HOT SPRINGS, Va. (June 28, 2013) –– Three-time event champion Brinson Paolini, 22, of Virginia Beach and northern Virginian Ji Soo Park, 20, of Clifton posted a pair of hard-fought victories in quarterfinal and semifinal round matches and will meet in Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole final at the 100th Virginia State Golf Association’s Amateur Championship being conducted at The Homestead’s Cascades Course.
Paolini, a spring graduate of Duke University, posted two 1-up wins, besting high school junior and co-medalist Zachary Bauchou, 17, of Forest in the morning session, before getting past Mikey Moyers, 22, of Stanardsville in the semifinals.
Park, a rising junior at the University of Virginia, delivered dramatic extra holes victories, defeating the other co-medalist Bryce Chalkley (Richmond), a 22-year-old rising senior at Virginia Tech, in 20 holes in the quarterfinals, before ousting defending champion Jake Mondy, 19, of Blacksburg, a sophomore at Auburn University, in 19 holes after lunch.
The two finalists will be meeting in the deciding match for the first time. The only player to win the VSGA Amateur three straight years (2008-10), Paolini is trying to leave one more mark in the VSGA record books before turning pro later this summer. The last player to win four titles in seven years was record seven-time victor Vinny Giles of Richmond in 1962, 1964, 1966 and 1968. A fourth title would tie Paolini for the second-most of all-time with Billy Howell.
“This potentially could be my last [VSGA] Amateur. This being the centennial, it would be amazing to be able to win [on Saturday],” Paolini said. “It would mean as much, if not more than the first three, so hopefully I can give myself a chance.”
Paolini opened up an all-square match against Moyers in the afternoon by continuing to ride a sizzling putter, dropping in birdie putts of 18 and 12 feet, respectively, at Nos. 9 and 10 before scoring a par-win at No. 12 to go 3 up.
But Moyers answered back, taking No. 13 after Paolini missed his 4-footer for par, and he then drained birdies inside 12 feet at Nos. 14 and 16 to return the match to all-square.
Moyers also looked to have the advantage at the par-5 17th hole. Pitching to tight hole location, he played a well-executed shot to 4 feet right of the hole. Short-sided, Paolini faced an awkward downhill bunker shot, but somehow blasted his ball to 7 feet right of the hole. First to putt, Paolini’s birdie change caught the right edge and fell in. Moyers’ putt for a halve hit the lower lip and stayed out.
Owner of a 1-up lead at the par-3 18th, Paolini calmly drilled his 6-iron tee shot to 30 feet left of the flagstick and nestled his birdie chance to close range to advance. Paolini’s terrific bunker shot at the Cascades’ penultimate hole provided the difference in the match. His victory provided as much relief as exhilaration on an exhausting day in which he played 36 holes.
“There were times when I was 2 up and I felt like I was 2 down. It’s just all a function of what happened the hole before,” Paolini said. “On [No. 17] we were all square. I felt like I was 2 down and to be able to hit that bunker shot was huge and completely changed me mentally.”
Enjoying a sound ball-striking week, Paolini has also ridden a strong putting performance to the final. He went 77 holes without a three-putt—his first one of those was at the 15th hole in his morning match against an upstart Bachou. But in the same encounter, he made two 45-footers for birdie that helped him to a narrow victory.
Park’s two wins would provide ample material for a Hollywood scriptwriter. In his quarterfinal round match against Chalkley, he was 2 down with three holes to play, but made birdie at the par-5 16th, earned a conceded eagle one hole later to square the match and halved 18 to send the match to extra holes. Both players birdied the first extra hole, No. 1, before Park ended the match one hole later at the par-4 second with a birdie. The late dramatics were part of an incredible birdie-eagle-par-birdie-birdie string for Park.
He won another nail bitter against Mondy, who was dormie-2 standing on the tee at the par-5 17th hole. Mondy blistered his drive, but tugged his short-iron second shot into the left greenside bunker. Park’s second found the same spot.
Park has struggled with his bunker play for much of the week, and flew his greenside bunker shot too far at No. 16, resulting in a Mondy win. And at 17, he was back in a similar situation.
“I was in the bunker on 17 and thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. Another bunker shot.’ ” he said with a laugh.
This time, he played it to near-perfection. Facing a partially-buried lie, Park, dislodged the ball, which came to rest 10 inches from the hole for a conceded birdie. With a thin lie in the sand, Mondy blasted to 25 feet and missed his birdie chance for a halve.
Park’s mindset when the slightest misstep would’ve resulted in an exit?
“I was nervous. If we tied one more hole, I was done,” he said. “I just tried to relax myself, have fun and enjoy the match. I just tried to enjoy the moment.”
At 18, Mondy’s 8-iron tee shot came to rest in the left greenside bunker, while Park found the green and secured an easy par. Mondy’s 12-footer for a par to win the match didn’t have enough pace, sending the semifinalists to No. 1 for extra holes. There, Park detonated his tee shot, leaving him only 60 yards to the flagstick and he played a brilliant, low-flying dead-hands second shot that settled 5 feet from the hole.
After his uphill 15-foot birdie putt missed, Mondy, like a true sportsman, told his opponent, “Knock it in.” Mondy took off his cap as he watched Park line up his chance from close range, which went right in the center to earn his second appearance in the final. Park was in the championship match in 2011 against Scott Shingler at The Virginian in Bristol, an encounter he lost, 3 and 2.
Mondy couldn’t hide his disappointment. He won Nos. 15 and 16 and hit a great drive at 17 prior to some uncharacteristic misplays in the closing moments.
“I hit one of the best drives of my life on 17. I had 9-iron to the par 5 and hit it in the left bunker. You just can’t do that. That green is huge. You can’t miss that green,” Mondy said. “He got up and down and I didn’t. I mean, you can’t miss the green at 18, either—it’s an 8-iron. That green is huge. You should never miss that green.”
Mondy looked back at No. 17 as part of the match-changer.
“This one is going to hurt. I had 9-iron to the par 5. You can’t make par from there. It’s an easy par 4,” he said. “I don’t know—it’s going to hurt…You can’t give good players a second chance. When you get him dormie, you have to either birdie the next hole or make a good par from the middle of the fairway. It was an easy birdie and I just didn’t do it. Kudos to him for taking advantage of it.”
The two are friends and shared easy conversation for most of the match.
“I couldn’t lose to a better guy,” Mondy said.
Park won his third straight extra holes match and has been at his best in the late moments. In Thursday’s round of 16 match against Shingler, he was 2 down with two holes to play and finished eagle (conceded)-birdie-birdie to reach the quarterfinals. All told, he’s played 58 holes covering his last three matches leading up to the final.
Course knowledge is a huge advantage at the Cascades. Though Park had never played the mountain layout prior to this week’s championship, he’s concentrated on striking solid shots and positioning his ball for scoring opportunities.
“I really don’t think about if this course fits me or not,” Park said. “With good ball-striking you’re always going to play well at any golf course. I’m just trying to play my game.”
He knows he’ll need to continue his strong play against someone with Paolini’s track record.
“Brinson has won three times in a row, so he’s a well-known player,” Park said. “That gives me pressure and I’m nervous, but I’ll enjoy it and learn a lot from him.
“It’s going to be big. It’s the final match. Playing with Brinson—I think it’s going to be really huge.”
The two finalists have met one other time in 2009 at Cedar Point Country Club in Suffolk, where Paolini registered a 5 and 4 victory in the second round of match play en route to a repeat victory in the VSGA Amateur. Since, both players’ games have matured. They may be twenty-somethings, but both have played tons of competitive golf.
“JI Soo is a tremendous competitor and very solid tee to green, so it’s going to be a good match,” Paolini said.
The scheduled 36-hole final on Saturday is set to begin at 8 a.m. The finalists will be vying for the Schwarzschild Brothers’ Trophy awarded to the champion.
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