Alison Lee, Benjamin Griffin claim AJGA Rolex T of C titles
LANCASTER, PA.—Their victories couldn't have come more differently, Alison Lee cruising to a six-stroke rout and Benjamin Griffin rallying for a one-stroke come-from-behind triumph. Yet when the two were able to compare notes after winning the girls and boys titles, respectively, at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions on a rainy Friday at Lancaster CC, they found the same intangible helped explain their successes.
Lee, an 18-year-old from Valencia, Calif., who will attend UCLA in the fall, had won her previous two AJGA starts entering what would be the final individual tournament of her vaunted junior career. Ranked No. 1 in the Polo Golf Junior Ranking, Lee said her recent play allowed her to block out the emotions of this being her AJGA swansong that might have otherwise crept into her mind.
"I've been hitting the ball really well, just playing very consistently," Lee said. "I really felt like I could go out there and play my game I'd be fine."
Fine indeed. After opening with a 70-69 to grab a share of the lead, Lee posted a third-round 67 that gave her a four-stroke cushion. With birdies on two of her first five holes in the final round, she gave runner-up Andrea Lee and third-place finisher Casey Danielson little room for hope, eventually posting an even-par 70. Her four-under 276 total was the only sub-par score on girls' side and she was the only player who didn't have at least one round over par.
By winning the AJGA's oldest and most prestigious event, Lee closed out her career with four AJGA invitational wins (all earned in the last 18 months) and nine titles overall. She also put herself in position to claim a sixth AJGA Rolex first-team All-American honor at year's end.
In contrast, victory was something new for Griffin, a 17-year-old from Chapel Hill, N.C. The rising high school senior had played 10 AJGA events prior to last November's Polo Golf Junior Classic with just one top-10 finish. But after reaching the quarterfinals of the AJGA's signature match-play event late in 2012, he carded two more top-10s in 2013, including a T-2 at Innisbrook in March and a sixth-place showing at last month's FJ Invitational.
"I've been playing so well this summer," Griffin said. "I've gained a lot of experience."
Still, Griffin knew he had to step up his play in the final round as he started the day three strokes back of Matt Gilchrest and Theo Humphrey. After a bogey on the third hole, Griffin bounced back with birdies on the third, fourth and seventh to put himself in the mix at the turn.
From there, Griffin sprung his secret weapon—a new Taylor Made putter he put in his bag at the beginning of June. After rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole, he proceed to make what he measured to be an 80-foot bomb on the 15th to claim a share of the lead with Humphrey and Adam Wood.
"Right when that happened, I felt like it might just be my day," Griffin said.
When a 35-foot birdie putt went dark on the 17th hole—after Wood bogeyed the 18th hole and Humphrey stumbled coming in—Griffin found himself alone in the lead. A clutch up-and-down from the front of the 18th green for par clinched the victory over Wood, with Griffin finishing off a five-under 65 (needing just 25 putts) and an eight-under 272 total.
"My goal at the start of the day was to get to eight under. I figured that would probably give me a one- or two-shot cushion," said Griffin, who has verbally committed to play college golf at North Carolina. "My putter saved me all day. I'm just really proud of the way I handled things down the stretch."
With his newfound status as an AJGA invitational winner, Griffin continues to build momentum with some big junior events still to come this summer—notably the U.S. Junior Amateur and the Junior PGA Championship.
Suffice it to say, he'll continued to have confidence on his side.