega said.

Ortega estimated Knapp goes about 280 yards on a standard drive.

"When he really goes after it, I've seen him go 300 yards," Ortega said.

Knapp likes to keep the reasons for his success simple. But in most cases it is anything but. He knows he must work hard and make sacrifices.

His summers don't always entail trips to the beach, because he's off to a golf course to compete or practice.

"I chose this," Knapp said. "My parents didn't force this on me. This is something I'm taking responsibility for. I don't see why I can't keep it going."

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McBean isn't the only great athlete to come out of Corona del Mar. The Sea Kings also boast junior Mike Moorhead, a golfer who will do his best to top Knapp this season. Moorhead finished fourth at the CIF section tournament last year.

The Knapp-Moorhead competition should be a treat for local golf fans.

At Newport Harbor, a big volleyball season could be in store for senior Cody Caldwell, another athlete with great potential.

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Before Perry's golf team begins the season, the Eagles will spend six days in Hawaii.

"It's like a golf vacation," said Perry, whose team will play three courses during their stay.

It will be the Estancia golf team's 10th trip to Hawaii since 1989. Perry said the Eagles will play Kaneohe Klipper Marine Golf Course in Kaneohe Bay, as well as Makaha Resort & Golf Club and Makaha Valley Country Club.

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A correction is in order about Steve Timmons, coincidentally another great athlete to come out of the Newport-Mesa area. Last month, we reported the former Newport Harbor High volleyball standout was being inducted into the California Sports Hall of Fame. He is not. He was slated to be inducted, but he couldn't make the ceremony, Feb. 27, so he is not among the inductees.

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