Houston Open Golf

Lanto Griffin tees off during the the Houston Open where he earned his first PGA Tour tournament victory.

For the first time since mid-September, Lanto Griffin took the past weekend off — at least from playing golf.

After traveling from West Virginia, to Mississippi, to California, to Nevada and final Humble, Texas, the Blacksburg High graduate who has devoted a great amount of the past 20 years driving, chipping and putting has his first chance to stop and consider how his life has changed.

“It’s been incredible,” Griffin said earlier in the week, following his first PGA Tour win at the Houston Open.

It’s a tournament that will now link him to such former champions as Adam Scott, Fred Couples, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Arnold Palmer. Lee Trevino finished second three times, Jack Nicklaus, twice. Griffin is actually the second winner with direct ties to Blacksburg — former Virginia Tech star Johnson Wagner won for the first time on the PGA Tour when he won the 2008 edition of the tournament by two strokes over Chad Campbell and Geoff Ogilvy, both of whom have won majors.

Now that he’s in the winners’ club, Griffin gets to experience some of the spoils with victory — besides the $1,35 million share of the purse he received (the largest payout in the history of the tournament).

Among the perks is a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, which automatically reserves a spot in all of the regular PGA Tour events and invitationals. He also is now part of some of the more prestigious events, including the PGA Championship Arnold Palmer Invitational, Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament, the Players’ Championship and one of the most exclusive tournaments each year — the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui, which is the first tournament in January and open to only those who have won a Tour event in the past calendar event.

Golfers like Lanto Griffin.

“I was pretty aware of everything I would get — learning over the past 15-20 years what a win would mean,” Griffin said. “The exemption is the biggest thing. Now I can arrange my schedule.

“There will probably be five to 10 more things that I didn’t realize came with winning, but right now, everything I dreamed about is coming true.”

Oh, and there’s that one other little tournament down in Georgia that Griffin plans on playing the second weekend in April — that would be The Masters.

One of the most difficult tee times to land for anyone who owns a set of golf clubs is at Augusta National. Not only will Griffin be part of the tournament that week, but he said there will be ample time for him to go down before then and get to know the course a little bit.

“Actually, one of the first questions I asked my agent [after I won] was ‘do you have any idea how the practice access at Augusta works,’” he said. “From what I’ve understood is that you can play it unlimited as long a member sponsors you.”

Griffin said he’s already had several friends reach out to him to let him know there are members that will certainly sponsor him. He said on the instructors at his home course in Jacksonville, Florida, — Mike Shannon at TPC Sawgrass — used to work at Augusta National and has offered to help him learn how to play the course’s famed greens.

“If I can get a lot of the course work done before tournament week, hopefully I can get up and play at least 5 or 6 times before the tournament — maybe more,” Griffin said. “I’m sure once I get there, it will be hard to leave.”

Griffin spoke about a number of other topics.

On how he’ll decide which tournaments he will play: Griffin said he will definitely play in the high-profile opens and invitationals. Part of the motivation there is that the player who accumulates the most birdies in the pre-January Tour events will win $300,000 through the RSM Birdies for Love program that can be used for the charities of his choice.

Griffin, who has already won $50,000 for his accomplishments so far, currently leads this contest with 96 birdies — Xinjun Zhang is second with 86.

“I’m hoping that a lot of charities around the Roanoke and New River valleys can benefit from this, so I hoping to stay at the top.”

Sharing the wealth: Griffin said after his victory that one of his promises was to get his mother a new car.

He also talked about his longtime teacher and mentor, Steve Prater, the director of instruction at Roanoke Country Club. For the first time ever, he added Prater to his instructor payroll, meaning Prater will get a piece of Griffin’s Tour payouts.

“He was the first person I called on Sunday night, Griffin said. “The money I’m to be able to give him will be life-changing for him. He’s been the biggest life-changer for me. It’s pretty cool to go full-circle.”

On some of the people who either texted him or offered congratulations in other ways on Sunday night: Griffin said it will take a while to go through the hundreds of texts he received after winning, but a couple of fellow Tour players who did stick out were Charles Howell III and four-time Tour winner Aaron Baddeley.

“He’s been incredibly nice to me the past two years, and I played with him the first two days in Houston,” Griffin said of Baddeley. “For him to find my number — he didn’t have it, so he had to go out of his way and get it from somebody else — was a nice feeling. He texted me and said he enjoyed playing with me and was happy for my success.”

On the message he hopes to convey during his moment of notoriety: “The only message I’ll try to share after this: Somebody like Steve Prater, what he did for me at a vulnerable age — when I was 12 after I lost my dad — he got me on my feet and giving me golf to focus my time on. I would just say if other people could do the same thing to others who might be where I was, you never know how that may turn out.

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