Aug. 21, 2010
By Jon Cooper
The end is near for John-Tyler Griffin and he knows it.
But that doesn’t mean he’s going to go away from Georgia Tech and collegiate golf quietly.
He plans to go down swinging, and hopes that swing is a little more consistent than years past. Finding that consistency was something the Wilson, N.C., native spent the summer trying to find.
“I didn’t play particularly the way I wanted to. I had a hard time putting four rounds together, but it’s coming around,” Griffin said. “I’m trying to improve every day and I feel like my bad rounds are getting better. So it was a successful summer all-in-all.”
Among the highlights of his summer was a career-low round of 64, which he shot in the final round of the Dogwood Invitational in early July. The round book-ended an opening-round 65 (unfortunately, he shot 72 and 73 in the middle rounds) and was one stroke better than his previous best and last year’s Tech team-low round, which came at the Puerto Rico Classic.
Later in July he won the stroke-play portion of the prestigious U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
While he was eliminated in the second round of match play, the strong showing showed a carry-over of the momentum from his junior season, when he earned Honorable Mention All-America and All-ACC status.
“I felt like everything came together last year,” said Griffin, who had six top-10 finishes and a 71.94 stroke average, third-best in the ACC and down 2.5 shots from his sophomore season. “I’d been putting in my work. I don’t feel like I did anything different last year. It just all finally clicked.”
An important factor was the toughening of his mental game.
“I felt like I was a little more patient than I have been in the past,” he said. “It was mostly between the ears. I didn’t let bad shots or bad holes break me down like they had in the past. I just finally came to the realization that tournaments are a long span of time and you’re going to make mistakes. Just minimizing mistakes and getting over them sooner was probably the biggest thing that helped me.”
Tech head coach Coach Bruce Heppler noticed the increased maturity and leadership. When it was time to name a team captain, he and his staff selected Griffin, who had stepped up in filling the leadership void caused by the graduation of three-time All-American Cameron Tringale, now playing on the PGA Tour.
“[Griffin] looked around and said, ‘We don’t have anybody like [Tringale],” said Heppler. “I think he took it upon himself to grow up and mature and make some decisions and look at things to where he could be the leader on the team because we didn’t have one. Before the year was over we gave him that honor and he certainly earned it. He really became the No. 1 guy on our team.
Becoming a team leader wasn’t something he sought.
“I was playing good golf and I think some of the younger guys looked up to that and things just kind of filled itself,” said Griffin, who called Tringale a good friend and role model. “It wasn’t anything where I came in and said, ‘Hey, I want to be the leader.’ It just played out that way for the season.”
Griffin knows how he wants the 2010 season to play out, although it won’t involve a numerical goal.
“I think if you chase numbers, if you aren’t where you want to be, you might freak out a little bit,” he said. “I’m going to try to be a first team All-American and give it a shot at Player of the Year, those sorts of things. But if you do the right things and if we’re near the top at the end of the year team-wise, the individual stuff will take care of itself.
“We have a lot of young talent (like incoming freshman Richy Werenski, who will play in next weekend’s U.S. Amateur Golf Championships) and we have some senior leadership (Paul Haley, who joins Werenski and redshirt-junior William Miller at the U.S. Amateurs). So I think we’re going to be right there in the end.”
It all starts with the Carpet Capital Collegiate, in Rocky Face (Ga.), the weekend of Sept. 10 through the 12th. Griffin hopes the team can take advantage of its familiarity with the course.
“We play there a lot,” he said. “I haven’t particularly played that course very well over the years but I played well the last two days of last year, so it’s good to come off a couple of under-par rounds going into it. It’s a tough course but you can score if you play it well. It’s a good course for the team and it’s the first one so it’s always fun to see what we’ve got at the start of the year.”
Heppler is expecting to see good things from his senior.
“I think he’s poised for a really good senior year,” he said. “The sky’s the limit for him.”
Perhaps Griffin’s biggest goal is to finish strong, something he feels he didn’t do last year. That quest is magnified with this being his senior season.
“It’s gone by really fast,” he said of his time on The Flats. “I kind of have to take a step back and say, ‘Wow, I’m almost done.’ So I want to try to take it all in and hopefully we can get the big one at the end.”