Lawrence Jr. of Richmond wins 107th VSGA Amateur Championship

By Chris Lang, Virginia State Golf Association

Photo: VSGA

GREAT FALLS — There’s a certain perception about Mark Lawrence Jr. and his golf game. He’s a big, strong guy who can hit the ball a mile, and that sticks out to most when they first see him play. But discount his short game at your peril, because he’s proud of the work he’s put into it, and it carried him at key points of Saturday’s championship match of the 107th Virginia State Golf Association Amateur Championship at River Bend Club.

Lawrence, who lives in Richmond and plays at Virginia Tech, defeated 17-year-old David Stanford of Vienna 3 and 2 in the 36-hole final, fittingly meeting his family to celebrate just off the 16th green, just as he did at Creighton Farms in 2017 when he won his first Amateur title.

The victory left Lawrence (Independence GC) in some rarified air when it comes to Virginia golf history. He became just the fourth player to win the Amateur and State Open in the same year, joining Vinny Giles, Tom McKnight and Steve Smith, with McKnight the last to pull the trick 35 years ago.

Central to that victory was Lawrence’s short game, which came into play on two crucial holes that swung the momentum of the match. Lawrence led 3 up after the morning 18 holes and quickly pushed the lead to 4 up with a birdie on No. 1 to open the second 18. But he found himself in trouble off the tee on No. 2, his drive landing in the water in a penalty area, costing him a stroke. Stanford (Army Navy CC) was safely in the fairway and reached the green in regulation.

Lawrence’s third shot settled in the rough just behind the hole. After Stanford’s birdie attempt came up short, Lawrence hit a delicate chip that trickled into the hole for par, halving the hole.

“I typically get talked about as a guy who hits it pretty far,” Lawrence said. “But I work on my short game more than I work on anything else, and actually, what I feel is the best part of my game is my chipping. I have a lot of confidence in my wedges around the green, just because I’ve worked at it a lot.”

Fast forward to No. 12. Stanford won No. 7 with a birdie and No. 8 with a par to cut Lawrence’s lead in half, and the match status remained the same heading to the short, drivable par 4. For the second time Saturday, Lawrence tried to drive the green and pushed the ball right into a greenside bunker. Stanford’s drive settled short of the green, leaving him a good chance to get up and down for birdie.

Instead, he left his pitch shot well short. He missed his birdie attempt and settled for a par.

“I just left it shorter than I wanted to, especially since he was in the bunker,” Stanford said.

Lawrence got out of the bunker and left himself 12 feet for birdie. He sunk the putt, leaving him 3 up with just six holes to play.

“Both bunker shots, I hit a hair heavy, just because you don’t want to hit it way past the hole,” Lawrence said. “I left myself 12 feet up the hill, right to left. I hit a bad putt this morning, but this afternoon, I finally put a good stroke on it and rolled it in.”

Stanford had a chance to creep closer on 14, but his par putt rolled around the edge of the cup and out.

The players halved 15 with par, and Lawrence won when both he and Stanford two putted for par on 16.

“You just have to be having the best day of your life to beat a guy like that,” Stanford said. “He just doesn’t make mistakes, and the only way you’re going to beat him is with a lot of birdies. It’s just tough.”

Stanford’s future is a bright one. A year after winning the VSGA Junior Stroke Play title, he reached the final match of the Amateur in just his second year of playing in the event, and the first in which he qualified for match play. A rising senior at George Marshall High School, he has a year left before heading to Virginia Tech, where he’s committed to play for Brian Sharp’s Hokies.

“It’s just such a confidence builder, because I beat so many good players to get here,” Stanford said. “It’s great to know that I can get to compete with them. Especially in this match. Mark got up pretty big early, but I was able to hold on throughout the rest of the match, and I’m proud of myself for that.”

Lawrence’s future is a little more muddled. With the Atlantic Coast Conference canceling sports this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, he hopes to play his final semester for the Hokies in the spring and get one more crack at a national championship. Being able to play in the spring would open up some potential professional opportunities.

“There’s no Q School until 2021,” Lawrence said. “As of right now, the Tech team is planning on playing in the spring, so I plan to play in the spring. Hopefully I can play well enough in the spring that I can earn status through the PGA Tour University. If not that, it’s going to be Q School next year, it’s just a matter of whether or not they have China, Latinoamerica, Canada, those tours, before Q School. So, it’s sort of up in the air.”

If this was it for Lawrence at the VSGA Amateur, though, he went out with a bang. With his two wins this year, he now has won seven VSGA events (two Amateurs, a State Open, three Junior Match Plays and a Junior Stroke Play), moving him into a tie for 11th on the all-time list.

107th VSGA Amateur Championship
At River Bend Club, Great Falls
Par 71, 6,917 yards

Friday’s quarterfinal matches
#1 Mark Lawrence Jr. (Richmond) def. #8 Ross Funderburke (Roanoke), 5 and 4
#20 Vince Wheeler (Roanoke) def. #12 Tyler Gulliksen (Dunn Loring), 20 holes
#31 Alex Price (Purcellville) def. #26 Dustin Groves (Charlottesville), 3 and 1
#6 David Stanford (Vienna) def. #3 Teddy Zinsner (Alexandria), 4 and 2

Friday’s semifinal matches
#1 Lawrence def. #20 Wheeler, 2 and 1
#6 Stanford def. #31 Price, 5 and 4

Saturday’s 36-hole championship match
#1 Lawrence def. #6 Stanford, 3 and 2

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