Historic finish to State Amateur at Cedar Point

Published 9:21 pm Saturday, June 27, 2009

There were many amazing pieces to Brinson Paolini’s VSGA State Amateur championship Saturday at Suffolk’s Cedar Point Country Club.

First and foremost, Paolini made history by, at 18 years old, becoming the youngest golfer in the 96-year history of the tournament to win back-to-back championships.

Then there was how Paolini did it. Lanto Griffin led by five holes with the final nine holes to go before Paolini shot six-under par 30 on the back nine, including five straight birdies to finish the 36-hole match, to win the state championship 2 up.

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Griffin, 21, a rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth, and the reigning player of the year in the Colonial Athletic Association, took his first lead of the match on the 12th hole of the morning round.

After Griffin bogeyed No. 3 and 4, Paolini was 2 up early in the match. Griffin got one hole back with a birdie on the par-five sixth and squared the match with a great approach shot and short birdie putt on No. 11. Griffin stuck another iron to within five feet on the par-three 12th hole and birdied to move 1 up.

By the end of the morning round, Griffin was 3 up. His lead went to four thanks to a 60-foot chip-in on the par-four second hole.

A run of three straight holes for Griffin, on No. 7, 8 and 9, gave him a five-hole lead. On nine, a par three, a par for Griffin was good enough after Paolini was penalized a stroke for accidentally moving his ball before a putt from the fringe.

“I had three or four terrible breaks,” said Paolini, with the penalty stroke on nine being the last in line. “I guess it was a blessing in disguise because it got me focused.”

“I didn’t really see it. I put my putter down and the ball moved. It moved about an inch,” said Paolini.

From that point on, the rest of the match belonged to Paolini, a recent Cox graduate and VHSL Group AAA state champion who will be headed to Duke this coming school year.

On the par-four 10th hole, Paolini rolled in a 15-foot par putt to beat a bogey by Griffin. From the gallery, the putt might not have seemed like a big turning point, but it was to both players.

“I was expecting him to make every putt,” said Griffin, “and when he made the putt on 10, I knew the floodgates would open.”

“The putt on 10, it was the putt that got me going. It really relaxed me,” said Paolini.

Last week, Paolini was representing Team USA in Japan at the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup. He arrived back in Hampton Roads late Sunday night, then had played eight rounds at Cedar Point from Tuesday through Saturday.

“I’ve been through a lot the last two weeks. For the first 27 holes, I was mentally drained. I was really trying to find a way to spark myself,” said Paolini. Apparently, one putt was all he needed.

On 11, Paolini stuck his approach on the par four to 12 feet away while Griffin put his second shot in the water short of the green.

Two holes later, Griffin found trouble again by putting his drive deep into the right-side rough, then putting his next shot over the green. Paolini took advantage with a par, draining a 17-foot putt for the par, to narrow the gap to two holes.

On the par-five 14th, Paolini put a fairway wood onto the center of the green with his second shot and a birdie won the hole.

Paolini and Griffin played the par-four 15th superbly, but Griffin missed an 8-foot birdie try allowing Paolini to square the match by making a 5-foot birdie putt.

Paolini made it six wins in seven holes on the par-three 16th. Paolini put his tee shot into the center of the green while Griffin went through the green and into the water. Paolini didn’t need a birdie, but he got it anyway by rolling in a 35-footer.

After both golfers made birdie on 17, Paolini hit a perfect drive on 18 while Griffin missed right into the rough. Griffin’s approach to the green ran through the green and into a sand trap. Paolini hit the center of the green, leaving himself 20 feet for birdie.

Griffin, needing in all likelihood to make his shot from the sand, left his shot in the bunker and conceded the match.

“Any time you’re five up with nine to go, I can’t blame anyone but myself,” said Griffin.

“(Paolini) played very well on the back nin, but not well enough to beat me if I play my game.”

“This definitely was the toughest to win,” said Paolini, comparing this victory to his high school state title and last year’s State Amateur.

“Playing against my best friend, my heart bleeds for Lanto. He deserved this,” said Paolini.

“I dug so deep today to pull it out.”

Both Paolini and the Virginia State Golf Association staff thanked Cedar Point Country Club and had numerous compliments for the Club’s staff and members, specifically about the great condition of the course, during the trophy presentation. There was a large gallery following the final match Saturday.

“It was great having a couple hundred people out there supporting us,” said Paolini.