Last week’s Houston Open may have been short on star power but it produced the kind of soul-stirring finish that doesn’t often happen in the cold, cruel world of professional golf.
Lanto Griffin won his first PGA Tour event, finishing one stroke ahead of Scott Harrington and Mark Hubbard, both of whom were also chasing their first tour win. More than that, all three were chasing the security of a future on the big tour, something none of them were assured of before the sun set over south Texas last Sunday evening.
With one special week, Griffin, Harrington and Hubbard have changed the arc of their seasons while Griffin has changed the direction of his career.
That was the beauty of this Houston Open – what it lacked in famous faces, it made up for in opportunity.
Unless a player is preternaturally talented, succeeding in professional golf is about more than skill. It’s about timing, too. It’s about playing well at the right moment, whether it’s in the final round of a mini-tour event, advancing through another stage of Korn Ferry Tour qualifying or seizing a moment like the one offered in Houston, when the top-ranked players in the world were doing something else.
For all the understandable talk about the rush of youngsters now populating PGA Tour leaderboards, it’s easy to overlook the grinders such as Griffin, Harrington and Hubbard, who have spent years chasing what seems to come easily to others.
They didn’t show up like Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Matthew Wolff, contending for titles and even winning trophies before they’re old enough to rent a car. Instead, they’ve lived hole-by-hole, round-by-round, week-by-week existences.
On Sunday at the Golf Club of Houston, the payoff arrived.
Griffin is a 31-year-old who was given privileges at a Blacksburg, Va., golf course after his father passed away nearly 20 years ago. He’s played everywhere and could have surrendered but he didn’t.
The same with Harrington, who is the rare 38-year-old PGA Tour rookie. He stepped away from the game in 2018 to be with his wife as she fought a second battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and they’re both winning these days.
Hubbard, meanwhile, was nicknamed “Homeless Hubbs” for his scruffy style when he was playing mini-tours. After three seasons on the PGA Tour, the 30-year-old Hubbard lost his card and needed two years to get back. In five starts this season, he’s already won more than $1 million.
“Not everybody’s going to be a Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler or the top in the world,” Griffin said Sunday night. “Some of us it takes us until year 28, 29 to get on tour. George McNeill, I talked to him last week and he was 30 and he’s played 14 years. So hearing stories like that, that’s more who I am. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Life’s still great and I’m not going to change.”
Playing alongside Harrington in the final round, Griffin took a moment to consider where they were and what they were doing.
“There’s a ton of other players like Scott Harrington, so happy for him. Scotty’s story and journey is similar to mine, a lot of heartbreak and a lot of family problems, and he’s 38,” Griffin said.
Harrington secured his first PGA Tour card in August by locking down a spot in the top 25 money winners in the Korn Ferry Tour’s regular-season finale in his hometown of Portland, Ore. Against the backdrop of his wife’s two-year cancer battle, Harrington has found himself adjusting to the recognition that came as a result of his personal story.
“I’m not a household name, I’m far from it,” he said. “In general, people haven’t known me for my whole career except for pretty extreme golf fans. So far just in the early part of the season, the number of people who have put out their hand and said, ‘Hey, really pulling for you this week;’ they know our story and I can tell there’s been a lot of instances like that.
“It’s really cool and it’s been pretty neat, the response that we’ve gotten from everybody. There’s people with the tour, players who I didn’t know before, big-name players the first couple events of the year coming up and wanting to shake my hand and introduce themselves and say, ‘Hey, I’m really happy for you’ and all that. For them to take their time and do that is really neat.”
• On the far side of the world, the PGA Tour’s season begins a three-event run through Asia this week, starting with the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea, followed by the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan and then the annual WGC-HSBC Champions event in China, where the simmering political issues won’t prevent FedEx Cup points from being earned.
This is when the stars come back out after an extended break for many of them. Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Gary Woodland and others are in Korea and Tiger Woods is scheduled to return to competition next week with a Monday skins game and a start in the Zozo Championship.
• Woods is authoring a memoir about his life and career that will be titled BACK.
The book will be published by HarperCollins Publishers, though no release date has been given. According to a press release, Woods will tell his story with input from his friends, family and closest advisors.
“I’ve been in the spotlight a long time, and because of that, there have been books and articles and TV shows about me, most filled with errors, speculative and wrong. This book is my definitive story. It’s in my words and expresses my thoughts. It describes how I feel and what’s happened in my life,” Woods said in the release.
• St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux made two holes-in-one on Monday at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va.
The former major league hurler and brother of Hall of Famer Greg Maddux aced the par-3 third and par-3 13th holes while playing before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series in Washington, D.C., in which the Cardinals faced the Washington Nationals.
According to whomever calculates such things, the odds of making two aces in the same round is approximately 67 million to one.
Lanto Griffin changed the direction of his career with his victory at the Houston Open. Photo: Sam Greenwood, Getty Images
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