Mark Lawrence Jr. tees off on No. 13 on Friday
ROANOKE, VA (July 15, 2016) -- When Mark Lawrence Jr. first played Ballyhack Golf Club as a 17-year-old junior in 2014, he said he played “really stupid.”
Two years later, it’s clear Lawrence has learned a little about how to adapt his game to Ballyhack’s unique quirks. He thought his way around the course well during Friday’s second round of the Delta Dental State Open of Virginia and posted a 5-under 67 for a two-day 135 that left him as the leader heading into Saturday’s third and final round.
“I feel like I had the ability to play well in years past, but I just didn’t come in with the right mindset,” said Lawrence, who is from Richmond and will be a sophomore on Virginia Tech’s men’s golf team this upcoming season. “I didn’t play the course the way I needed to play it. Doing what I need to do, it definitely opens up a lot of opportunities. I’m excited with where I am, but I’m going to have to play well tomorrow.”
Lawrence (Hermitage CC) surged past the players ahead of him on the first-round leaderboard. Defending champion Lanto Griffin, a Blacksburg-based touring professional, shot a 2-under 70 and is two shots back. First-round leader Steven Delmar, a Coastal Carolina graduate and assistant men’s golf coach at the University of Maryland, posted a 2-over 74 and is three shots behind Lawrence.
Amateur Ben Campbell (Clear Creek Golf Club) shot a 4-under 68 for a two-day 139 and is alone in fourth, four shots back. Professional Jimmy Flippen Jr. returned an even-par 72 and is five shots back at 140, alone in fifth place.
Lawrence, who has reached at least the semifinals of the last two VSGA Amateur championships and won three VSGA Junior Match Play championships, made the turn at even par. A birdie on the par-5 10th got him started on the back, and when he rolled home a 35-foot putt for birdie on the par-4 14th hole, he started rolling. He finished with four birdies in his last five holes, including a slick downhill 20-foot putt on the par-4 18th.
“I putted the ball really well, but honestly, my ball striking is why I played well,” Lawrence said. “I think I missed one fairway in two rounds. That’s essential. You’ve got to get the ball into play. That’s as important as anything in either round.”
Griffin shot 67 in the first round, but he wasn’t unhappy with his 70 on Friday. It could have been much worse, he said. He bogeyed his first hole. He had to hit a 15-foot putt to save bogey on No. 2 and needed to drain a 15 footer on No. 3 to save par. He finished the front nine strong and got off to a solid start on the back, making birdie on No. 10 and hitting a solid approach on 11 that left him four feet from the cup.
But he missed that birdie putt, stunting his momentum.
“It was one of those putts that four feet downhill, probably a left-edge putt, but you have to hit it so soft that you don’t want to leave the face open,” Griffin said. “I just pulled it.”
Griffin ended his round on a positive note, making a short birdie on No. 10 to pull back within two shots of the lead.
“I’m going to go hit some balls and get my tempo right,” Griffin said. “I just didn’t have it today. My hips were sliding in, and I was hitting big draws. … Today could have been a 75. I got it to 70. Usually, you have one round a tournament that’s like that. The fact that I got it in at 70 today, was definitely a win.”
For a good part of the morning, it looked like Delmar was poised to run away from the field. He made three birdies on a bogey-free front nine, then made birdie on No. 10 to get to 12 under for the tournament. The next three holes were a disaster, though, as he went bogey-bogey-triple bogey. Though he made birdie on No. 15, he double bogeyed No. 16 and shot 41 on the back to fall out of the lead.
“On 13, I was in between clubs, and I took one more and ended up toeing it,” Delmar said. “I went in the hazard, and then I had another bad shot once I dropped from the hazard. That’s something you can’t do. You can’t hit two bad shots in a row, for sure.”
Looking for an underdog story in the top five? Campbell has you covered. A 41-year-old P.E. teacher at George Wythe High School in Wytheville, Campbell snagged the lone qualifying spot by shooting 72 at Glenrochie CC in Abingdon in June. He shot a 4-under 68 on Friday, the second lowest score of the day behind Lawrence’s 67.
Campbell made five birdies and a bogey on Friday.
“I just played loose,” Campbell said. “I just wanted to make the cut. I had no expectations of being top 10 or even being one of the top amateurs. I just wanted to make the cut. I’m doing it for fun. Vacation’s about over.”
Campbell will start in the penultimate grouping, behind Lawrence, Griffin and Delmar. He knows plenty about Lawrence’s game having played two rounds of stroke play with him at the VSGA Amateur two weeks ago in Radford.
“He hits it eight miles. He hits it 30 yards by me, at least,” Campbell said. “It was fun to watch.”
Professionals Steve Jenkins and Chad Anderson are tied for sixth after shooting 3-under 141s over the two days. Amateurs Conner Hayden (The Virginian GC) and Jon Hurst (Fredericksburg CC) shot 142 and are tied for eighth. Professionals Jay Woodson, PGA, Troy Thorne, PGA and Fielding Brewbaker are tied for 10th at 143.
Sixty-one players made the cut for Saturday’s final round after shooting 152 or better.
Five players enter the final round within five strokes of the lead, and with Ballyhack yielding some tasty numbers the first two days, someone coming from back in the pack to win the event isn’t out of the question. Griffin is looking to become the third player to win consecutive State Opens since the VPGA and VSGA opens were merged in 1985. (Woodson and Keith Decker are the others.) One of Virginia’s most decorated juniors, Lawrence is looking for his first major championship in the Commonwealth.
And just behind them, players capable of making a run lurk.
“If I play my best, then I’m going to have a really good chance,” Griffin said. “I’ve never played with Mark, but I know he’s a good player. I’ve seen his name around a bunch. He’s not going to be scared to win it. You never know. You’ve just got to play the golf course.”
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