LAKE PLACID - As one of the most talented young golfers to come out of the North Country, Art Griffin has been able to reap the benefits of a remarkable growth spurt over the last couple of years.
But at the same time, the 18-year-old from Lake Placid has also had to deal with a consequence that arose from growing so fast. A combination of countless swings with the golf club while he quickly tacked on several inches in height left Griffin with several fractures in a vertebra.
After having to step away from the game he loves since last summer to recover from the injury, Griffin is back playing competitive golf this year, and what a return it's been.
Standing in front of his home in Lake Placid this week, Art Griffin displays the back brace he has been wearing since last year.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Last weekend, he notched what could be the biggest victory of his career so far by winning the Northeastern New York PGA Junior Championships at the town of Colonie Golf Course. Griffin fired two rounds of 71, which left him two shots below par and six strokes ahead of the nearest competitor.
The win was significant because it qualified Griffin for the Junior PGA Championships, which will be played at the Miramont Country Club in College Station, Texas from July 29 to Aug. 1. The tournament features a field of 150 of the best young golfers from around the world.
"Some of the biggest names in golf have won this tournament," Griffin said of the upcoming event. "Tiger won it when he was young. When I go down there, I just want to have a good showing and make the cut for the fourth day. Winning is not the objective because the field is so stellar."
What made Griffin's win at Colonie even more impressive is the fact that he competed wearing a cumbersome, rigid back brace. It's the same one he began using every day since last August when his back pain became unbearable as he started his senior year Hilton Head Prep school in South Carolina.
"It first started hurting in January 2013, but when I went to a doctor, I was told everything looked fine," Griffin said. "I played all through the summer, but the pain eventually got to a point where on some days I couldn't even get out of bed."
Another doctor's visit late last summer confirmed that Griffin had several hairline fractures in a vertebra, which resulted in him basically living in the back brace.
"For eight months, I wore it 23 hours a day," Griffin said. "The only time I didn't have to wear it was when I was in the shower. When I wear it on the golf course, it can be like a furnace.
"I grew eight or nine inches during the past two years, and I was playing so much golf," Griffin added. "It's a repetitive motion injury, and it's really not that uncommon. I had a friend at school with the same injury. It's the type of injury that should disappear after you stop growing."
Art's father Brad, a Lake Placid attorney who has had his share of success as a golfer, said the injury could turn out to be a blessing for his son, who was able to at least work on his pitching and putting prior to getting back on the course.
"His short game is very, very good right now, and he has confidence in it," Brad Griffin said. "That could be the silver lining coming out of this. Art had neglected his short game, and that's the biggest part in golf. Woods and Mickelson, they are the best in the world at it. They can get up and down from a kitchen sink."
Art, who is stands at 6 feet, 2 inches, said he averages about 310 yards off the tee with his driver. He has also matured mentally when it comes to playing the game. For example, he put his driver away after shooting a 39 on the front nine on the opening day of the tournament in Colonie, a move that helped him rebound on the back with a 32.
"If anything is really hurting my game it's getting off the tee," Griffin said. "Course management is a huge part of playing successful golf, and if I have to use my 3-wood, I can still drive it 280 yards."
Art has been around the game of golf for his entire life. He said he first started playing as a youngster around age 6 with people including his grandfather Serge Lussi, whose family owns the Lake Placid Resort that features two 18-hole courses and a nine-hole layout.
"I started playing as soon as I was big enough to whack a golf ball," he said. "This is a great place to grow up and play golf. The courses around here are great, and when I'm out there, it's so peaceful. I love going out to play with my friends, my family, and I love being in tournaments. I think the biggest thing I like about golf is the grind. I love the challenge."
Griffin attended three different high schools, including Hilton Head Prep for his junior and senior years. Prior to that, he spent two years at the Northwood School and as a seventh and eighth-grader, he was a Lake Placid Blue Bomber. In his second and final season playing for Lake Placid, he made history at the Section VII championships at the Westport Country Club by shooting the lowest 36-hole total in that tournament since at least 1963, which was as far back as records could be found. Just an eighth-grader, he fired rounds of 70 and 68 to finish at four under par and 16 strokes ahead of the second-place finisher.
"As far as moving on to another tournament, last week's win was my biggest. But winning the sectionals will always be memorable," Griffin said.
This fall, Griffin will move into another chapter in his golf career, as well as in his academic life when he attends Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. There, he will be competing at the NCAA Division I level with the Leopards, who are a member of the Patriot League.
"I'm really excited about Lafayette," Griffin said. "It's really an incredible school when it comes to academics. I'd love to play golf as a pro. That's always in my mind, but I want to have something to fall back on if it doesn't work out."
When he's home in Lake Placid, Griffin said he splits most of his time golfing between rounds at the Lake Placid Resort and Craig Wood, which is run by the town of North Elba. He will play in one more event this month before heading to Texas. From July 8 to 10, he will compete in the PGA of America Junior Series tournament at the Taconic Golf Club in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
"I think it should be a good tune-up," Griffin said. "I'm really looking forward to going down to play in Texas. I haven't been to Miramont but I've been checking it out. The clubhouse looks like a castle. I think it will be quite a privilege playing at a beautiful country club like that."