Lanto Griffin showed some emotion in the moments after his life-changing 6-foot putt dropped on Sunday afternoon.
So what? The former Blacksburg High golfer who spent his teen-age years hanging around Blacksburg Country Club had plenty of thoughts waiting to race through his head.
“Everybody at home,” he said in his first interview a few minutes later. “We did it.”
Griffin, who regained a lead he had held or tied for through much of the final round with a 35-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole, won on the PGA Tour event with that 6-footer for par at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble, Texas. It gave him a 3-under 69 and a one-shot victory over Mark Hubbard and Scott Harrington.
Among the spoils that come with a PGA Tour win is a spot in the 2020 Masters, as well as the Players Championship and PGA Championship, and a two-year full Tour exemption.
He also banked $1,350,000 for his efforts.
Now everyone will know the inspiring underdog story that golf enthusiasts in Timesland — especially in the New River Valley — have been sharing for years. That’s what happens when you finally join the winners’ club on the most competitive golf circuit in the world.
After a brief moment of joyful tears and hugs with his caddie, Chris Nash, and girlfriend, Maya Brown, Griffin made sure when made his brief Golf Channel remarks, he mentioned as many of the key figures who helped him reach another high point in his golf career.
Among those was fellow professional Will Wilcox, a current Korn Ferry Tour player who in 2014 finished tied for fourth at the Greenbrier Classic with Griffin, who was struggling with his game at the time, on his bag. As a result, Griffin said he earned about $17,000 for his services, and was able to continue funding his own fledgling career.
And he also made sure he gave a shout-out to his two coaches — Todd Anderson, who works with Griffin at TPC Sawgrass in Jacksonville, Florida, and Steve Prater, the director of instruction at Roanoke Country Club’s golf academy. It was Prater, then the head pro at Blacksburg Country Club, who helped out Griffin, who was 12 when his father died. He did it by offering golf lessons for life.
Prater saw all that work pay off as he watched the back-nine drama build from his home.
“When he made that last putt, I jumped for joy and I think I hit the celing,” Prater said Sunday night. “I’ll probably have a headache, but I don’t care.”
Prater wasn’t alone enjoying the moment. Griffin said his phone showed 447 text messages, and he planned to get to all of them. He looked again, it was at 457.
“We’re moving up,” he said. “Big thanks to everybody that supports me back home. Man, it’s going to be fun celebrating with everybody.”
Since playing his final high school tournament nearly 14 years to the day he claimed the trophy in Texas (he finished in a four-way tie for second in the 2005 VHSL Group AA state golf tournament on Oct. 12, 2005), Griffin, 31, developed his game first as part of the VCU golf team, and then on multiple lower-level tours.
As he worked his way up, Griffin claimed the title at the 2015 Delta Dental State Open of Virginia, then finished tied for second a year later.
His performance both during the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour and before that when he was a 2017-18 participant on the PGA Tour showed that Griffin was on an upward swing with his game.
Since missing the cut by one shot in the 2018 U.S. Open, Griffin had made 13 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour. Since earning back his card via the Korn Ferry route, he has five straight top-20 finishes.
“He’s learned a lot over the years he’s been playing,” Prater said. “It’s something you have to experience and learn. He’s a professional and he knows how to handle what’s thrown at you.
“A lot of us around him believed that Lanto with his ability and mindset was going to win one day. … But you still have to do it.”
Hubbard, who took the lead when Griffin bogeyed the 11th hole, held the advantage until he missed his only fairway of the final round on the par-5 15th, into the high grass of a hazard.
He chopped out across the fairway into more thick grass, hit his third into a fairway bunker and missed an 8-foot par putt.
Harrington, who took 16 years to reach the PGA Tour and gave up a year to stay with his wife as she battled cancer, birdied the 15th with a two-putt from 10 feet, hit his tee shot to 3 feet for birdie on the 16th and was tied for the lead until a three-putt from 45 feet up the ridge on the 17th hole. Harrington missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th and shot 67.
Hubbard had one last chance with a bold tee shot on the 18th, one of the toughest driving holes on the PGA Tour . That set him up with a short iron to 25 feet, but his putt to at least force a playoff stayed left.
Griffin, who had a double-bogey and bogey on 18 in his previous two rounds, played away from the water on the 18th.
His approach was just on the green, 60 feet away, and it rolled 6 feet by. When he made the winner, he dropped his putter and raised both arms before covering his head.
“Just a childhood dream. That’s what we all play for,” he said.
He thought about the Masters and Maui, where the year starts for PGA Tour winners, the FedEx Cup playoffs. It was a lot to take in.
“It’s mind-boggling,” he said. “Just didn’t seem like it would ever happen, but at the same time, I believe in myself and I was extremely calm out there today. Just bizarre.”
Back in Virginia, Prater said he thought about what a local player doing well could mean for the game of golf in general for this part of the state.
“He set an example for all of these kids around here,” Prater said. “When the pros here talk to kids about what working hard can do, we have a great example to show them now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.