Everyone loves an underdog, and PGA Tour rookie Lanto Griffin is as underdog as it gets. At just 12 years-old Griffin’s life was shattered when he lost his dad to brain cancer. Griffin got kicked in the stomach again when he wasn’t offered a college scholarship to play golf for his hometown Virginia Tech Hokies. Spending almost a decade toiling on various mini-tours, playing in Monday qualifiers, and competing at Q-School to keep his PGA Tour dream alive, Griffin sacrificed in ways most people couldn’t imagine. However, Griffin is not like most people.
Griffin hasn’t put his clubs down since he was 13 years-old. It is no exaggeration to say with every ball he’s ever hit, his objective was to play on the PGA Tour. He realized that dream by securing his PGA Tour card with an impressive 2017 season. Griffin’s essentially Rudy Ruettiger, except he’s always had immense talent.
As the 2009 Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year at Virginia Commonwealth University, Griffin led the Rams to the CAA Championship in 2009 and NCAA Regional appearances in 2009 and 2010. Perhaps playing with a chip on his shoulder at a tournament during his freshman season, he managed beat everyone on the Virginia Tech team. Call it sweet vengeance after being snubbed by the Hokies for a scholarship. Griffin won the 2015 Roberto De Vincenzo Punta del Este Open Copa NEC in Maldonado, Uruguay on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, and went on to win the Virginia State Open on the Swing Thought Tour, a mini-tour that offers scholarships to Q-School.
No offseason for Lanto Griffin.
There’s nothing glamorous or lucrative about chasing your Tour card, and Griffin spent seven years after college just trying to keep his head above water. Every decent check Griffin earned was perhaps enough to buy another month or so to pursue his dream. Griffin candidly acknowledges he couldn’t have gotten here alone and is grateful for the support he received along the way from a network of friends and family. Including the outpouring of love from his mother, who sacrificed for this dream since he was a child, so Griffin could continue his quest.
Trying to break through onto golf’s biggest stage, Griffin was battered by near misses and gut-wrenching frustrations. In 2016, Griffin left an eight-foot putt short on the last hole of final stage qualifying for the Web.com Tour. One-quarter more ball rotation and it would have dropped in the cup, and Griffin would have secured full Web.com membership. One year later, Griffin’s 2017 Web.com campaign began with seven missed cuts in his first 11 starts.
A few weeks after his 29th birthday, the heartaches suddenly transformed into triumph and glory when he won the Nashville Golf Open by slotting home a clutch 18-foot putt on the opening playoff hole. Coming down the stretch on that pressure-filled Sunday, Griffin even had to clean his own clubs because his caddie was so nervous. His first Web.com Tour victory jumpstarted his 2017 season and triggered a run of nine straight cuts, culminating with a 22nd place finish on the Regular Season Money List and the PGA Tour card he’s dreamed about since he was a seventh-grader at Blacksburg Middle School.
Competing on the PGA Tour will be a completely different beast, but he knows pressure is what you make it out to be. That pressure doesn’t seem to be weighing on Griffin yet. When asked about his goals for the upcoming rookie season, Griffin said, “I want to win an event, to be in a final group on Sunday, and to finish Top-125 in FedExCup Playoff points.”
The strapping, six-foot-three California native is a long hitter with Houdini-like scrambling skills, and when his streaky putter gets hot, Griffin can drop in a slew of putts. He has the golf game to accomplish all of his goals, and he’s not easily put on tilt. Griffin’s greatest strength, however, will be his perseverance. Whether you’re in contention on Sunday at a major or fighting and clawing for your Tour card, it always boils down to the same thing: grit. All great players have it, and it’s built into Griffin’s DNA.