Virginia Amateur: Paolini rolls to medalist honors
Brinson Paolini
Brinson Paolini

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virg. (June 28, 2012) -- Virginia Beach resident Brinson Paolini couldn’t help but admit after the first round of stroke play qualifying that he felt comfortable returning to his nearby home, only about a 20-minute drive away from Bayville Golf Club, the host site for this week’s 99th Virginia State Golf Association Amateur Championship.

On day two of qualifying, the 21-year-old rising senior at Duke University blew through the Chesapeake-Bay bordered Bayville layout, firing a course and competitive course record bogey-free round of 9-under-par 63. With his 8-under 136 (73-63) aggregate, he is the low qualifier for match play for this first time. The match play portion of the championship begins on Thursday.

PGA Tour player Marc Leishman, a member at Bayville, shot 64 while playing a recreational round at the club in February; Leishman won the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Conn., on Sunday. Talk about some good karma.

“Bayville’s having a good week, that’s for sure” Paolini said with a laugh.

And it was an incredible day for the local and Frank W. Cox High School graduate. His 63 is believed to be a single-round qualifying record for a player who went on to earn medalist honors. Paolini mastered Bayville’s slick putting surfaces, using only 24 putts in recording seven birdies and an eagle. He had a similar ball-striking round to day one in which he shot 73, but improved his score by 10 strokes thanks to a putter that was on fire.

“I got a lot of putts to fall and was able to get the ball in the hole,” said Paolini, who accounted for his personal-best record score in relation to par. His personal-low competitive round of 62 was shot in a high school event. “I got some breaks and was fortunate to shoot nine under. I gave myself a lot of opportunities today. I got on a roll early. I think I’ve figured out [the greens], so hopefully I’ll be able to carry it out over the next couple of days.”

Paolini one-putted the first five greens. Beginning his round on No. 10, he birdied the first three holes, with his longest putt coming at the par-4 10th, where he drained a 15-footer. He hit the par-5 15th hole in two shots and two-putted from 25 feet to turn in four under for the day.

He couldn’t help but laugh when recapping the way things began.

“That was a pretty good start,” he understated.

Paolini hit the accelerator on the second nine, playing Nos. 2-6, his 11th-15th holes of the day, in five under par. He nearly holed out his 7-iron tee shot at the par-3 second before tapping in for birdie, then he stuffed a wedge to 5 feet at the par-5 fourth and knocked in a 20-footer at the par-3 fifth. In completing the surge, Paolini didn’t need his putter at the par-5 sixth, where his greenside bunker shot took one hop on the putting surface and dropped into the hole for an eagle-3.

Paolini continues to add to his impressive record at the VSGA Amateur, which most notably includes posting an unprecedented three straight victories in the championship from 2008-10. With his triumph as a 17-year-old in ’08 at Kingsmill Resort’s River Course, he became the event’s youngest winner in seven decades. A year later at Cedar Point Country Club in Suffolk, he became the youngest player to successfully defend his title.

Paolini was the second low qualifier for match play in 2009 at Cedar Point Country Club in Suffolk and in 2010 at Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria, where he won a historic third straight Amateur at the age of 19.

Now, he can check medalist honors off his ever-diminishing to-do list at the Amateur, an event annually reserved on his tournament schedule.

“The VSGA has been so good to me over the years. I love this event every year,” Paolini said. “It’s the most fun that I’ve had in any event. And like I said, it’s done so much for me as a golfer in my development. I’m going to play in it as long as I’m eligible.”

Medalist honors haven’t meant much over the past 40-plus years of VSGA Amateur. The last low qualifier to go on to claim the Amateur was Leesburg’s Billy Hurley, who triumphed in 2004 at Roanoke Country Club. Prior to that, the last medalist to win was Richmond native Lanny Wadkins, who registered a 6 and 5 victory over his brother, Bobby, at the 1970 VSGA Amateur at The Homestead’s Cascades Course.

Paolini knows the intricacies of match play can be fickle; he watched his record 16-match win streak end in the second round of last year’s event at The Virginian in Bristol. A whole new tournament begins with the start of match play.

“Today doesn’t mean anything starting [Thursday],” Paolini said. “You throw out seeds, you throw everything out and you just go play each man you can get. My game feels good. I was heartened that I started to make some putts because in match play, you need to make some putts. I started figuring out the greens today, so I’m looking forward to [Thursday].”

The top five spots for match play are occupied by players ages 24 and under. In addition to medalist Paolini, Earlysville’s Daniel Walker, 21, a rising senior at the University of Richmond, was the second low qualifier, returning consecutive rounds of 2-under 70 (4-under 140). Virginia Tech graduate Garland Green, 24, of Tazewell (second day 71, 3-under 141) was the third low qualifier. Marshall Bailey, 23, of Fincastle, a spring graduate of Virginia Tech, and Centreville resident Ji Soo Park, 19, a rising sophomore at the University of Virginia and the runner-up at last year’s VSGA Amateur, completed the top five low qualifiers for match play at 3-under 141.

At the conclusion of stroke play qualifying, five players at 4-over 148 vied for four spots in the match play field in extra holes, with Bryce Chalkley, 19, of Richmond, Aaron Eckstein, 23 of Salem, Alex Lloyd, 17, of Virginia Beach and John David Sanderson, 19, of Suffolk advancing.

Of the remaining 32 players in the field, 24 players are age 24 and under. Paolini, defending champion Scott Shingler, 40, of Haymarket, and seven-time VSGA golfer of the year Keith Decker, 51, of Martinsville, twice a winner of the VSGA Amateur and the top point-earner in the VSGA player rankings entering the event, comprise the trio of past champions to make match play.

Both the first and second rounds of match play are on Thursday, June 28, the quarterfinals and semifinals are Friday, June 29 and the scheduled 36-hole final is on Saturday, June 30.

ABOUT THE Virginia Amateur

36 holes of stroke play qualifying (18 holes per day); the low 32 players advance to match play. Non-exempt players must pre-qualify. Open to VSGA members of all ages. Participants must hold an active GHIN number issued by a licensed VSGA Member Club in good standing.

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