GREENSBORO, N.C. – John-Tyler Griffin did not make the 64-player match play field in last year’s U.S. Amateur Championship at Southern Hills Country Club.
But when he left Oklahoma to return to his Wilson, N.C., home, he took with him a valuable experience and a lesson learned.
“I shot 71 the first day (in stroke-play qualifying) and was in great shape,” recalled Griffin. “I think I let my guard down and shot 78 the next day and missed the cut by a shot.”
Griffin, who will be a senior at Georgia Tech this fall, was determined not to let that happen in his next USGA Championship, especially after shooting a 5-under 66 on the first day at the 85th U.S. Amateur Public Links at Bryan Park.
“My goal, my focus, was to get into match play,” he said. “I came out today and tried not to let up and not give anything back. I definitely learned my lesson last year at Southern Hills.”
For Griffin, it was mission accomplished. He shot a 4-under 67 Tuesday for a 9-under 133 total to not only breeze his way into the 64-player match play bracket, which gets under way Wednesday, but also claim the stroke-play qualifying medal.
Finishing one shot behind Griffin at 8 under were Derek Ernst (65-69), Bhavik Patel (69-65) and Patrick Reed (68-66). Andrew Yun, who two weeks ago won the Dogwood Invitational, was next at 7 under, while George Bryan IV was another shot back.
Twelve players in the starting field of 156 broke par over the 36 holes of stroke play, and the magic number for the 64-player match play bracket fell at 5-over 147.
There were 13 players tied for 61st when play was suspended at 6:18 p.m. due to a dangerous weather situation. The second round of stroke play will resume at 7 a.m. Wednesday, with a playoff to follow to determine the final spots in the match play field. The first round of match play is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.
This summer, Griffin has made it a bit of a habit of finishing tournaments in a blaze of glory. He shot his career-best rounds of 64 the last day at both the Northeast Amateur and the Dogwood Invitational, where he tied for 23rd and fifth, respectively.
But his start at this week’s APL was “the best two back-to-back rounds of the year for me.”
Starting the second round on No. 10, Griffin got things going quickly. He eagled the par-5 11th hole, hitting a 3-iron shot from 225 yards to 4 feet and sinking the putt, and then made birdie at the par-4 12th, where he chipped in from 20 feet behind the green.
He added birdies at Nos. 1 and 6 before making his only bogey at the eighth, where he failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker,
“I stole one earlier (No. 12) and then gave one back (No. 8),” he said. “Overall, it was a good day. I feel like I played better than I did yesterday. I’m driving the ball well and feel comfortable on the greens.
“I went down (to Sea Island, Ga.) and worked with Todd Anderson last week before coming here and felt really good about my game and my attitude when I got here,” said Griffin, a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference and honorable mention All-America last season. “I only live an hour and a half away, but have never played here before. I like the course. It’s pretty straight forward.”
Reed had a chance to tie Griffin for medalist honors, but missed a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole (No. 9). He made a solid run, though. Reed, a rising junior at Augusta State, where he helped lead the Jaguars to the NCAA title last month when he won all three of his matches, birdied his first two holes of the day (Nos. 10 and 11).
After a bogey – only his second in two days – at No. 14, he birdied 15. Before a birdie at the seventh, he made an unconventional eagle at the par-5 sixth. Reed hit his tee shot in the rough and had 255 yards to the pin. He went conservative and hit an 8-iron, which hit a sprinkler head in the fairway and bounded into the rough. From 35 yards away he hit a lob wedge, which landed just beyond the hole and spun back into the cup.
“The kind of golf I’m playing right now, I feel like I’m in control of my game,” said Reed, who was a semifinalist at the 2008 U.S. Amateur and ’09 Western Amateur. “I’m hitting the ball well and giving myself birdie opportunities. And it’s nice to see the ball finally starting to fall in the hole.”
After a tournament-leading 6-under 65 in the opening round, Ernst appeared headed for medalist honors. Starting on the back nine, the rising junior at UNLV notched birdies at Nos. 11, 13 and 16 to get to 9 under. But he bogeyed Nos. 1 and 3, and had birdies at the second and fifth holes.
Coming into his final hole, No. 9, a par would have given him a share of medalist honors, but he pulled his approach into a greenside bunker and then missed his 15-foot par putt.
“I got off to a good start, but my back nine was up-and-down, up-and-down,” said Ernst, the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and third-team All-America last season. “Those last nine holes were really scrappy. I think I was trying to force things instead of just going out and playing my game.
“Right now I’m a little mad, but my main goal from the start was making match play, and I did that,” said Ernst, who won two Northern California Match Play titles. “I like match play. It’s a different mindset and I like the head-to-head aspect.”
A birdie on his final hole (No. 9), after hitting a 9-iron from 163 yards away to within 3 feet, propelled Patel to a tournament-best 6-under 65 to go with his opening 69. He also started on a high note, sinking a 40-foot birdie putt from just off the green at No. 10.
“Right now I’m playing with a ton of confidence,” said Patel, a rising junior at Fresno State who was a semifinalist at last year’s U.S. Amateur. “I played solid last week at the Sahalee Amateur (T10), so I felt good about my game coming into this week.”