Captains’ Corner: Grant Raffel ’17.5

Grant Raffel ‘17.5. Photo courtesy of Sports Information.

Team:

Men’s golf

Hometown:

Palo Alto, Calif.

Residence:

Dodd House

Major:

Political science

Snack bar order:

“I’m too old for

snack bar.”

Favorite word:

“Squid”

 

I understand that many members of the men’s golf team have nicknames. What is yours?

Well, as a first-year, I was called “the Bear.” As the older classes have left, it has kind of fallen by the wayside, though. I think it’s because I seemed like a bear as I walked around the golf course – whatever that means.

At what age did you start playing golf?

I started playing when I was pretty young – probably 5 or 6 years old. I got into it more competitively when I was older, maybe around 12 or so. I played throughout high school and decided it was something I wanted to keep doing in college, and here I am, more than four years later, still at Williams.

Did you play any other sports when you were growing up?

I did. I probably played basketball the longest; I played that [up until] middle school. I enjoyed that, but it got to a point where, on the weekends, I was having basketball games, and I would have rather been playing golf. I decided to focus on golf because that is what I enjoyed.

What was your high school golf team like?

It was a lot of fun. It was a good group of people, and we had a fun and entertaining coach. I made a lot of friends. I did not have any classmates on the team with me, so it was all people younger or older. We did really well. It’s very competitive in California, but we were one of the best public schools in our area. Some of the private schools were a bit of a step above, but we certainly held our own.

Why did you decide to attend and play golf at the College?

I think Div. III and the NESCAC have a really strong balance between being a student and an athlete, and that is kind of lost in Div. I, I think. You have to be an athlete first, and you have to choose your classes and your major around your athletic schedule. Basically, with the level of golf I was at, if I tried to play at a Div. I school, it would’ve been a pretty low-level school. It would’ve been a lot of time without much payoff. I was definitely attracted to the NESCAC and Williams, in particular, for that nice balance and being able to be a student first and have competitive athletics on the side. At Williams, obviously Taconic [Golf Club] – it doesn’t get much better than that, being able to walk 10 minutes from class and be on the golf course. We are really lucky to have that. When I visited here, it was pretty apparent right off-the-bat that it would be a unique thing, to have our own course and a very good course right on campus. Other than that, it was more the school: a liberal arts school with strong academics.

How has the culture on the team evolved over the years?

I think it has actually changed a lot. Freshman year, we had a very large team of about 20 people. There were kind of two groups of people on the team; there were the people pushing for the lineup and the other people who probably didn’t think they had a chance to make the lineup. Now, we have more of a cohesive group. Everyone knows that, if they play well, they will be in the mix. It is probably a little bit of a tighter group. That’s partly because it’s a smaller team, but that’s also because the culture has changed a little bit and brought everyone closer together.

Going off of that, how do you think the structure of tournament play (only a handful of players going to compete) shapes the team’s ethos?

That’s the main challenge as the leader of the team: to make sure that those guys who are sticking around [at the College] on the weekends, instead of travelling, still feel like they are a part of the team and still in the mix if they play well. We’ve done a good job of making the weekends at home a qualifier of sorts for the people who stick around here. We try to keep the communication open and make sure they feel in the loop.

How does the golf team differ from other teams?

It’s very different. We aren’t based out of the gym or Weston Field. We aren’t as in the loop with the trainers, [equipment room staff]. … It’s a little different, but in a good way. We have Taconic, which is our home base. Also, golf is a sport where practice has to be tailored to the individual because people have different needs week-to-week. If people are playing well, they want to be on the golf course and shoot some scores. If they are struggling with their swing, they want to go to the range. If they’re struggling with their putting, they probably want to go to the putting green. Starting last fall, instead of having team range sessions and team playing days, we left it open to people. They could just report back how it went. Practice for us looks different than it does for most other teams, but I think it’s definitely effective for making us better golfers.

You left the College in spring 2016 to work for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. What impact did that experience have on your golf career and relationship with the team, especially since you are, as a result, in your third season as a captain?

I had gone abroad in the fall of 2015 and enjoyed that a lot. I was in Scotland and got to play some golf there and, just as that was drawing to a close … I just realized I was looking to do something else for the next semester. Basically, it happened that the 2016 presidential election was in full-swing at that point, and I jumped at the opportunity to go help with [the Sanders] campaign. That was a great experience for me as a political science major to get out into the real world and learn a little bit more about American politics outside the classroom. I kept in touch with the team and came back on campus once or twice that spring. Last year, after returning to the team from a full year away, I felt a little disconnected from Williams, but jumping right back in was no problem. It was a good decision, a worthwhile thing to do. It didn’t have much of an impact on my golf game or the golf team.

And what’s your favorite course in the world?

Oh my! Having spent a semester in Scotland, some of the courses I played there were pretty spectacular with all of the history there. It’s a different style of golf than what we have here in the United States. Probably the Old Course at St Andrews. Not so much the course itself, but the history and the environment – it’s kind of a part of town there in St Andrews. It’s a pretty special place since that is where golf started. I got to play that a number of times.