New Manhattan Country Club head golf professional Blake Graham loves the challenges the sport presents.
“It’s (a sport) you can never perfect,” Graham said. “I’ve played a lot of good rounds over the years. But to be perfect is not possible.”
Graham, who is replacing Denny Woods, will be introduced to the public with a meet and greet on Sunday from 1-3 p.m. at the club.
Graham, 35, could never have imagined the challenges the game would present and the life lessons it would share when he started swinging a club with his father as a 4-year old.
“He never pushed me to play golf,” Graham said of his father. “He let me do my own my thing. I just developed a love for it.”
Graham, who grew up in Wichita and attended Wichita State, found his greatest challenge after he turned pro at 21 in 1999. Since then Graham crossed paths with two familiar names — Aaron Watkins and Robert Streb — both who played collegiately at Kansas State.
A self-described hot head, Graham figured out rather quickly that he was going to have to get much better if he was going to compete at a higher level.
“After three months of being a professional, it all of a sudden hits you how much harder you have to work at every aspect of it,” Graham said.
Through these trials and tribulations, Graham never stopped loving the sport. He just realized he needed to mature.
“(It comes) back to failure,” Graham said about his own experiences as a professional. “Learning to grow from failure. Essentially being able to accept failure. I was 21-years old when I turned professional and it was hard for me to accept failure at that time. One of the main reasons is that I wasn’t as strong mentally as I could have been or I’ve grown in to being 14 years later.”
It’s a maturation process that has taken Graham on a journey he would never have imagined.
Graham envisioned being a professional golfer since he was a sophomore in high school when he won the state tournament.
When he had to give up his dream, Graham turned right back to a familiar spot — the golf course. It’s the same place he met his wife, a former Kansas State golfer, and bonded with his dad as a kid.
Graham took a job at Hallbrook Country Club in Leawood.
“When I quit professional golf and got in to this side of things, I hated teaching,” Graham said. “Part of it was that my knowledge was not vast enough. I knew the golf swing, but I didn’t how to teach it, to portray it. That has changed over the years.”
The transition was a rough one for Graham, who still plays professionally. Graham has been named the Midwest Section PGA Player of the Year before. For his efforts as an instructor, Graham was rewarded three times by the PGA President’s Council For Growing the Game.
But just like his own journey, Graham enjoyed watching others mature on the golf course. Graham has a life full of wisdom to impart on golfers.
“I love teaching all levels of players — men, women, children” Graham said. “The whole gamut.”
Graham will admit that golf does require physical skill, there’s an important mental aspect to it. One that has kept Graham hooked since he was 11. This mental aspect is where Graham focuses his teaching.
“That’s the one thing about being a golf instructor is that you have be a sports psychologist part of the time,” Graham said. “That’s another fun part of the challenge to me.”
For his work, Graham has received monetary compensation from his students and while the extra green is beneficial, Graham receives more satisfaction watching his student progress.
“When you stand on the lesson tee and you see that light bulb go off for the student, it’s extremely gratifying,” Graham said.
It’s the same light bulb that had to turn on for Graham, when he was slugging it out the mini-tours hoping to get a shot at the PGA.
Now, self-admittedly, Graham says he is a better player than the one who left Wichita State after his junior season. Graham played two seasons at Butler Community College before becoming a Shocker. In his first season at Wichita State, Graham was named the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year and his team won the conference championship.
“I wish I would’ve known at 21 what I know now,” Graham said. “Who knows what could have happened if I knew then what I know now.”
Since then, Graham has beaten Kansas legend Tom Watson at the Tom Watson Challenge. After three rounds, Graham, Watson, and another player ended up tied. The playoff lasted three holes before Graham emerged victorious.
To this day, it’s Graham’s greatest accomplishment as a golfer.
“I have a hard time thinking of anything that would outweigh that,” Graham said.
While playing against a living legend might intimidate most, Graham said he felt very comfortable teeing off against Watson.
“People say, ‘Were you nervous?’” Graham said. “Oddly enough - no. Can I answer why? No idea. I should have been. But I guess it’s just one of those deals. You’re in the moment and you don’t allow yourself to think about what it’s actually going on. You just think, ‘Ok, I need to go win.’”
Who knows if a younger Graham would have stepped up the challenge, the way the older Graham did.
“A little later in life — 17, 18 years old — I was not nearly as calm,” Graham said. “My reactions were a little more outgoing I’m sure. But again, that changed over the years. Again, I don’t get excited over much.”
But on this golf journey, Graham has lived life like the white dimpled ball he knocks across the course. Sometimes he has gone off course, spun backwards, and missed his target. But right now, Graham could not be more on target.
“I grew up a K-State fan because my dad played golf here,” Graham said. “My wife also played golf here at K-State. We’re very familiar with the area. So once the opportunity presented itself. It seemed like a home run. I was very interested. I was very happy to be here.”
On Sunday, the Manhattan Country Club is holding a meet-and-greet with Graham.