Austin Graham doesn’t believe in summer vacations.
A native of San Clemente, Calif., Graham led the UC Davis men’s golf team to the NCAA Tournament in May. He’s been firing on all cylinders ever since, winning the prestigious Southern California Golf Association Amateur Championship in July and qualifying for the upcoming U.S. Amateur Championship.
Graham paced the Aggies to three tournament wins during the 2008-2009 season, including a championship showing at the Big West Conference Tournament – UC Davis‘ first-ever Big West title. Graham beat out teammate Ramie Sprinkling for the individual win, earning first-team All-Big West honors for his efforts.
Aggie Editor in Chief Adam Loberstein recently caught up with Graham to discuss everything from sharing a trophy with Tiger Woods to putting across rivers and up big mountains.
You’ve done a lot of cool stuff these past couple months. Winning the SCGA Amateur Championship, earning a berth to the U.S. Amateur – this hasn’t been your run-of-the-mill, get-a-retail-job-and-do-nothing kind of summer, has it?
It’s been awesome. Every summer I try to play in the best tournaments that I can get into with my resume. I try to win as many as I can. I’ve been playing very consistently this summer, so everything is going well.
What did it mean to you to win the SCGA? Word on the street is some guy named Tiger Woods won it in 1994.
It was a dream come true. Since I started playing golf, the biggest Southern California tournament has been the SCGA Amateur. Having my name on [the trophy] with Tiger Woods, all these great players who have come through California – it’s just special. It’s special that I’ve proven that I can win with the best of them.
It’s funny, though. I was in the second-to-last group and I had no idea that I was tied for the lead until the 17th hole. One of the guys working there told me I was in a five-way tie. Any of us could have won it in the last couple holes.
You had no idea? Really? What goes through your head then when you’re told you’re basically two good holes away from winning the SCGA?
I had no idea, really. I was very surprised. I wasn’t playing horribly, but I wasn’t doing anything special. … I heard the crowd start screaming a bit as we got closer to the end of the round. I birdied 17, so I had a one-stroke lead going into 18. I just wanted to play it smart, stay aggressive.
The 2008-2009 UC Davis men’s golf team won the Big West title, earned the team’s first-ever berth to the NCAA Tournament – what does that do to your expectations for next year? Are they just as high? Higher?
It’s hard to replace Nate [Pistacchio] and Ramie, but we have plenty of talent coming back. Tim Honeycutt is transferring here [from St. Mary’s], Andrew [Haggen] qualified for the U.S. Amateur and Dennis [Carson] has won tournaments this summer. Brent [Booth] played the Public Links and Tyler Raber might get into the U.S. Amateur, too.
We have some new guys who have been playing well. We should pick up those two pieces we lost and should be right there and ready to go. … I think our expectations are even higher.
Honestly, how much golf do you play?
A lot. [Laughs.] Every day. I work out four or five times a week, then I head down to the course around 9 a.m. I either practice all day, or go out and play a couple rounds. It depends on what the conditions are with the course. If it’s windy, I’ll go play more. If I want to work on my game a bit, I’ll practice. I’m out there every day in some way.
Every player wants to improve their game and be the best in the country. We’re practicing all the time. We want to get that step ahead. You try to improve a little bit every single day. Hopefully, that works out in the end.
I’ve been a baseball player my whole life. I swing a golf club like a baseball bat, which, believe it or not, doesn’t work too well. Could you fix my swing?
Well, I’ve never seen you swing. [Laughs.]
Imagine an all-out baseball cut, except with a five iron instead of a bat. It’s nowhere near as bad as Charles Barkley’s swing, though.
Baseball players have the natural motion. It’s just moving that motion from belt-high to the ground. You have an advantage over most players that are just starting out.
Cool, I’ll call you the next time I’m stinking so you can remind me that. Or I’ll just stick with mini-golf. Do real golfers like yourself enjoy mini-golfing?
We do. Actually, it can get frustrating. We’re not used to all those rivers, volcanoes and windmills. It challenges our feel. Even if you’re just screwing around, it’s fun to try different shots. Putting up these big mountains – yeah, I really enjoy playing it with my buddies.
If you win, I’m sure your buds are like, “Well, that’s Austin. He’s supposed to win.” What if you lose? Do you ever hear the end of it?
You know, it’s all fun. If they beat me, I beat them – we’re just out to have a good time. Of course, I’m very competitive, so I like to win. At the same time, you’re just out there enjoying time with your friends and being away from the actual grind on the golf course.
Let’s get back to that actual golf course. You’ve done so much at UC Davis that it doesn’t seem possible for you to have another two seasons of eligibility. What else do you want to accomplish here? Are we going to see you on the PGA Tour down the line?
I’d like the team to win a NCAA Championship and for me to win a NCAA Championship individually. UC Davis is getting on the map. A lot of people want to know who we are and what we’re doing because we’ve been so successful from the get-go. We can win a NCAA Championship. We’re putting all the hard work into it. I would not be surprised if we’ve earned one of those in the next couple years.
As far as long-term goals go, I’m going to turn pro when I finish college and definitely give it a shot to get on the PGA Tour. Hopefully, I’ll be ready by that time, but that’s a long time from now.
All right, I’m done. The floor is all yours. Anything else you’d like the people to know?
I really just want to thank my parents and my support system back home. I couldn’t be where I’m at without them. I’d like to thank Coach Cy [Williams] and Coach Todd [Hammond] for everything they’ve done. It’s been awesome to be with them for two years. I can’t wait for the next two.
ADAM LOBERSTEIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.