What are friends for, if not to rescue your dreams?
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Lanto Griffin’s professional golf career wasn’t dead or even dying last spring; it was just a bit stuck. The Blacksburg High School graduate has been in this sport for a long time. He knew he would snap out of his putting slump eventually — it was just a matter of when.
That answer came serendipitously, during the week of the 2019 Masters.
Having lost his PGA Tour card after one season in the big leagues, Griffin was back playing on the second-tier Korn Ferry Tour, which was formerly known as the Web.com Tour. He’d played seven events and twice missed the cut, with his best finish a tie for 25th.
The main problem? He couldn’t make an 8-foot putt to save his life.
“I doubted myself all the time,” Griffin said. “I think most athletes, if they don’t admit to that, they’re not being completely truthful. I think a lot of guys put a ton of confidence out because they’re a little insecure about it. But when you’re really struggling, every athlete goes through it.
“I mean, I knew I’d come back. I knew I’d get it back and get things together, but you never know when it’s really going to happen. You can compare it to a batter in a hitting slump or Steph Curry going through a drought from 3. The doubts creep in. You’re not human if they don’t. But every good athlete can kind of persevere, and whenever you have those doubts, they’re usually short term.”
His turned around instantaneously.
With a week off in mid-April, Griffin and his best friend since high school, Oliver Chapman, were playing a casual round together at TPC Sawgrass. Griffin grabbed a putter out of Chapman’s bag while they were on the putting green.
Suddenly, he couldn’t miss.
“It immediately felt good,” Griffin said. “We played nine holes and I was making everything. I was like, ‘Man, I don’t think you’re getting this one back.’ He was like, ‘Take it.’ ”
Chapman’s motivations were pure, but they go beyond mere friendship. Whenever Griffin gets a new iron or driver, he typically gives his old clubs to Chapman. The better Griffin plays, then, the more hand-me-down swag Chapman receives.
Griffin didn’t just play a little bit better the following week. No, he shot 15 under to win the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship in Prattville, Alabama — his second career victory on the Korn Ferry Tour. He backed up that performance with a runner-up finish the next week in San Antonio, all but clinching his PGA Tour card for the 2019-20 season.
In 13 starts after switching putters, Griffin finished inside the top 25 nine times. He closed the regular season sixth on the tour in points — easily inside the top-25 requirement for guaranteeing his PGA Tour card.
“I didn’t change anything” outside of the putter, Griffin said. “I didn’t change the grip or the lie or the loft or anything. I have three or four of those models, but it’s an inch shorter and has got a different neck. The way the shaft goes into the head is a little different.
“Golf’s a weird game. It doesn’t always make sense. But for some reason, this putter versus an almost identical one, this one feels completely different in my hands.”
And this season felt completely different to him than 2017, when he earned his PGA Tour card for the first time. That year, Griffin faced weekly pressure as the season drew to a close, as he was right on the top-25 bubble.
He vividly remembers preparing for the 2017 regular-season finale in Portland, Oregon.
“I couldn’t sleep the whole week, just not really knowing if I was locked up or not,” Griffin said. “I ended up getting it, which was just a ton of emotion. This year, it was pretty cool locking it up early, but the rest of the summer was kind of weird, because you’ve kind of accomplished your main goal and now I’m just trying to stay fresh.”
Griffin, who opted to take this week off, has one more event to play this season: the Korn Ferry Tour Championship next week in Newburgh, Indiana. Then he’ll turn his attention to the 2019-20 PGA Tour opener at The Greenbrier, which begins Sept. 12.
He feels much better now than he did this time last year, when he took three months off in the fall to recover from his disappointment.
“Losing my card last year, obviously you don’t want to go from your dream job to back down,” he said. “But you also don’t want to go from your dream job back down a level and lose that. So I’m pretty proud of myself this year to kind of bounce back and not let the hangover last too long.”
Chapman’s pretty proud of him, too. Last weekend, the two buddies reconnected when Griffin was playing in Columbus, Ohio, where Chapman now lives.
Chapman followed Griffin around the course.
“I had a good putting week,” Griffin said, “and he was trying to give me a hard time about needing his putter back, because his new one doesn’t work as well as this one.”
“Update: He didn’t get it back,” he said.
Hey, what are friends for?