ALEXANDRIA, VA -- Rising sophomore Brinson Paolini, the two-time defending VSGA State Amateur champion, is tied for first at the 97th VSGA State Amateur after shooting a four-under 68 on Tuesday at Belle Haven Country Club (6,940 yards, par 36-36-72). Lanto Griffin also shot a 68 in the opening round of play to match Paolini. The two are inextricably linked by last year's championship final at Cedar Point Country Club in Suffolk, in which Paolini rallied to win seven of nine holes against Griffin to close the match to become the ninth player ever to win consecutive titles in the championship.
Paolini is trying to become the first player ever to win three straight State Amateurs. Paolini, who is starting to play a nationally competitive amateur schedule, which included starts at the Sunnehanna Amateur and the Northeast Amateur, never doubted that he would return to defend.
"I was coming here the second I walked off the green last year," says Paolini, who just completed his first year at Duke University, where he earned Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year accolades. "My mindset isn't any different than it's been the past couple of years. Obviously, I'm going to try my best to win this tournament. The VSGA is the greatest organization there is as far as I'm concerned. They've been so nice to me. I'm very happy to be here and hopefully I'll keep playing well."
If Paolini's back nine surge during first round play is any indication of what's to come, he's off to a good start. All told, he registered seven birdies against three bogeys in the first day of qualifying. He birdied three of the first four holes of his inward nine and added another birdie at the par-4 seventh hole. Paolini used his length to easily birdie the first par 5 of his back nine, No. 1 and wielded a hot putter to drain putts of 15 and 20 feet, respectively, at Nos. 4 and 5 before making a tap-in birdie at No. 7. He shot three-under on his inward half after a closing bogey at No. 9.
"I'm just focused on trying to play every hole I can and play every shot that I want to; the rest will take care of itself," Paolini said. "Right now, I'm trying to get as good a seed as I can going into match play and go from there."
Scott Shingler and Brett Williams led the mid-amateurs (ages 25-and-over), shooting 3-under 69s to close the day one shot back of Paolini and Griffin.
Following Wednesday's second day of stroke play qualifying, the field will be reduced to the low 32 players for match play. The first and second rounds of match play follow on Thursday, July 1, the quarterfinals and semifinals are Friday, July 2 before the scheduled 36-hole on Saturday, July 3.
First Round Scores - Top 10
Brinson Paolini (Virginia Beach), 33-35-68
Lanto Griffin (Blacksburg), 33-35-68
Brett Williams (Alexandria), 35-34-69
Scott Shingler (Haymarket), 34-35-69
Larry Loving Jr. (Richmond), 36-34-70
Jake Mondy (Blacksburg), 35-36-71
Lee Fisher (Altavista), 35-36-71
Seth Norman (Norfolk), 34-37-71
Scott Marino (Fairfax), 36-35-71
Adam Webb (Ridgeway), 38-33-71
Ji Soo Park (Centreville), 35-36-71
Erik Ruce (Arlington), 36-35-71
Jeremy Wells (Hopewell), 35-36-71
Vincent Nadeau (Richmond), 34-37-71
Wednesday Tee Time
1:36 p.m. - Brinson Paolini (Virginia Beach); Adam Webb (Ridgeway); David Partridge (Manakin-Sabot)