ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) -- Sunday's victory at the Houston Open was by far the biggest moment of Lanto Griffin's career to this point--a career that began in the backyard of his childhood home in Blacksburg.
"I ended up building a nine-hole course--we lived out on Catawba Road out in Ellet Valley--and I built a nine-hole course around the house, from tree roots to digging holes with my mom's garden equipment," Griffin said. "I took the mower out and mowed a green around it, so it's pretty cool. Putting a stick with a kitchen towel on it to make it look like a flag -- those memories were my first memories."
He used clubs given to him by his father, Michael, who died from brain cancer when Griffin was just 12 years old.
"He pretty much used the golf course and golf to get away from a lot," said Steve Prater, Griffin's junior coach and mentor.
Prater stepped in following his father's death and took Griffin under his wing, offering him free lessons at Blacksburg Country Club.
He said Griffin's win is an important moment for young golfers in the region.
"I think it's great now to have somebody like that locally that has given us a blueprint to say, 'Look, if you work really hard, this is what you can accomplish.' It's been done," Prater said. "And we haven't had that around here."
Griffin's mother still lives in his childhood home, and his connections to the region are still numerous.
He said without the generosity of his support system, his dream of playing golf at this level would have likely ended long ago.
"There's been plenty of times when my credit card's been maxed out and these guys will answer the bell and keep me going," Griffin said. "So fast forward, looking back, if there weren't these generous people in the New River Valley that kind of put the fuel in the tank for my golf career, the Houston Open never would have happened."
With the win, Griffin's opportunities now skyrocket. He gets to keep his tour card for two more years, and he's qualified for big-time tournaments like the Masters and THE PLAYERS Championship.
With the intensity level ramping up, he welcomes the rush of playing on a bigger stage.
"We all love going to Virginia Tech Hokie games," Griffin said. "We love going to basketball games, and bring on the spotlight and kind of showing off what you've been working your whole life for under that kind of pressure -- there's no better feeling."
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