Clark's Bar Will Be Tough to Reach
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Oct 4, 2012, 12:14
Thomas Dale senior Griffin Clark tees off during the Central Region Golf Tournament at Jefferson Lakeside Country Club in Richmond on Monday (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
RICHMOND – If the true measure of an athlete is how his opponents perceive him, Thomas Dale High School golf standout Griffin Clark’s legacy will be a lasting one in the Central District.
“He’s a rock-solid player and a good competitor,” said Matoaca coach John Hall, who has been at the helm of Thomas Dale’s chief rival for seven years. “My kids always enjoy competing against him. We usually come up short, but they enjoy competing against him.”
Clark carded a two-day score of 143 at the Central Region Golf Tournament on Monday and Tuesday, leading the Knights to the title and solidifying his third consecutive appearance in next week’s Group AAA tournament. Last year, he finished second in the state among individuals, falling one stroke short of the crown.
On the home front, the senior stalwart has enjoyed a record-breaking four-year career for the perennial powerhouse Knights. Clark is a four-time first team all district honoree and a three-time district player of the year.
“It’s been a great ride,” Clark said. “I’m just trying to go out on a high. It’s been fun playing team golf for the last four years.”
Mix in a smattering of victories at the junior golf level and Clark’s resume resonates with the district’s bevy of tenured coaches. How good has his four-year reign been? Hall called Clark “as good as anybody I’ve seen in the Central District.”
Colonial Heights coach Jim Crinkley, who started the Colonials program in 1973 and has coached off and on ever since, echoed that sentiment.
“At a young age, he was as good as just about any of them, and we’ve had some really good players come through,” Crinkley said. “One of the things that makes him different is he’s very steady and he appears to be emotionally detached from the game, which you have to be.”
Perhaps more importantly at the high school level, Crinkley said Clark’s conduct between shots has been as impressive as his signature drives and inch-perfect putts.
“It’s hard to be that good and play at a high level for that long,” Crinkley said. “He’s a good sport and I think he’s a real good guy, which is a high compliment from me.”
“A FAMILY THING”
Clark has been around golf for as long as he can remember and began playing competitively when he was 12 or 13. His father, Kenneth, is a PGA professional at the Country Club of Petersburg.
“Golf is just in my blood,” Clark said. “It’s a family thing.”
His father’s profession provides Clark with a live-in swing coach.
“We’re both kind of relaxed,” Clark said of his on-course relationship with his father. “We like to just have fun playing golf without making it too much of a job.”
Kenneth Clark’s job also furnishes his son with another benefit – easy access to a golf course. Griffin Clark plays almost daily in the summer and is a consistent participant in junior golf tournaments across the state.
ALL BY HIMSELF
A former baseball player, Clark said it is the autonomy of golf that appeals to him most. “I love team sports, too,” he said. “I just kind of like doing everything on my own.”
The Chester native’s scores are proof enough that the self sufficiency suits him well. A self-proclaimed streaky putter with a redemptive long game, Clark said his greatest asset is his consistency.
“I would say my strength is that I don’t have a lot of weaknesses,” Clark said. “I’m kind of just steady at every part of my game.”
That descriptor is nearly a verbatim replication of Prince George golf coach Earl Burton’s assessment, though the 29-year coaching veteran was not quite as muffled by modesty.
“He’s just an outstanding player with no weaknesses,” Burton said. “He knows how to manage a golf course.”
Clark’s well-rounded game has produced a propensity for staggering scores.
He once shot a 66 on his home course in Petersburg. His lowest competitive round – a four-under 68 – came in a tournament this summer at Montgomery Country Club in Maryland.
Thomas Dale golf coach Dave Duncan said Clark’s skillset and unflappable mental approach make sub-70 scores attainable every time the golfer tees off.
“What makes Griffin so unique is that he’s such a smart player,” Duncan said. “He’s been that way for years.”
SEEKING THE CROWN
Clark hopes to play Division I college golf at either Radford University or Old Dominion University, but the battle-tested senior has some unfinished business to attend to before his high school career concludes.
As a junior, Clark carded a two-day score of 141 in the state tournament at Laurel Hills Golf Club in Lorton, a tally matched only by his longtime friend Mark Lawrence Jr. of Mills Godwin.
The title was decided by a playoff, which Lawrence won with a birdie on the first hole. This year, Clark is determined to turn the tables on Lawrence, with whom he was paired at Jefferson Lakeside Country Club on Monday.
“I want to beat him so bad,” Clark said. “Me and him have been friends for a long time and it seems like we’re paired together at every tournament. We’re really competitive with each other, and we make it fun. But I’ll be gunning for him.”
Winning a state title is as much a test of momentum as it is talent. There is a high degree of parity among the state’s top golfers, meaning the trophy goes to the hottest hand.
“That’s when it becomes a horse race,” Duncan said. “What’s the difference between the top 20 and top 10? A stroke? Two strokes? If we did it 10 times over, how many times would the No. 1 come out No. 1?”
But Hall, whose teams have been plagued by Clark’s ability to rise to the top for four years, offered a cautionary word for the standout’s future opponents.
“He’s a very, very skilled player,” Hall said. “I’d say the sky is the limit for him.”
Thomas Dale senior Griffin Clark kisses the Central Region Golf Tournament trophy at Stonehenge Country Club in Richmond on Tuesday (photo by Jacob Vaughan).