Faculty Spotlight: PGA Professional Nathan Grafe, Golf Instructor
Jun 14, 2018
Nathan Grafe grew up playing golf, and he always knew he loved the game — but he never had a golf professional look at his swing. Finally, when he was a teenager, he decided it was time to get some feedback from an expert. He hopped in his car and drove to his first professional golf lesson.
Grafe was enamored.
But not with just playing golf. He loved the game, but didn’t see a future as a professional player. Instead, Grafe was enamored with the golf professional.
“I was so impressed with what a rock star this guy was at the club,” he says. “From that point on, I didn’t really care much about simply playing golf — I wanted to be the golf pro.”
This is how Grafe began his journey to becoming a golf instructor.
Taking the First Step to Become a Golf Instructor
In 1996, Grafe’s mother was at home, folding laundry and watching The Price is Right, when two contestants stepped up. When Bob Barker asked them what they did, they said they were students at the San Diego Golf Academy — now known as Golf Academy of America in San Diego. That was the first time Grafe had ever heard of such a school. He applied and enrolled shortly after.
Upon graduating in the fall of 1997, Grafe took his first job working in a bag room at a country club in Dallas, Texas. From there, he was recommended for an assistant job at a municipal course. As an assistant, Grafe moved from club to club, exploring different types of venues.
“The reason I did that was because I was trying to figure out where I fit in best. Was it high-end private? Low-end private? Daily? High-end daily? Municipal? Resort?” Grafe explains. “Every time I made a change, it was always a different type of club.”
He moved to Houston and then back to Dallas again. He earned his PGA certification. And while working at Gentle Creek Golf Club in Dallas, Grafe was promoted from an assistant to a head professional, and then finally to a director of instruction.
Returning to Golf Academy of America
After a decade at Gentle Creek, Grafe decided to switch gears. He began working at Golf Academy of America in 2014. Since his arrival, Grafe has taught around ten different classes.
Along with the classes he teaches, such as Golf Fundamentals, Mechanics of the Short Game and Methods of Teaching, Grafe teaches golf lessons and runs an alternative program for students during the weekly golf tournament. A player who is injured or just simply wants to work on his golf swing can join Grafe’s program and pick his brain for a few hours.
For Grafe, the technology available to students at Golf Academy of America is the key to improving your game.
“My favorite thing here is to cross-use technology. I like to use the KVest while hitting balls on Trackman. I think the more different learning styles you can teach and implement in one lesson, the more useful feedback you get,” says Grafe. “Why guess when you can measure? And I have all the tools here that I need to measure.”
Teaching Golf to Everyone from Beginners to Experts
“I’ve taught everyone from an 82-year-old to a six-year-old,” says Grafe.
He finds that there is a significant difference between teaching an experienced golfer and someone who is just starting out.
“I think golf is unique in how certain things work. There are specific things in our sport that you don’t get in other sports. For a brand-new golfer, it’s almost like an instruction manual as far as learning how to hold a club, leverage it, stand properly and more,” he says.
When he’s called upon to help players improve, Grafe thinks these aspects of the game are already set.
“It’s hard to change someone’s golf DNA,” he says. “Instead, course management becomes a major factor for someone who can already play but wants to take their game to the next level. How do I dissect the golf course? How do I move my chess piece around the chessboard correctly to put myself in the best position to score?”
Two things that Grafe highlights as being important fundamentals to master are grip set-up and contact.
“The biggest thing I see from people who already know how to play the game is they don’t aim very well,” he notes. “Additionally, if you can’t hit the ball at the center of the face, or if you can’t competently square the face up and hit the ball solidly, the game becomes very difficult.”
While Grafe says aim is a major factor of why players swing the club the way they do, he also notes that center strikes let you control the ball, the height, the spin and the curvature.
Grafe finds a lot of satisfaction in teaching golf.
“I enjoy watching other people get better,” he says. “I enjoy the excitement on their face when they hit a good golf shot or gain the ability to do something they’ve never been able to do before. That’s always my favorite.”
To learn more about the role of a golf instructor in the industry, check out our tips for becoming a golf instructor.