Lanto Griffin: From Losing His PGA Tour Card to Winning the Houston Open

Lanto Griffin has gone through everything from mini tour life to losing his tour card and having to earn it back. His story has so many valuable lessons for every golfer, parent, and coach.

Lanto didn’t grow up a golf prodigy at a fancy country club.  Rather, he was the son of a stay-at-home mom and a father who managed a health foods store.  He grew up on a farm in Blacksburg, Virginia where he was homeschooled. The family didn’t have cable.  When he was eight years old, his father (a non-golfer) bought him an incomplete set of junior clubs. To keep himself occupied, he designed nine -hole course on the family farm using his “mom’s garden equipment to dig holes…” 

The family moved into town when Lanto was 10 or 11.  Their house was right next to a golf course called the Hill where it was $9 to play all day.  Lanto says, “The Hill was a good name for it.  It was straight up and down. A little 2,700-yard course.”  In the summer he “ended up playing 36 or 54 holes pretty regularly.”  Golf appealed to Lanto because it was “something he could do himself.”

A key to Lanto’s early love affair with golf was that no one forced the game upon him. 

He says, “I was me wanting to, wanting to play, which I highly recommend to parents and young players… Give your kids every opportunity and support them, but don’t… make them go practice for nine hours when they’re eight years old and… take the fun part away.”

He goes on to talk about how he fell in love with the game when his dad became ill. 

“Being able to… walk to the golf course, play as much as I want… was kind of an escape for me… If my dad never got sick, I don’t think I ever would’ve taken golf too serious… Looking back, obviously I wished (it) wouldn’t have happened the way it did but, I’m somewhat proud of myself for turning the biggest tragedy that you can ever experience into my career.”

Lanto’s memories of those early days at the Hill are fond.  He recalls “a tin of scorecards… and seeing some 33’s and 34’s… God knows I didn’t shoot that.  I was probably more in the 40’s, taking mulligans, gimmes and all that.”  But the Hill was the perfect place for Lanto to learn the game.  “It was an easy golf course… I don’t think there was a hole over 350 and there’s several par fours in the 250 range… So being able to make birdies and… have that sense of achievement at a young age… drives you to keep playing and getting better.” 

Lanto Griffin

Lanto was 13 when he quit playing soccer and baseball and focused solely on golf.  He remembers being in “South Boston for the state baseball tournament and… getting hit in the shoulder and just being like, screw this man, I’m done.  This is not fun anymore.”

While his father was still sick, one of his friends introduced Lanto to Steve Prater, the Head Pro at Blacksburg Country Club.  The two started spending time together and Steve quickly realized Lanto was a talented junior player. Lanto recalls “on that day my dad passed away, Steve called me and gave me a free membership and he said he would teach me for free… and I would have full privileges at the course… That was the worst day of my life and the best day of my life.”

Lanto began spending lots of time at the course and at Steve’s house and he and Steve’s son spent every waking hour at the course.  Under Steve’s tutelage, Lanto kept improving and the two still work together to this day. 

Lanto describes himself as highly self-motivated.  That was certainly apparent in his drive to become a successful golfer.   

“My mom never had to push me… I had to beg her to take me to the golf course… That was just what I wanted to do… That’s what made me happy.”

That same year, at the age of 13, Lanto entered his first nine-hole tournament and shot 51.  By the time his was 14, and a freshman in high school, he shot 71 in his first 18-hole varsity match.  Seeing such a dramatic improvement in such a short amount of time was got the fire burning. 

He continued to improve throughout high school but wasn’t “the kid where college coaches were calling, knocking down the door.”  The summer before his senior year, he shot 61 at Blacksburg Country club with the Virginia Tech coach following the whole round.  Thinking he was in line for a scholarship, he “got kicked in the balls” when the coach told him he wanted to see his algebra grades. 

Shortly thereafter, Virginia Commonwealth came along and gave Lanto a full scholarship.  When he arrived at VCU in the fall for his freshman year he was “a scrawny 162 pounds.”  He quickly learned what it meant to work out and what it took to play golf at the Division One level.  Throughout his time in college, he and Rafael Campos pushed each other to get better and better. 

Looking back, Lanto thinks about is how a lot of young players that show early promise and compete on the biggest national and international stages get burned out.  From the time they’re small children, “everybody tells them how good they are.”  Lanto credits “always having a carrot dangling” for making him the player he’s become.  He’s had to work for everything he’s ever received.

He also realizes the value of having a group of friends to play with and push you to get better.  Lanto says as kids, “we would go out and gamble… We played wolf, a Nassau, whatever it was… We didn’t have the money to go play AGJA’s… so we just found our own games… I tell kids and parents all the time, at a young age, to find a group, find a course that is friendly for juniors… and has a good pro that will motivate you and… have other juniors that you can compete against.  I’m 100% positive that had a huge impact on me.”

Even though Lanto had a successful college career that included 15 top-five finishes, he got struggled when he turned pro.  While he was happy playing mini tours at the time, he wanted more. The first year he went to Q-School, he bogeyed the last four holes to miss first stage by three shots.  The following two years, he made it through first stage but missed second stage by anywhere from five to 10 shots. 

That’s when Todd Anderson came into the picture.  As Lanto and Steve Prater got to talking after he missed second stage in 2013, they agreed that it was time to get a second opinion.  Steve knew of Anderson’s philosophy, that he worked with a number of successful PGA Tour players and, recommended that Lanto go see him. 

“Steve poured everything he had into my golf game… He did all this for me.  And then, he had the ability to take his ego out of it and recommend me to go see Todd.” 

Lanto, Steve and Todd have become a team working together for the last six years.  He sees Todd while he’s competing on the road, but is in regular conversation with Steve. 

Todd and Lanto set about making some significant changes to make his swing more rotary and less reliant on the timing of small muscles.  The process took a long time.

It was mostly due to Lanto’s lack of confidence in his own ability.  Having a Top-10 instructor like Todd, instill confidence throughout the process was what Lanto needed to hear. 

Even though he saw improvements in the first few seasons of working with Todd, Lanto still struggled with a two-way miss.  He tells the story of when that changed.

“I’ve always played a draw my whole life… Two years ago, I qualified for the U.S. Open and for whatever reason I got to Shinnecock and I was so tired of having a double miss and the rough was so long, like three or four feet… So, I remember getting there and being on the range and, just hitting cuts.  And I’d never gone to a cut full-time. But that week I would just kind of feel like I chopped over it and hit like a spinny cut out in the fairway. And that was one of the best driving weeks… So, ever since that week, I’ve gone to a cut full-time…”

Lanto failed to keep his PGA Tour card in 2018.  After playing as many as 13 weeks in a row, he was burned out and needed a break.  Fortunately, he’d made enough money to pay the bills for a few months. He bought a house and remodeled it.  It was just the kind of thing he needed to do to regain some perspective.

“You’re working until 3:00, 4:00 am some nights painting your bathroom and being on your knees and it makes you realize, man, I’m pretty lucky I get to play golf… That motivated me to come back pretty hungry this year on the Korn Ferry Tour. “

It was at the Pro-Am dinner of the first Korn Ferry Tour event in Exuma that Greg Norman’s words switched on a lightbulb for Lanto.  Greg talked about the best players being consistent week in and week out. He said guys that win, then miss three cuts in a row aren’t ready to be the best in the world. 

That level of consistency became Lanto’s goal.  He acknowledged throwing in the towel when things weren’t going well in the past and vowed not to make the same mistake again.  With a change in mindset and working with Dr. Greg Cartin, Lanto finished fifth on the Korn Ferry Tour points list, had a win and 11 top-22 finishes.  Now, he’s made 14 straight cuts on the PGA Tour and won the Houston Open in October of last year. 

He’s become a smarter player too.  He’s realized that you don’t have to play perfect golf in order to score.

“A lot of times… if I have like a nine iron or wedge into a tough pin… I’m just going to play to the middle of the green, take big numbers out of play, make a lot of pars, throw in some birdies on easy holes and you know, get out of there with one under or even on days I’m not feeling good with my swing.  And that… gives you an opportunity the next day to go out and shoot four or five under and get back into it… Like in Houston… that second round I shot 74…. I played the last five holes four over… It really frustrated me that I finished that poorly. So, I tried to take that energy and I was like, if I can get off to a good start, that double (from the second round) turns into a bogey.”

Lanto hasn’t forgotten where he came from or what’s made him successful.

“I think the main point I’d make is to find what works for you and get really good at it… Look at a guy like Jim Furyk… he’s made over $70 million… Sometimes less is more.”

If you’d like to hear more insight from the 2019 Houston Open winner, Lanto Griffin, tune into the podcast above.  

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