Losing his 7-year-old sister to cancer when J.T. Griffin was a teen puts things in perspective on the golf course.
“Looking at the big picture, it definitely gives you a different perspective, but unfortunately day-to-day it’s still hard not to beat yourself up a little bit when you’re struggling,” Griffin said. “But yeah, you see somebody fight for their life and it makes it a little different out here.”
The 32-year-old Griffin is among 74 golfers in Dothan this week competing in the second stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying-School Tournament at Highland Oaks. Approximately 20 players will advance to the third and final stage when the four-day tourney completes on Friday.
They are all hoping to earn an exemption for the upcoming season onto the Korn Ferry Tour, which is a step below the PGA Tour and formerly known as the Web.com Tour.
“It’s the most grueling test in sports, I think, honestly,” Griffin said of Q-School. “You play four rounds for your job.”
Griffin, a Georgia Tech graduate, is in good shape going into the third round. He shot a 2-under-par 69 in the first round and a second-round 71 on Wednesday. He is tied for 11th place with seven others at 4-under 140.
Q-School is different in that the goal is just to finish among the top 20 for a chance to advance to the next stage instead of battling to win and get the prize money that comes with finishing high.
“I do try to stay a little bit more patient and in the moment,” Griffin said. “In a (regular) tournament, you’re trying to win and you’re a little more aggressive. But here, you’ve got to kind of wait for your stride and hope your stride comes. You can’t really force anything.
“I just try to take what it gives me and try not to do anything special. You can’t really try to be a hero, especially out here.”
He says Highland Oaks provides a very challenging test.
“I was kind of out of position all day, and out here you’re in trouble if you’re out of position,” Griffin said of his second round. “It was definitely a grind. I thought it was a little tougher today because I didn’t drive it as well.”
Pin placements had Griffin’s attention.
“Some of the pins were crazy,” he said. “Some of them were on just the side of slopes and you couldn’t get to them. You’re kind of playing defense even on the greens. But man, they’ve got them in good shape.”
The golfers are playing the Highlands and Marshwood courses of the 27-hole complex.
“This is the hardest set of par 3s of any tournament I’ve played,” Griffin said. “There is disaster on each of them. It’s a great course and a great test. I think it does a good job of identifying the 20 best players of the week.”
The grind of being a professional golfer can take its toll and was something Griffin struggled with last season.
“I learned you can’t play every week or you’ll drive yourself into the ground,” Griffin said. “I played too many events and by the end of the last three or four events I didn’t have any fight left.
“I was fine physically, but mentally I didn’t have any fight. I just went the wrong way and find myself in Q-School again. Hopefully if I get back out there I’ll do a better job of time management and choosing my battles.”
Griffin says there is a fine line between players at this level and those already established on the PGA Tour.
“It’s just a couple of shots,” Griffin said. “It’s probably mostly upstairs for especially guys in my situation and out here at second stage where we just haven’t really figured it out yet.
“So close. That’s why we keep banging our head against the wall.”
Leaders: Danny Walker of Brandenton, Fla., leads the pack with a 10-under-134 after rounds of 66-68. Three players are at 136 — Philip Knowles of Jacksonville, Fla., who shot the lowest round Wednesday at 65, Stephen Franken of Raleigh, N.C., and Mike Schoolcraft of Denver. Lukas Euler of Raleigh, N.C., is at 137, while Taylor Dickson of Gastonia, N.C., Nathan Stamey of Bluffton, S.C., and Sam Fidone of Lufkin, Texas, came in at 138.
Tee times for the third round begin at 7:30 on Thursday morning.