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Brinson Paolini ties a record in the state's biggest amateur event Saturday in Hot Springs.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
HOT SPRINGS — For the fourth time in six years, the guy known as “BP” to some of his cohorts and competitors was carrying the biggest tank of fuel at the VSGA Championship.
Finishing off what may be his last amateur appearance before turning professional, Brinson Paolini captured his fourth State Am crown Saturday when he rallied to down collegian Ji Soo Park 3 and 2 in the final at the Homestead’s Cascades Course.
Just call the Virginia Beach native “Four-Time” for the time being.
“Sounds good to me!” a happy Paolini said after matching state legend Vinnie Giles’ run of four titles in six years in the state’s biggest amateur event.
Refusing to go down in his VSGA swan song, Paolini ran off three consecutive birdies to erase a two-hole deficit and held steady to capture the title in the event’s centennial anniversary championship.
“I think it all was just belief,’’ said Paolini, 22, a recent Duke graduate. “I didn’t want to go out losing. I just wasn’t going to lose and if I did they were going to have to really beat me.
“And that’s what [caddie] Mac [Thayer] and I kept saying: ‘If we’re going to go down, they’re going to have to play as anyone could play, I wasn’t going to give them anything.’
“That was kind of my mantra all week was to keep fighting and never give up.”
Well, it wasn’t a knockout. Just call it a technical KO. If anyone knows technical, it’s Paolini, whose well-drilled swing, short game, and composure was the major difference Saturday.
Two-down with 16 holes left in the scheduled 36-hole match, Paolini rattled off three consecutive birdies on hole Nos. 21 through 23 to take a lead he would never surrender.
“Well, I mean I wasn’t where I wanted to be,” said Paolini of his two-hole deficit through 20 holes. “But I just kept telling myself to keep fighting and like we said match play is all about leverage. It’s all about the next hole and how you can put pressure on your opponent on the next hole, no matter if you’re 6-up or 6-down. You have to put pressure on your opponent.
“And that’s all I tried to keep doing. No matter what I was, but keep putting pressure on [Park], keep putting pressure on the golf course, keep the momentum on my side. And that’s what I tried to do all week and I’m just fortunate that it worked out.”
The comeback started at the 21st hole — the 289-yard third — when Paolini pulled out his driver and drove the green. Park, whose tee shot clipped a tree, missed the green on his difficult approach shot and conceded the hole when Paolini left his 15-foot eagle putt just shy of the cup.
Paolini then drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 22nd hole to square the match. Paolini took the lead for good at the 23rd hole — the 575-yard par-5 fifth — when he drained a 14-foot putt for another birdie.
Paolini, who won a record three straight titles from 2008-2010, built his lead on holes Nos. 27 and 29 to push the edge to 3-up. Park birdied the 31st hole to get back to 2-down, only to miss the green at the 33rd hole and concede par to fall back to 3-down. The match ended on the 34th hole when Paolini made a 5-foot birdie putt.
“Brinson had those three birdies and that was big,” said Park, a rising junior at Virginia. “I wasn’t swinging badly. I didn’t play badly ... he played well! He took the holes from him. There’s nothing you can do about that — he made birdies.”
The victory may or may not cap Paolini’s amateur career. He’s not sure if he will play another amateur event before he turns professional and heads to PGA Tour School this fall.
“I will be a professional at Q-school,’’ Paolini said. “I’m 100 percent turning professional, I just don’t know when.”
Can he make it to the Tour? Thousands of strong amateurs have tried and never made it.
“Absolutely,’’ the winner said. “Harris English, Luke Guthrie, Jordan Speith, Bud Cauley, all these guys who are tour now I played with in college ... I beat them. I know that I can compete out there.”
Thayer, who has been part of all four of Paolini’s State Am titles, sounds like he’s banking on his horse to get it done.
“I’ve seen those guys play [on tour] and you know he can work the ball both ways, he’s a much better putter now than he’s ever been before,’’ Thayer said. “He’s worked really hard on his short game so those are the elements you’re going to need to succeed on the PGA Tour, and I think he’s got all those elements to do that. He’s learned a lot about composure, too, so that’s a lot of the formula you need to be successful.”
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