Capital City Club assistant J.P. Griffin scored his first Georgia PGA victory in impressive fashion Monday at Peachtree GC, defeating two of the Section’s top veteran players to win the Match Play Championship.
Griffin defeated top-seeded Sonny Skinner 3&1 in the semifinals Monday morning, and came back in the afternoon to get past Brian Dixon 2-up in the title match. Both Skinner, a former PGA and Nike/Web.com/Nationwide Tour player, and Dixon, an instructor at Fox Creek, are former Match Play champions.
While Griffin had not won a Georgia PGA points event since becoming a club pro in 2015, he has won 11 individual Assistants Division titles including its championship event in 2016, ’17 and ’18. He has contended in a number of Section tournaments, including a tie for third in the 2015 Yamaha Atlanta Open at White Columns in his first Georgia PGA start.
“I’ve come close a lot, a lot of top three or four finishes, but this is my first win,” Griffin said after his victory. “It’s nice to finally get the money off my back to so speak.”
Griffin, one of the longest hitters in the Section, enjoyed an advantage off the tee in the championship match against Dixon and a decided distance edge in the semifinals against the 59-year-old Skinner, who was giving away 31 years and about that many yards per tee shot to Griffin.
In the morning semifinal match, Griffin jumped out to a 3-up lead after three holes with three straight birdies. He used his course knowledge from his time as a caddie at Peachtree during the two years he was playing professionally following his college career at Georgia Southwestern in Americus, to win one of the holes in somewhat atypical fashion.
Griffin was in between clubs for his second shot of just under 200 yards to the downhill, par-5 second, with Skinner in some trouble after his second. Although he could have easily reached the green, Griffin elected to lay up, knowing that the pin position presented him with a backstop for a short third shot, which he used to record the second of his three straight birdies to start the match.
Trailing by four holes at the turn, Skinner needed birdie on the par-5 10th for a half before cutting his deficit in half with birdies at the par-4 13th and pr-3 14th, nearly acing the latter. Griffin temporarily halted Skinner’s comeback with a birdie at the 15th, the first of Peachtree’s stretch of closing holes Griffin says he feels comfortable on because of their right-to-left nature.
“My goal was to try to be ahead or all square going to 15, because those holes fit my right-to-left ball flight,” Griffin observed. “I made that goal happen in both matches.”
Griffin went birdie-birdie-birdie on 15, 16 and 17 in his morning match, winning the 15th and reaching the par-5 16th in two for another birdie. Skinner, however, stayed alive by holing a long eagle putt, but that only extended the match, as Griffin closed things out with a birdie on the 17th.
In the championship match, Griffin led by as much as 2-up after birdies at 9 and 10, hitting his second shot close on the par-4 ninth and leaving himself about 15 feet for eagle on the 10th.
Dixon, seeded sixth in the 64-player field, missed a short birdie putt that would have halved the 10th, but cut his deficit to one hole when he hit his tee shot on the long par-3 11th inside a foot for a birdie. He rolled in a lengthy par putt on the difficult 12th for a half, with that putt the only one of length either player holed in the match.
Griffin made his lone mistake on the demanding Peachtree putting surfaces at the 13th, three-putting from the 12-foot range to enable Dixon to pull even. Griffin regained the lead with a solid par at the 15th while Dixon took bogey after missing the fairway to the right and the green to the left, coming up short with his delicate chip shot.
Dixon birdied the par-5 16th after hitting his second shot from the rough pin high in the fringe for a relatively easy two-putt, while Griffin faced a frighteningly quick chip down the slope to a front pin following an iron approach that went just over the green. He left the chip abovet the hole, but trickled in his short but testy birdie attempt to retain his lead.
Griffin had a chance to end the match with a birdie at the 17th, but followed with another precise short iron to birdie range at the 18th, and was conceded the putt after Dixon just missed his lengthy downhill birdie try from the back of the green to the front pin location.
“I played well vs. Sonny this morning and played well again this afternoon against Brian.” Griffin said. “I kept telling myself to keep constant pressure on the guys I was playing, I hit it straight enough that I could be aggressive, and I was hitting, two, three or four clubs less on my approach shots.
“I never hit any tee shots out of play, and for me that’s good.”
Griffin jumped out to an early lead in the afternoon against Dixon, hitting a perfect tee shot on the par-5 second followed by an excellent lag putt to set up a birdie, while Dixon hit his second in the creek alongside the green and could do no better than par.
Dixon won the third with a conceded birdie after Griffin pulled his layup off the tee into the creek just left of the fairway and made bogey, and took his only lead of the match with a birdie at the par-5 fifth. Dixon was on in two after a nice drive, which influenced Griffin to hit driver on the sharp dogleg right that does not suit him. He bogeyed the hole in the morning and again drove into the trees in the afternoon, forcing a punch out for his second. He spun back his third within birdie range, but missed the putt while Dixon lagged his lengthy eagle try close to the hole
Griffin trailed for only two holes, winning the seventh with a par when Dixon missed the green well right and was unable to hole his par putt after a deft pitch.
On the day, Griffin had 12 birdies on his scorecard for 35 holes. He had seven birdies in his victory over Skinner and five against Dixon, shooting 69 in the afternoon round with his conceded birdie at the 18th.
The highlight of Griffin’s four earlier wins in the Match Play was a 3&2 victory over fifth seeded and defending champion Justin Martin, an instructor at Bobby Jones GC, It was the only match Griffin played in the tournament that did not go at least 17 holes. Griffin took home the winner’s check of $1,500 for his efforts.
Dixon advanced to the finals with a 3&2 victory in the semifinals over CC of the South instructor David Potts, the 10th seed. Dixon led 2-up at the turn and closed out the match with a birdie at 16. Dixon first won the tournament in 1997 when the event was played at one site over three days at the Woodlands at Chateau Elan, and scored his second title in 2014, the first time the semifinals and finals were played at Peachtree.
From 2006-13 Dixon lost in the third round eight straight years before capturing his second title in 2014. He made it to the quarterfinals each of the next three years before losing in the second round last year, his first loss prior to the third round in 13 years.
Dixon’s loss last year came against Griffin, who was playing in the Match Play Championship for the first time. He wound up losing in the third round.
Skinner and Potts also have records of success in the event. Skinner won in 2006 at Callaway Gardens, the first year he was eligible. Since then, he has advanced to the finals once, the semis four times and the quarters three times, and has made it to Peachtree four times since the Match Play Championship has held the final two rounds there since 2014.
Potts won the Match Play in 2010 and has made it to quarters twice and the semis twice, with he and Skinner both losing their semifinal matches for the second year in a row.
Peachtree, one of the state’s best and most visually appealing and immaculately conditioned courses, has produced six different Match Play champions, while denying the Section’s elite players. Skinner, Mason, Weinhart and Stevens have made nine combined trips to Peachtree since 2014, but none has managed to emerge as a winner,
After the tournament, both Dixon and Skinner headed to Austin, Tex., for the PGA Senior Professional Championship, where they will compete this week along with fellow Georgia PGA members Tim Weinhart, Paul Claxton, James Mason, Glen Herrell and Mark Anderson, who lost a playoff to Herrell for the final spot but got into the field at nationals as an alternate.
Skinner, Weinhart, Mason, Claxton and fellow senior Craig Stevens came into the Match Play semifinals as the top 5 in the Player of the Year standings. The 28-year-old Griffin was 11th prior to his victory, and is in position to take over as one of the Georgia PGA’s top players in the next few years.
As for this year, Skinner’s loss in the semifinals kept Weinhart, Mason and Claxton alive in the race for Player of the Year, which will be decided Oct. 14-15 at Jennings Mill in the GPGA Professional Championship, the Section’s qualifier for the 2020 national club pro championship.