After seven years of trying, VCU alumnus Lanto Griffin (’10) recently earned his PGA Tour card.

By Andy Lohman

On the 18th hole of the second stage of the 2016 Web.com Tour Q school (a qualifying tournament for the professional golf tour that serves as a pipeline of talent for the PGA Tour), former VCU standout Lanto Griffin hit a perfect putt that rolled right to the hole. And stopped right on the lip. He would miss advancing to the next stage by one shot.

“That was kind of a kick in the stomach,” Girffin said. “I had been playing the best golf of my life and that set me back.”

A single shot would make the difference again during the final stage of the 2017 Q school, but this time it would work in Griffin’s favor.

“I missed full status by one shot but I played the last 11 holes 5-under and birdied the last hole to go from two shots out [of the tour] to one, which I didn’t know how big that was at the time but that ended up getting me seven of the first eight starts, where if I had missed that putt I would have gotten one,” Griffin said.

While Griffin didn’t have full exempt status for the Web.com Tour for the whole season, he had gained entry into seven tournaments, from which point he could work his way up the money list to earn more starts later in the year. Griffin will go from being happy to have his foot in the door for the 2017 season, to rubbing elbows with the top players in the game as a PGA Tour Card holder for the full 2018 season.

“That birdie on that last hole in Orange County changed my life,” Griffin said.

The lives of the top golfers in the world are filled with prestigious trophies, lucrative sponsorship deals, and world fame. The life of a professional golfer trying to make it on the tour is less glamorous.

Griffin, the 2009 Colonial Athletic Association Player of the year, led the Rams to the CAA Championship in 2009 and NCAA Regional appearances in 2009 and 2010. He turned pro in 2010, and has spent years playing around the world trying to break through to the sport’s biggest stage.

“It’s not glamorous. People think you’re a professional golfer, you’re playing golf for a living, but you don’t get to have any kind of stable home life,” Griffin said. “You’re gone for eight weeks in a row making no money. The most frustrating part was that I’m 29 and I had always relied on other people for financial support. Even though I did pretty well on the mini tours, I was probably in credit card debt for five straight years. Just trying to get my head above water. Luckily I had a lot of people help me.”

Before the Web.com Tour, Griffin played on PGA Tour Lationamérica for parts of 2015 and 2016. He won the 2015 Roberto De Vicenzo Punta del Este Open Copa NEC in Maldonado, Uruguay. That same year he won the Virginia State Open and an event on the Swing Thought Tour, a mini tour that offers scholarships to the Q school. Even with this success, it’s hard to cover expenses.

“The hardest part is the 12-hour drives and staying in one-star hotels by yourself and not feeling like you can afford dinner. The Latin American tour is a great tour, but you take a nine-hour flight down to Argentina and your expenses for the week were $2,000, and you’d have to finish in at least 17th place to get your money back,” Griffin said. “You’re extremely lucky to do this, but in the back of you’re head you’re like ‘how much longer can I bear the stress and the grind?’ I’d say the travel in Latin America, that aged me a couple years.”

The grind did not stop for Griffin once he made it on the Web.com Tour. He missed four straight cuts in the April and May. Going into the Air Capital Classic Supporting Wichita’s Youth in mid-June, he was low on the money list and out of position to qualify for the rest of the year’s tournaments. A change in mindset reversed his fortune.

“I went to Wichita and shot one-over in the first round, and this is the last event before the reshuffle, and I shot 64 on Friday and I shot 64 on Sunday to finish 19th. That put me up to $12,000 and that locked me up for the year. That felt like I won a tournament, that was huge,” Griffin said. “But my goal going to Wichita, I was going to have one week with no swing thoughts. I was looking to go there and just lift the ball, look at the target, swing through it, keep it really simple.”

After his success in Kansas, Griffin made nine straight cuts and won the Nashville Golf Open Benefitting the Snedeker Foundation on July 2.

With a solid 43rd-place finish at the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft-Heinz on Aug. 27, Griffin secured his PGA Tour card and entry into PGA Tour tournaments for a year by finishing in the top 25 on the Web.com Tour money list at 22nd. The moment was filled with relief after years of traveling the world and grinding on minor tours.

“It’s basically a dream come true. I’ve been at it for seven years as a pro and playing pretty much every day since I was 13. Every ball I ever hit was with intention of being on the PGA Tour,” Griffin said. “It’s pretty surreal. It’s pretty special.”

The trophy that Griffin received in Nashville is actually a guitar, and after traveling on the tour all year he finally knows what to do with it.

“Yeah it’s funny I moved into a new condo in January in Ponte Vedra and I have nothing to put on the wall,” Griffin said. “I’m headed home next week for the first time, I haven’t been home since Nashville, this is my 12th week in a row on the road, so I’ll be able to take that guitar to Ponte Vedra and hang it on the wall somewhere.”

But even his new wall art came with a little bit of drama. Griffin became the first player on the Web.com Tour to win a tournament after making the cut on the number, which means he was one shot away from packing his bags on Friday. He then won the tournament in the dark after a rain delay in a playoff. By one shot.