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Climbing the pro ladder

Griffin, Claytor continue chase for Web.com Tour cards

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The appearance is the seventh for JT (John-Tyler) Griffin and the first for Daniel Claytor.

The mission is the same for the Wilson-area professional golfers.

Griffin and Claytor continue their bid to qualify for the Web.com Tour in 2019 in the second of three stages on Nov. 6-9.

The 31-year-old Griffin will travel to Mobile, Alabama, while Claytor, age 27, goes to McKinney, Texas.

The final destination is Chandler, Arizona, in early December. All qualifiers for the third stage are assured a Web.com Tour card of some sort for 2019.

Griffin, who has reached the third stage twice  — including 2017 — expects 17 to 20 golfers to advance, while Claytor anticipates the number being between 15-18 in Texas.

SURVIVE, ADVANCE

“I feel fine,” declared Griffin, a resident of the Atlanta area, in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. “It’s about surviving and advancing and playing within yourself. No one really wants to do it, but you have to do it to get there.”

Commented Claytor, also in a telephone interview: “It’s huge. I’m looking forward to it. This year gives me my best test and the realization of what I have to offer.”

Three-hundred seventy-five hungry professionals — 75 at each of the five sites — will vie for a third-stage berth. More than 100 golfers will travel to Arizona. The top finisher earns full Web.com status for 2019 and finishers Nos. 2-25 land conditional cards. The overall third-stage finish determines how many Web.com Tour events for which the golfer will be eligible.

FIRST STAGE

Griffin’s first-stage stop was the monster 7,593-yard, par-72 Highland Oaks-Magnolia/Highlands course in Dothan, Alabama on Oct. 2-5.

His rounds were 70-66-70-73 for a 9-under 279 total for 72 holes. With 25 advancing, Griffin qualified comfortably, deadlocking for 12th. The cutoff score was 5-under 283.

Before his second-stage assignment, Griffin, a product of Fike High and Georgia Tech, will compete in the PGA Tour qualifier in Las Vegas next Monday.

“I’ve had a good year and have felt fine,” Griffin, a former North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A champion, expressed. “I’m healthy. I’ve played so much golf this year. I am kind of continuing to do what I’ve been doing.”

DRAMA, ANXIETY

Drama and anxiety marked Clayton’s first-stage outing at The Club at Irish Creek in Kannapolis on Oct. 9-12.

The obstacle was Hurricane Michael. Conditions were fine for the opening round on Tuesday. A delay of more than two hours marked the second round. After some five holes, play was suspended  --- and called after the players sat around for three or four hours.

No golf was planned for Thursday. The second round was completed and the third round started before darkness intervened Friday. With the tournament scheduled to conclude Friday, Claytor, a Wilson resident, and the rest of the field played 20-plus holes Saturday.

Claytor carded rounds of 71-78-70-68 for a 7-under 277 over the par-71, 7,144-yard layout. The cutoff score was the 277 that Claytor and six others posted in deadlocking for 17th.

By sinking a 10-foot par putt on No. 18, Claytor managed 1-under 70 the third round. The product of Northern Nash High and an NCAA Division II All-American at Barton College, Claytor started his final round on the No. 10 tee.

He chipped in for a birdie on No. 16 and sank a birdie putt on No. 18. Then came a birdie on No. 1, another chip-in birdie on No. 3 and an all-important birdie down the stretch.

LIMITED IN 2018

Griffin will be attempting to reclaim his Web.com card. He owned Tour status in 2018 but started late and played in only nine events. His best finish was a tie for 14th place in Omaha.

Griffin explained he needed a couple of top-five finishes to keep his card, and was handicapped that he played about half as many events as full-time performers.

Surviving and advancing has been challenging during Griffin’s professional career of some eight years..

“There are so many good players out there,” he emphasized. “It’s about nerves. Everybody is uncomfortable. The ones at the top are the ones that most enjoy being uncomfortable. So much of it is about playing well when you absolutely have to play well.”

Griffin mentions no personal timetable.

“A lot of the guys I played with just got so they weren’t competitive,” he noted. “They got tired of being smacked in the mouth and having to get back up.

“You know when you know. You keep doing it as long as you still enjoy the competitive part of it.”

SENSATIONAL 2018

Claytor has enjoyed a sensational 2018 on the SwingThought Tour with three victories. He will likely capture the points championship. Through last weekend, he had amassed 27,760 points as compared to 19,249 for runner-up Wade Benfield. Three events remain. His top-16 finish rewarded him with a check for $4,400 that has helped him defray qualifying expenses.

Claytor has captured seven SwingThought events in the last two seasons.

“It feels pretty good,” Claytor, exempt through pre-qualifying, evaluated the state of his game. “I am working on a couple of things with the putter. If I can get the putter to cooperate and do what I know I can do, I believe I can make it to the finals.”

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