By Beth Seaman
John Graeber is one of those people you feel like you’ve known all your life the instant you meet him. When I called him for an interview, I knew after the first thirty seconds that we’d never run out of things to talk about.
We met for lunch at Ajax Diner in Oxford, which boasts cold air-conditioning, even colder beer and some of the best food in the city. The relaxed atmosphere of the diner was perfectly suited to Graeber, though I imagine he’d be comfortable in any venue. He’s a fun-loving, easy going, humble man with wonderful manners and patent Southern hospitality. We spent an hour talking about our families, work, and, of course, golf. It was one of the most interesting lunches I’ve had in ages.
Graeber, 69, has been playing golf since he was 12 years old. He learned at the hands of his father, who John calls an “all-around great athlete”. He was an Ole Miss tennis player, a pool shark, and a scratch golfer. John’s father died of brain cancer in 1965, when John’s brother, Ken, was just 13 years old. John taught Ken the game of golf, just as his father taught him. Graeber poured his heart—and his energy–into teaching his little brother the game, and once he taught Ken everything he knew, John took him to Florida to work with Bob Toski. When Ken went off to college at Ole Miss a few years later, he did so on a golf scholarship, winning letters in 1971, 72, and 73. For John Graeber, this was the beginning of a successful career as a golf instructor.
John has been the golf instructor at the Ole Miss Golf Course for 15 years and says he enjoys helping other people learn to play the game. “You know what I enjoy about helping people? When they hit a really good shot and they smile. That’s what I like to see.”
He was a member of the Yazoo Country Club’s board for several years and his golfing buddies would come to him for tips. “I’d tell them what they were doing wrong,” he smiles, “but I didn’t want to tell them too much because I didn’t want them to beat me!”
When Graeber moved to Oxford 15 years ago, he taught a few classes at the Oxford Park Commission’s Activities Center using plastic mats and practice balls. Shortly after, he began giving lessons at the Ole Miss Golf Course. Graber has only had two breaks from golf in all his years of play. Once in 2009 when he had both his knees replaced, and this past April when he underwent a quadruple bypass operation. He estimates that during his years of giving lessons he’s helped over 1,000 people, including his own children.