When Steve Prater began working with Lanto Griffin on the golf course 20 years ago, two things stood out in the boy.
One was his alertness. Griffin seemed to pick up everything about his environment during his round and use it to his advantage.
The other was competitiveness. Prater ran a junior golf program at Blacksburg Country Club full of kids who loved to battle, and Griffin fit in the moment he came aboard at age 12.
“His desire to be good at golf — to be good at something — was extremely strong,” Prater said. “He wanted to prove himself, and he proved it through golf.”
Griffin, now a professional golfer with a PGA Tour victory on his resume, is one of two 2021 inductees in the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame. Fittingly, the other is Prater, who’s taught golf in the region for more than two decades and currently serves as the director of golf instruction at Blacksburg Country Club.
“It just was a natural combination,” said Ned Baber, who’s on the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame board. “They’re so close to each other and mean so much to each other, it was just the perfect combination to do it at the same time.”
After Griffin’s father died of a brain tumor when the boy was 12, Prater offered Griffin a free membership to Blacksburg Country Club. There, Griffin honed a game that would make him a two-time winner of the Korn Ferry Tour and the 2019 Houston Open champion.
The value of Prater’s support was immeasurable.
“That’s what made me fall in love with the game at a young age,” Griffin told the Associated Press after his win in Houston. “If Steve didn’t bring me in at that real vulnerable part of my life, then there’s no chance that I would be playing golf in college — or winning the Houston Open.”
While Griffin is Prater’s most prominent pupil, he’s far from the only player to benefit from the 62-year-old’s expertise. Prater has taught 87 juniors who’ve gone on to play in college.
The son of former Virginia Tech football player Jack Prater and a Blacksburg High School graduate, Prater returned to the area in 1995 after stints in Florida and New York. He spent a decade as the pro at Blacksburg Country Club, then worked for 10 years at Roanoke Country Club before returning to Blacksburg last year.
“It’s mostly just physics of the golf swing,” Prater said of his teaching style. “It’s the circular motion, and it’s about swing plane and spine angles and eye line. It’s not the typical, ‘Keep your head still, keep your left arm straight, shift your weight.’ It’s physics and mathematics.
“I would have definitely failed physics if I were in class, but I understand the physics of the golf swing very well.”
Beyond the enshrinement, this is a big week for Prater, Griffin and area golf. Before the Roanoke Valley Hall of Fame men’s and women’s tournaments begin on Friday, Blacksburg Country Club has been hosting The Lanto Junior Tournament on Tuesday-Thursday. That’s a first-year, AJGA-sanctioned event Griffin is sponsoring, and it’s expected to draw a strong field of top juniors.
“Now we’ve got both the Scott Robertson and The Lanto both here in Southwest Virginia, which is incredible,” Prater said. “Most other people have to travel all over the world to get to these things. We’re pretty lucky.”