The Golf Coaches Association of America, in cooperation with its long-time corporate partner, the Swing Thought Tour, will feature a monthly Q&A with former collegians who are currently playing or have played on the Swing Thought Tour. Long considered the premier developmental tour in the United States, thousands of former college players have started their professional careers there. More than 250 Swing Thought Tour alumni have or continue to play on the PGA TOUR.
This month we spoke with former Virginia Commonwealth player Lanto Griffin, the 2009 CAA Player of the Year.
Q: What factors drew you to playing for the Virginia Commonwealth in college?
Originally, I had my heart set on staying in my hometown and playing for Virginia Tech. Actually, I didn't really consider other schools until I realized Virginia Tech didn't have any players graduating or scholarships opening up the year I was set to come in. I had met Coach Ball at the Scott Robertson a few months earlier and he had shown great interest. So then I decided to take an official visit to VCU and really liked the international feel of the team. Looking back it was a great decision to get away from the comfort of home to the capital city of Virginia. Coach Ball and VCU gave me a great scholarship all 4 years and it's one of the best decisions I've made in my life.
Q: What is your fondest memory of your time in school?
Honestly, having coach to plan all of our trips, drive us to the tournaments and pay for food and hotels. Now that I've spent 5 years being my own personal travel agent and fundraiser, I really appreciate the 4 years I was basically paid to represent VCU and improve my game. Also, sharing all the great memories with my teammates. I owe a lot of my success to the support that VCU gave me for those 4 years.
Q: What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were a collegiate golfer?
To grind out every shot possible. I remember getting so frustrated on days I wasn't playing well it made it hard to think straight.
Q: What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a professional golfer?
Keeping my head above water financially. Mini-tour golf is not glamorous in any way besides the fact that you're doing what you love every day, which makes it worth the struggle. Every good check buys me a few more months to chase my dream of playing on the PGA Tour and every missed cut is the opposite. I try my best to use that as motivation to work harder and never take the opportunity for granted, because you never know how long it will last.
Q: You had your first victory earlier this year on the Swing Thought Tour Pro Series at the Kandy Waters Memorial Classic. What were you feeling after making the birdie on the first hole of sudden death to win the event?
Relief, excitement and happiness. I read a quote a while back that said happiness comes from achievement. When you work so hard at something and you feel what it's like to be on top, even if it's just that one week, it's pretty special. Next time I'm in that situation I'm going to know I can pull it off under extreme pressure.
Q: Was making a career as a professional golfer something that you always aspired to do?
I'd say my dream was to play in the big leagues growing up until my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer when I was 12. For the next 10 months he was alive he introduced me to Steve Prater, who was the teaching pro at the local country club in Blacksburg, VA, where I grew up. After he passed away I just attached myself to the game and knew I didn't want to do anything else with my time. Steve was generous enough to give me a free membership at the country club the day I lost my dad and I haven't looked back since.
Q: Who has had the greatest impact or influence on you as it pertains to your golf career?
Steve Prater without a doubt. My life was shattered to pieces when my dad passed away and Steve took me under his guidance and helped get me through that phase. Now that I'm playing professionally it seems like he is more of my personal psychologist than swing coach sometimes. After a tough few weeks on the road or when I need to run ideas by somebody, he is always there to listen and give me his best advice. I can assure you I wouldn't have earned a college scholarship without him taking me under his wing like he has.
Q: What is your favorite golf hole you have had the chance to play? Also, is there a hole out there you would most want to play but have not been able to?
Probably the 1st hole at Quail Hollow when I Monday qualified for the Wells Fargo Championship in 2011. It was my first PGA Tour event and somehow I found the middle of the fairway and hit a lob wedge to 3 feet for an opening birdie. I remember walking off the green and seeing my best friend’s dad crying. Of course I 3-putted the 2nd green and missed the cut by a few shots but it was a very memorable start. As far as one I haven't played, I would say any hole at Augusta National.
Q: What advice would you offer current collegiate golfers that would like to turn professional?
Find a way to become a great putter. And to grind out every shot whether it's to shoot 65 or 80. There is no worse feeling than knowing you didn't give it all you had.
Q: What is the best part about playing on the Swing Thought Tour?
The opportunity to play golf for a living. Obviously the financial rewards aren't anything like the PGA Tour but the competition is stout and it's been proven that if you can win on the Swing Thought Tour then you can compete on the highest levels of golf.