Sunday, June 28, 2009

Paolini defeats Griffin for state amateur title

Virginia Beach's Brinson Paolini (left) and Blacksburg's Lanto Griffin shake hands after Paolini won the Virginia State Amateur.

Photo courtesy of The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot

Virginia Beach's Brinson Paolini (left) and Blacksburg's Lanto Griffin shake hands after Paolini won the Virginia State Amateur.

SUFFOLK -- Battling travel-induced fatigue, Virginia Beach's Brinson Paolini tapped into a reserve tank of energy he did not know existed Saturday afternoon to post a victory for the ages in the Virginia State Amateur.

Five down to Blacksburg's Lanto Griffin with nine holes to play, Paolini birdied the match's last five holes and shot 6-under-par 30 on the final nine to win the 36-hole match 2-up.

"I told my caddie in the middle of the 28th fairway, 'I'm going to birdie every hole on the back nine,'" Paolini said. "I dug as deep as I ever have to pull this out. I just told myself I wasn't going down without a fight."

The 18-year-old Paolini looked finished after 27 holes when he took a penalty shot after his putter nudged the ball during his address.

And the magic that was Griffin's short game was giving Paolini little chance for a comeback. But just when it seemed to be over, Griffin gave Paolini an opening. And the mistake Paolini made at that 27th hole acted like an igniter switch.

"I was mentally drained and trying to find something to spark myself," Paolini said.

Griffin, a 21-year-old rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth, bogeyed the par-4 10th after an errant tee shot, then knocked his second shot at the par-4 11th into a greenside pond. Griffin conceded Paolini's five-foot birdie putt and his lead shrank to 3-up.

Paolini ignited his winning run with a seven-foot, par-saving putt at the par-4 13th that cut Griffin's lead to 2-up.

Paolini then smashed a 3-wood from the middle of the fairway at the par-5 14th, setting up a two-putt birdie. When he wedged to within three feet at the par-4 15th, the match was all square.

Griffin then hit his 6-iron tee shot at the par-3 16th into the pond to the left of the green and Paolini made a 35-footer for birdie and a 1-up lead.

The two halved the par-5 17th with birdies when Paolini ran in a 10-footer.

Keeping the pressure on, Paolini split the 18th fairway with a 334-yard drive, then hit a knock-down 9-iron to the middle of the green. That after bombing his drive at the 17th hole 323 yards.

Griffin's drive at the 18th missed the fairway and ran into the back bunker. When he left his bunker shot in the trap, he picked up the ball and dejectedly tossed it into the pond next to the green, conceding Paolini's 20-foot putt and the championship.

"Anytime you're 5-up with nine to go and lose, you can't blame anybody but yourself," said Griffin, who was Paolini's house guest the last two nights. "I wasn't nervous on the last nine. I just lost my swing."

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