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Lanto Griffin, namesake of Lord Lanto, an 'ascended master,' is your Houston Open champion

October 13, 2019
HUMBLE, TEXAS - OCTOBER 13: Lanto Griffin of the United States reacts to his putt on the 18th green to win during the final round of the Houston Open at the Golf Club of Houston on October 13, 2019 in Humble, Texas. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

When your hippy parents name you after a spiritual master—and not just any master, but Lord Lanto, an “ascended master,” a Chohan of the Second Ray of Illumination, or less formally, the Lord of Light—you sure as hell better figure out how to be all masterly in your given pursuit before your own ascension into the fifth or sixth dimension or some other spiritual destination.

And, so, it has come to pass for Lanto Griffin, who has not quite mastered the game of golf—and no man as yet has—but he is going to the Masters, a spiritual destination if ever there was one, if you’re a golfer. And, what's more, he has ascended to the very heights of the FedEx Cup standings. The look from on high must be stunning.

No less stunning, though, than Griffin's rise in his second stint on the PGA Tour.

“This is surreal,” a teary-eyed Griffin said, conjuring an interesting choice of words after sinking a six-foot par putt on the 72nd hole Sunday to secure a one-stroke victory in the Houston Open.

In just his 33rd PGA Tour start, the unassuming 31-year-old California native became the third player to break his maiden just five weeks into this new season, and he did it in all places, Humble, Texas. Griffin never owned a top-10 finish until he shot a three-under-par 69 at the Golf Club of Houston and beat fellow Korn Ferry Tour graduates Scott Harrington and Mark Hubbard with a 14-under 274 total.

He preserved his advantage with that nervy six-footer, which he celebrated by dropping his putter and then biting his hat before breaking down in tears. But the stroke that sent him ahead and seemingly was heaven sent after a back-nine stall, was a 33-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th hole that snapped a tie with his two main contenders. It was the last of his 24 birdies, which led the field. No surprise, considering Griffin led the tour in total birdies going into the week.

Houston Open - Final Round

Sam Greenwood

“I felt eerily calm. I don't know why," Griffin said after converting his first-ever 54-hole lead on the tour and pocketing $1.35 million, nearly four times his earnings from two years earlier, when he missed the cut in half his 26 starts.

“It was really strange out there today,” he added. “I was actually battling my own mind, how calm I was and how big of a moment it was for me, but I wasn't nervous, and I was almost trying to tell myself, You should be nervous. I think I talked myself into being nervous on a few putts on the back nine, but tee to green was pretty darn good for me under pressure.”

Griffin, who improved from 176th to 108th in the Official World Golf Ranking, is from Mount Shasta, Calif., a settlement in the shadow of a volcano by the same name. Naturalist John Muir said of the place, “When I first caught sight of Mount Shasta over the braided folds of the Sacramento Valley, my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since.”

Um, yeah. How much transcendental foreshadowing does one guy need?

Anyway, Griffin, who was raised a strict vegetarian and still will only eat red meat when he orders the occasional pepperoni pizza, was a starving golfer who got a break when he caddied for Will Wilcox in 2014 at The Greenbrier. Wilcox finished fourth. He paid Griffin $17,000, which at the time was Griffin's biggest career paycheck. Not exactly something to buoy your confidence, but it did allow Griffin to keep pursuing his dream.

After losing his card in 2018 and going back to the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019, Griffin achieved total consciousness—or at least saw the light on competitive golf—by listening to that well-known savant, Greg Norman, at a pro-am dinner in the Bahamas.

“He made a comment that he doesn't look at the guys that are winning or finished third and missed three cuts, he looks at the guys that are finishing 10th, 15th, 20th consistently,” Griffin said. “That really stuck in the back of my mind. I think about it all the time.”

Lo and behold, his 2019 Korn Ferry season included a victory and 11 top-25 finishes, and through five PGA Tour events Griffin is the only player with five finishes of 20th or better.

Of course, it’s nice that one of those is a win. The Virginia Commonwealth product, who began playing golf at the age of 8 but didn’t take up the game in earnest until after his father died when he was 12, has himself a spot in next year’s Masters, which he still struggled to get his mind around. His dad bought him his first starter set as a Christmas gift. Griffin thought of him on Sunday.

“I’d bet he’d be pretty proud,” Griffin said.

“I can tell you I've already achieved all my goals today,” he said, including having more than enough cash to keep his promise to his mother and buy her a new car. “What I do is, I set realistic goals, and then I like to achieve them, and then set new ones. So we'll have to sit down this week and re-evaluate the rest of the year.

“It's mind-boggling,” Griffin added. “Just didn't seem like it would ever happen, but at the same time, I believe in myself and I was extremely calm out there today. Just bizarre. … So many different things that I can't even fathom that are going to happen after this week.”

It’s almost as if it was meant to be. Lord Lanto has found the light. The spotlight.