A pair of brothers has already made history, but the two are not done leaving their mark on the golf world.
Whether it is winning the New Jersey high school state championship in consecutive years, earning All-Ivy League honors or being crowned an individual champion at the Ivy League championship, the duo of Mike and Luke Graboyes — a sophomore and junior, respectively — have already earned an elite status in the collegiate golf world.
However, they are yet to achieve their ultimate goal: bring an Ivy League championship to Ithaca.
And even though the Red finished fourth in this year’s Ivy League championship — just one stroke behind Yale in third — the brothers have raised the bar for Cornell golf by drastically improving what was once an accepted team finish before they joined the program.
“We kind of only had three strong performances this year, so that was good enough to take that next step,” Luke said. “From getting around seventh place five years in a row to fourth [this year] and a stroke out of third, really close there with Yale, that’s a huge step to begin with. When we have an entire roster and a full four year class of recruits, that’s going to make a difference.”
‘They should compete’
For the Florida turned New Jersey residents, golf has been engrained in their day-to-day routines for as long as their family can remember.
“I had worked with someone whose husband was a teaching professional in golf,” their father, Fred Graboyes, said. “He used to run some kids golf camps in the summers down in Florida. It was a chance to go to camp, have fun and play golf in a fun environment. That’s how they got started.”
“One of the instructors they worked with became their coach for the next 10 years and was the first to say, ‘Hey, these kids are good and they should compete,’” their mother, Karen, added.
Once they began to compete, the accolades poured in. Both brothers won the Jack Nicklaus junior tournament — named for the golf legend who won a record 18 major titles — and Nicklaus himself came in person to present the awards.
Luke, and in following years Michael, went on to win the Nicklaus tournament, even beating out Nicklaus’ own grandson, Nick O’Leary. When Nicklaus came in person to present Luke with his first place award, Luke said something that has created one of many fond memories the family has with the sport.
“Luke won his first tournament when he was five,” Karen said. “He was a little young for it, but he ended up winning. Nicklaus was signing hats and taking pictures with the kids. Luke was so young he didn’t understand who Nicklaus was, but Luke said in front of Nickulas, ‘Why would I want to shake his hand? He’s not Tiger Woods.’”
Nicklaus’s wife, Barbara, poked some fun at her husband after Luke’s comment.
“Jack’s wife laughed and said to [her husband], ‘Didn’t he just put you in your place?’” Karen said. “It was a funny moment.”
Since that early tournament win, the brothers’ lives have been all about golf.
“Every single day, in season or offseason, they are thinking, living and breathing golf,” Cornell head coach Matt Baughan said. “There’s no question about it. They take that to the course. The rest of the team sees that and [it] pushes everyone. There’s no question that their approach is at a much higher level from a competitive standpoint than where most individuals come in[to college with].”
It is human nature for a pair of brothers to often butt heads with each other. And while that may be a hindrance for some, the Graboyes believe that this long-standing rivalry has elevated their respective games.
“We are definitely really competitive but it’s a really healthy competitiveness,” Mike said. “I really want to win the tournament but if I don’t, the next person I want to win is Luke and I still play pretty well so it’s all good at the end of the day. It’s more like we push each other to play better rather than keep each other from playing at their best level. Coach [Baughan] is probably happy there’s not a third one of us, though.”
Baughan has also noticed the positive effects of the sibling rivalry.
“Obviously you have that sibling rivalry between the two of them,” he said. “They push each other. The biggest difference that I see in how they prepare for matches. Not only do they have that motivation to beat the field, but they have it to beat each other at the same time. That’s what siblings do. They have elevated our program to the next level.”
What is most surprising about a pair of brothers leading the golf team comes down to the numbers. The Cornell men’s golf team carries a roster of 12, but only travel with five to tournaments around the country. To have two of those five be from the same genetic line is an extreme anomaly.
“It is very unique to have two siblings on the same team,” Baughan said, “Four years ago was really the first year that I was able recruit prospective students and Luke was my very first recruit, so it was very special to have him and have his brother follow the next year and come in and help compliment what Luke was able to do on the golf course. It was a great addition to the program.”
At one point, their teamwork extended past the 18th hole. In middle school, the brothers played basketball together, and even subbed in for each other’s lacrosse teams from time to time, according to Mike.
“Our main second sport was lacrosse,” Luke said. “I gave up lacrosse in eighth grade because it was the same season as golf in high school and we knew we weren’t going to do it in high school. I liked golf so much that I wanted to just focus on that and get better. Mike followed as well.”
The path to Ithaca
Their choice to stick with golf over lacrosse led them to being recruited by several schools in addition to Cornell. It was an arduous process that came down to long nights of back and forth debate in the Graboyes household.
“You have to send out emails to the coaches of about 100 different schools,” Luke said of his recruiting process. “You project yourself to the kids who are currently on the team and compare it to how you will be two years from now. You have to reach schools academically and golf-wise. You see who bites back and as it gets closer to your junior year you give updates to coaches who respond to you and set your schedule and send it out. The ones that talk to you in person are the biggest deal.”
Despite the process, Luke said he is happy with his final choice.
“My parents wanted me to prioritize education,” he said. “I can’t imagine going to any of those other schools. I definitely made the right choice. And I told Michael how awesome that was and there were so many things going for our program.”
Along with Cornell, Luke considered Penn State, Rutgers and Delaware. For Mike, it was Emory and Cornell. But once Luke made the choice to attend Cornell, it created a tough choice for Mike the next year.
“Actually my mom was pushing me to not come to Cornell, which I think is kind of funny,” Mike said. “She’s probably not going to like that I said that, but I think that now [our parents] are really happy because they love traveling to all our tournaments. Luke got interested in Cornell because the owners of our country club that we play at in Jersey, one son played on the team from 2007-10 … so we would always hang out and hit on the range with each other, so that’s how we first got introduced to Coach Baughan.”
Creating a legacy
Immediately upon Luke’s arrival to Cornell, followed by Mike’s the next year, Baughan noticed a swift, positive change to his golf program as older players began to look to the brothers as an example.
“Every day they are working on their game in some way, shape or form,” Baughan said. “Luke definitely brought that they day he stepped on campus. Even as a freshman, the upperclassmen watched him and compared themselves to him. It pushed them to do the things that they’re supposed to do.”
Baughan noted that, along with the older golfers learning from the Graboyes, the brothers have been and will continue to serve as role models to incoming recruits.
“In over the course of the last four years with Luke, [recruits] all have that same focus, they all have that same mentality, they all have that same goal,” Baugan said. “They are not having to tell the new kids on the block that this is what you have to do. They just can go do what they have to do to compete and ultimately that’s our goal.”
Since they arrived in Ithaca, the brothers have noted that the alumni support to the golf program has helped tremendously in propelling the team over the hump of seventh or eighth place in the Ivy League.
“[We got] a really cool Mercedes Sprinter Van, which makes traveling more comfortable,” Mike said. “We have a new indoor hitting facility, which based on the results of the spring you can tell how much that helped the team out, especially out of the gate down in [the Florida Invitational]. We also have a new team locker room at the course. Those are really awesome rooms that attract recruits and have a useful team space.”
“On a macro level [this is] how teams improve because it attracts new recruits,” Luke added. “Ultimately nothing matters unless you have good recruits and I’m sure the bigger sports are more used to that philosophy because they have bigger teams. [We] can’t just survive on getting one really good player every few years.”
The two brothers have a combined three years left at Cornell. In their time in Ithaca thus far, the Red has improved its standings on the team and individual levels, and the Graboyes believe they are within grasp of capturing that elusive first place finish.
“I think we have the talent to win right now,” Mike said. “It’s just a matter of everyone playing well. We have the talent to perform right now it’s just a matter of doing that in the high pressure situations, knowing it the conference championship and last tournament of the season.”
When it came time for Mike to decide on schools, Baughan knew it was in the program’s best interest to unite the brothers in carnelian Red. Since then, the team saw its best finish since 2005 and the men believe they are headed in the right direction to capture the elusive Ivy League championship trophy.
“We had spoken with coach Baughan. [We said] if he wanted to win the Ivy League championship, then Mike would be a great addition to the team,” Fred noted. “[A championship] is their goal and I think this year they got one step closer. With Luke’s senior year coming up, they want to be part of the first team to win Cornell the Ivy League championship.”