Lanto Griffin wins Web.com Tour's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship in playoff

Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertister

Lanto Griffin wins Web.com Tour's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship in playoff

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Lanto Griffin wins Web.com Tour's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship in playoff

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PRATTVILLE — He knew it was cliché, but Lanto Griffin kissed the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship trophy steps away from the 18th green he had just won it on. He thanked the people and sponsors the Web.com Tour told him to thank. He joked that his caddie would now be able to eat — provided he paid him, of course.

But when it came time to thank his girlfriend, Griffin got choked up.

Maya Brown was there when he birdied the 18th hole on the Senator Course at Capitol Hill to finish a 4-under final round and force a playoff with Robby Shelton, the University of Alabama alum and home-state favorite who entered the day with a one-stroke lead. She was there when he parred the first three playoff holes, stuck a 123-yard approach shot to within two feet of the flag on the fourth, and made the short putt to secure his first victory since the 2017 Nashville Golf Open.

SCORES: Final-round leaderboard

She was just in hiding — in the clubhouse, in between the golf carts parked beside the 9th green or behind the Michelob Ultra bar set up beside the 18th, wherever he couldn’t see her, relying on updates from tournament staff all the while.

“I didn’t want him to know I was here,” Brown said. “I didn’t want to surprise him, especially when it was down to crunch time.”

See, Griffin didn’t know that his girlfriend of nearly two years was coming Sunday. She actually wasn’t going to — on Saturday night, she was in Winston, North Carolina, eating dinner with her parents. But Brown had a weird feeling all week that Griffin was going to win, so with him only one stroke back of Shelton after Saturday’s third round, she booked a flight from Charlotte to Montgomery and arrived at the Prattville golf course just before 1 p.m.

Three hours later, after Shelton’s bid for birdie slid to the left of the cup and Griffin’s found the bottom, she was ducking under the ropes to surprise him with a long embrace on the 18th green.

“Completely blindsided me,” Griffin said. “She was in Nashville, and that was the first week we were dating, so doing the ceremony and the speech, it was hard to give her a shout out, because I wasn’t even sure if she wanted to date me after the week. But now I’m pretty sure I’m on good terms, so it’s going to be pretty special tonight.”

Griffin didn’t necessarily see this for himself going into Easter Sunday. In fact, he said afterwards that the win was “unexpected.” It wasn’t that he thought he couldn’t do it — he knew he could — but he said he simply “wasn’t setting the expectations so high that if I didn’t win today, I was going to be disappointed.”

Even after carding a 3-under 69 to get within two strokes of the lead on Saturday, Griffin texted his coach and told him that his swing “felt awful,” even though it certainly didn’t look that way on the fourth playoff hole when he said he bombed a drive 21 yards further than any of his previous on 18 and went flag-hunting with his lob wedge to set up the tournament-clinching punt.

“You get to the point where you really aren’t nervous anymore, because you’ve played three holes already, and I felt fortunate to birdie 18 in regulation to get into the playoff to begin with,” he said. “I tried to just stay nice and even and smooth it, and it came out and never left the flag. The reaction from the crowd, I was just praying walking up that it was inside that tap-in range, and it was. I was still nervous. I still thought I was going to miss it, but thank god I didn’t. Thank god it went in.”

That putter was the difference Sunday, especially on his first trip through 18 when he made about a 5-foot, downhill, left-to-right breaking birdie putt to force a playoff. For that, Griffin had to give some credit to PGA Tour legend Vijay Singh.

Last Saturday, before departing for Prattville, Griffin was on the practice green at TPC Sawgrass near his Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, home — in his words — putting and struggling. Then, from about 20 yards away, he heard the voice of a 34-time winner and three-time major champion on the PGA Tour who had missed the cut at the Masters only a day earlier.

“‘Get your right elbow in tighter. Bend over more,’” Griffin said Singh yelled. “I was like, ‘Yes sir.’ He came over and helped me a little bit. It might have been a two-, three-minute lesson, and it felt good. It’s one of those things where sometimes people try and help you and you’re like, ‘There’s no way I’m doing that,’ but as soon as he said it, I was like, ‘I’ve done that in the past and it’s worked, so I’m going to try it.’”

It worked — the player who entered the week ranked 91st in putting average finished the tournament tied for 13th. And while his swing might not have felt great, Griffin finished second in greens in regulation.

“I don’t know if he drinks beer, but I’ll maybe buy him a new workout set or something. I know he likes to get after it in the gym,” Griffin joked. “He thought I was playing at Harbour Town (the PGA Tour event this weekend). I said, ‘No, I’m still on Web.’ And he was like, ‘Well, go win it this week,’ so big shout out to him for helping me out.”

The victory earned Griffin $99,000 of the $550,000 payout from the inaugural tournament, which came to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail this year after the previously scheduled stop in Mexico had to be canceled for environmental reasons. More importantly, it earned him 500 points in the Web.com Tour standings, which jumped him from 93rd to ninth. The top 25 at the end of the season earn PGA Tour cards, which Griffin had during the 2017-18 season but lost for this year.

And he had Brown there to see it happen.

“This just doesn’t seem real,” Griffin said. “You just put so much work in, and there are so many days and weeks it doesn’t click, and you kind of wonder if you’re going to get back in that situation to have a chance.

“I haven’t locked anything up the rest of the year, but I’m pretty confident that I can build off this and I’m pretty excited about the rest of the year now, not having to worry about those thoughts of, I went to the PGA Tour last year to ‘am I going to keep my card this year on Web?’ These guys are really good, there’s just a ton of talent. It’s a good feeling knowing that, worst-case scenario, I have a job next year.”


 

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