J.P. Griffin first made school history by becoming the only golfer in the history of GSW's program to reach nationals, then he capped it off with a ninth-place finish this week in Louisville.
LOUISVILLE, Ken. — Andrew Danna and the Georgia Southwestern golf team went on the ride of their lives this season, soaring to the top of the national rankings and dancing to their first Division II regional tournament in school history.
It was a season few could have dreamed of a year ago when the Hurricanes were ranked outside of the Top 100 in the nation — but one by one GSW’s dreams started to come true.
J.P. Griffin saved the program’s most special moment for last.
Griffin, a junior from Glennville who was the first Hurricane golfer to advance to nationals, shot a 1-under 71 in Thursday’s final round and finished the Division II national tournament tied for ninth at 4-under.
“We made history one last time,” said Danna, who finished his second year as head coach of the Hurricanes. “It’s a really great moment for Georgia Southwestern golf and a great moment for all of Georgia Southwestern athletics. I’m not surprised by what J.P. accomplished because of how hard every single player in the golf program has worked this year. We fell short of our goal of making it here as a team, but this is something to be proud of.”
Danna wasn’t the only person proud of Griffin, who finished six shots behind individual champion Josh Creel of Central Oklahoma.
“The first person I called after my round was my dad,” Griffin told The Herald by telephone Thursday. “He told me that he had been following all day online and that he was proud of me. My mom told me the same thing right after my dad. It was pretty special to have both my parents say they are proud of me, especially with them knowing how much hard work I have put into my golf game.”
The Hurricanes lose two seniors from this year’s team — Craig Gibson and Chris Hall — while Griffin and Leesburg native and former Herald Player of the Year Nate Gahman will be GSW’s senior leaders next season.
“I couldn’t pick a better pair to lead us going forward next season,” Danna said.
Griffin will be coming back to Americus with at least an All-American honorable mention for his Top 15 finish. He birdied two of his first three holes to improve to 5-under — the closest he got to the top of the leaderboard. He bogeyed his ninth hole but finished with two birdies and two bogeys on his back nine, all the while not letting the significance of the moment derail his round.
“I’m an in-the-moment kind of person,” he said. “I’m always trying to keep my mind into what I am doing. Now that it’s over, I’m happy to shoot under par my final two rounds.”
And how does it feel to finish better than anybody else in GSW history?
“I haven’t really thought about that yet,” Griffin said. “I feel honored to represent the school and thankful that they gave me the opportunity to play college golf.”
That’s Griffin — humble, soft-spoken and level-headed.
And Danna said that’s also what makes Griffin such a good golfer.
“He has great temperament for this game,” Danna said. “And I felt like he was consistent throughout the entire championship. He managed every aspect of his game the way you would want to do it in a big tournament like this.”
And Griffin’s celebratory dinner after making school history was an easy choice: Dairy Queen.
“And I’ll be getting the biggest Blizzard I can find,” Griffin added with a laugh.
DARTON STRUGGLES ON DAY 3 AT NATIONALS:
NEWTON, Kan. — The blustery conditions in Thursday’s third round of the NJCAA Division I National Championship golf tournament might have blown the Cavs right out of contention.
Darton, which is ranked seventh in the nation and making its 11th straight trip to nationals, shot a 304 and dropped to 17 shots behind leader Indian Hills heading into today’s final round at the challenging Sand Creek Station Golf Course.
While the Cavs moved up two spots to No. 5 in the team standings because several other teams struggled with the 20-to-30 mph winds and quick greens, they left themselves virtually no shot at making a run for the title.
“You can see (the disappointment) in all of them,” Darton coach Bill Jones III said about his team’s morale. “They are pretty upset. All of us are. It’s been ours for the taking.”
Darton was in seventh place after Wednesday’s second round and just nine shots back of Indian Hill.
But the two teams went in opposite directions Thursday. Indian Hills, a small JUCO in Iowa, sits at 18-over and holds a commanding eight-shot lead over the rest of the field, while Darton dropped to a disappointing 35-over.
“(A comeback) is possible with the way the conditions will be (today),” Jones said. “But we will have to get a lot of help from every team in front of us, and we will have to play really well, which we haven’t done yet this week.”
One of the biggest disappointments this week has been the play of Darton sophomore and No. 1 player Joe Sakulpolphaisan, who fired a 4-over 76 on Thursday and fell to 10th place at 4-over for the tournament.
“I don’t know if he has lost his confidence or what, but I expect him to shoot par or better (today),” Jones said about Sakulpolphaisan, who is the top-ranked junior college golfer in the nation. “Whatever he shot (Thursday) was about as bas as he could possibly play. He just needs to get his focus back.”
Instead of Sakulpolphaisan leading the Cavs all week, it’s been fellow sophomore Austin McNeill, who shot a 2-over 74 on Thursday.
McNeill is at even par for the tournament and one shot back of the overall lead. Darton’s chances of bringing home some hardware from Kansas likely rest on his shoulders.
“He played pretty darn good (Thursday),” Jones said. “He was 3-over on the front nine but fought back on the back nine. We need that kind of finish from everybody (today).”
Darton’s other third-round scores were 74 from Shad Tuten, 80 from Chase Jones and 84 from Neil Graham.