By Corbin McGuire
When Connor Knabe graduated from K-State in 2017 and decided to give professional golf a run, he needed help. Like most, he needed sponsorship money to help pay for tournament entry fees and travel expenses.
He turned to a group he knew from his time as a Wildcat, a group he’s now the president of, the Kansas City Catbackers.
“They were very willing to help me out. They got me a little bit of money so I could start my professional golf career, which was really nice of them. Then, once I stopped playing this May, I reached out to them because I knew I wanted to get involved with K-State,” Knabe said. “I love K-State. My buddies in Manhattan know that I call Manhattan the GCITW, which means Greatest City in the World. So, I knew I wanted to get involved with K-State in any way I could. I knew I wanted to get involved and here I am.”
Last Tuesday, “here” was the first big event Knabe coordinated in his new leadership role. Of course, it was golf themed.
Knabe, with help from the Kansas City Catbackers Board of Directors, brought together former Wildcat and PGA Tour veteran Robert Streb, K-State alum and retired professional Aaron Watkins and more than 60 Wildcat fans for an event. They did so at The Clubhouse Experience, a new restaurant in downtown Kansas City with a bank of Topgolf-branded simulators.
Those in attendance got the chance to listen to Streb and Watkins tell some funny professional memories at the event, such as when Streb accidentally broke his putter during final round in the 2015 Greenbrier Classic and still managed to shoot a 65 to get into a playoff. Watkins told a real back-in-my-day story from his time at K-State (2000-04), when the team walked all 18 holes of Colbert Hills during practice rounds.
“It’s really neat,” Knabe said of the stories. “To hear that Aaron had to walk Colbert Hills, that’s something else. I cannot imagine walking 18 holes at Colbert Hills.”
Streb and Watkins also shared stories from the start of their journeys in professional golf, starting with grind of the mini tours to the several unremarkable seasons before, eventually, they enjoyed high moments like Streb’s record-tying 63 at the 2016 PGA Championship or Watkins’ top-15 finish at the 2012 U.S. Open.
For someone like Knabe, who could relate to the rugged road of starting a professional golf career, it was enjoyable to connect a few success stories from K-State to its fanbase.
“It is incredibly difficult. For people who don’t understand what it takes, it’s hard to describe just because the financial aspect of it is such an important part,” Knabe, selling insurance full-time now, said. “When you start out playing professional golf, you’re playing in mini tour events, which get no recognition, and you’re having to get top 20, top 15, every week to even make your money back. I was spending in the thousands of dollars every week just trying to go play tournaments and make some money. I was selling insurance at the time, which was helping me fund it, and I had some help from sponsors and my family, but it was an absolute grind.”
Streb, in particular, is an impressive example of succeeding through this grind. He’s now in his eighth season in the PGA Tour, after retaining his status through the Korn Ferry Tour (formerly Web.com Tour) the last two seasons.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Knabe said. “He started on the mini tours and then had to go to Q-School and he’s spending all this money and having to get support from sponsors and all that…to be where he is now is incredible.
“People think that it’s hard to recruit good golfers in Manhattan, Kansas, but he’s living proof that you can do it.”
Like Streb and Watkins, Knabe was recruited by former Wildcat head coach Tim Norris. Knabe played his final three seasons, however, for current K-State head coach Grant Robbins, who produced K-State’s first conference individual title (Jeremy Gandon in 2018) since 1951 and signed a pair of high-level recruits a few weeks ago.
“The K-State golf team right now have a couple great coaches that are starting to bring in a lot of those great players,” Knabe said.
Knabe added that even for the vast majority who come to K-State golf and never turn professional, or those like him who try and don’t make it, it’s a decision that will benefit them for life.
“Being raised, almost, by the City of Manhattan, you kind of realize you need to treat people well, and both (Streb and Watkins) do that,” Knabe said. “The long-term impact of the discipline it takes to get up every morning, knowing you have to go to practice and then you have to go class, or you have to go to workouts at 6 a.m. and then you have to go class and go play golf in the afternoon, you do learn how to balance your time. And that’s why companies so much want to recruit student-athletes because it teaches you a whole lot.”
Source: Kansas State Sports