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The Modest Golfer

Aug. 5, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

J.T. Griffin made a decision recently that he may have hated on one level, but it sure improved his quality of life. The recently-graduated Georgia Tech golfer turned pro.

So you’re thinking: If he graduated, why would going pro be a bummer?

Back story: for a long time Griffin harbored visions of playing in next month’s Walker Cup competition in Scotland, on the world’s sixth-oldest course, no less, but obfuscation helped scuttle that plan.

The Walker Cup is a biennial amateur event pitting 10 U.S. amateurs against 10 amateurs from England and Ireland. It’s prestigious. And Royal Aberdeen is a really cool place to whack it around.

But the selection process is somewhat obscure, so . . .

“It was very stressful. They have a point system [to qualify], but I never knew where I stood,” Griffin said of Walker Cup qualifying. “Mostly, I didn’t play well [once out of school in May].

“I had two down tournaments and you don’t really every know where you stand in the Walker Cup. It was very exciting [to turn pro]. This has been kind of my dream for my whole life. It was kind of silly [not to go pro] as much as I was stressing. It was a big relief.”

Griffin, who at times was Tech’s most consistent golfer over the past two school years, has turned to golf to make a living.

He received an invitation a couple weeks ago to a Nationwide event in Columbus, Ohio, and missed the cut by a stroke.

He tried to qualify for another Nationwide event, but missed by a stroke. It’s been that kind of summer.

Griffin’s classmates are doing their own thing. Kyle Scott has also turned pro, and in fact won the second tournament he entered as a pro, back in his native South Africa.

Paul Haley remains an amateur with the goal of turning pro, perhaps this fall. He has not yet qualified for the U.S. Amateur in a couple weeks, but may try again. Griffin is still connected to the Yellow Jackets.

The Wilson, N.C., native is living in Alpharetta, and often plays several times a week with his former teammates, some of whom have yet to compete for Tech. He plays a lot with Seth Reeves.

Griffin’s next goal is to win a sponsor’s exemption into the Wyndham Championship, a PGA event in Greensboro, N.C., that follows next week’s PGA Championship in metro Atlanta.

(Four former Jackets are slated to be in the PGA field, by the way: Stewart Cink, Matt Kuchar, Bryce Molder and Cameron Tringale, whom I’ll write about in a few days; he’s having a darned good season.)

In a way, Griffin’s working in sales as he tries to earn that exemption. He’s selling himself.

“You pretty much contact the tournament director and present yourself,” he said. “Most of the time they have two or three sponsor’s exemptions. A lot of times they’ll give it to someone just out of college or a David Duval-type golfer who’s trying to get back in it.

“I’m hoping they’ll do the hometown-guy-kind-of-thing. I grew up just about an hour and 20 minutes away from there.”

Tech players are not out of the running for the Walker Cup. Senior-to-be James White is still in the mix. Haley’s a longshot.

Four players were named to the squad last week, including two UGA golfers who have each won a Nationwide event this summer, 2010 U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State, and UCLA’s Peter Cantlay.

Cantlay was low amateur in the U.S. Open and set a PGA record by firing a 60 in the PGA’s Traveler’s Championship.

Griffin is chasing glory in a new way now, as a professional.

“I’m excited [about turning pro],” he said. “It kind of gives you a new purpose to work a little harder. It’s given me a new burst.”

John Imlay, a Tech man to the bone, may know as much about Scottish golf courses as any American. The Atlanta-based venture capitalist/entrepreneur/minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons is probably going to the Walker Cup, which will be Sept. 10-11, as he makes many trips to Scotland for golf purposes. I hope he sees this and offers me a ride. I’d love to chronicle White’s endeavors if he makes the squad. On the other hand, my passport is expired. Oh well.

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