Jonathan Dudley teaches people how to play a better game of golf. For all the experiences the 33-year-old already has crammed into his life, he could teach a lot more than that.
Small-town roots … college golf national championship … thoughts of a religious profession … a paid gig golfing with a billionaire … a broken neck.
“All over the map,” Dudley said with a smile.
Golf, however, has been part of that road map most of his life. Dudley is coming up on his one-year anniversary as a certified personal coach at GolfTEC in Greensboro.
“I just enjoy helping people,” he said. “In golf, there’s always something new, and I love that ebb and flow. You’re working on something with one person and 30 minutes later you’re on to another challenge. I love the coaching aspect. It can be a lost art.”
Dudley seems to have found his calling after a wildly adventurous past. He grew up in the small Vermont town of Irasburg. His grandfather — a great player who started shooting his age at 68 — got him interested in golf, and the town’s star player showed Dudley what golf could do for students of the game. Grady Girard won the Junior Orange Bowl International Golf Championship in 1993 – two years after some kid named Tiger Woods – and earned a scholarship to Texas Christian University.
Dudley called himself an OK high school golfer, so he was excited when an opportunity presented itself to play at Greensboro College. In his first year on campus, Dudley red-shirted but was part of the Pride squad that won the 2000 NCAA Division III national championship. Individual medalist Kevin O’Connell was Dudley’s roommate that year.
“I felt like I had walked into something big,” Dudley said. “Just the way the players carried themselves, I learned a lot.”
Pride coach Robert Linville taught Dudley plenty, as did a private coach. Dudley worked with well-known local pro Kelley Phillips for the last three years of his college career and watched his scoring average drop from 78 to 73. In Dudley’s final college match, he fired a 69 to land third place and earn All-American honors at the 2004 Division III championship.
That’s when life really got interesting for Dudley. While many golfers would be eager to leap from successful college careers into the professional or teaching ranks, Dudley headed to Texas and spent a year studying under a pastor. He stopped playing golf that year.
When Dudley decided the ministry wasn’t the right fit for him, a unique opportunity emerged. Billionaire Sidney Frank, who turned Jägermeister and Grey Goose vodka into household names, had a team of six amateur golfers whose full-time jobs were to play golf with him on courses from New York to California.
“He was an eccentric billionaire who brought his entourage around to play golf with him,” Dudley explained of the dream job.
Only eight months later, though, Frank died at the age of 86. He left money for his amateurs to chase their dreams of becoming pro golfers, and Dudley pursued that path for three years. When he didn’t play well enough to make it on a tour, Dudley began to turn toward teaching.
He directed the Triad Youth Golf Foundation to help kids become more involved in the game. Then in 2009, right when Dudley was contemplating full-time teaching, he broke his neck.
“I was out fishing and dove into shallow water,” Dudley said. “I’m fortunate I can do everything I still want to do. That could’ve been a game-ender.”
After fully recovering, Dudley went to teach at Linville’s Precision Golf School. During his four years there, he began to focus more and more on the biomechanics of the golf swing – after all, suffering a broken neck “wakes you up as to how important your body is,” Dudley said.
Teaching with technology along with a chance to learn from Scott Duerscherl led Dudley to move to GolfTEC last May. The new teaching center in the Greensboro Golfsmith store at Wendover Avenue and Interstate 40 offers state-of-the-art sensors showing shoulder and hip movement, club face path, simulated ball flight and more.
Dudley said he enjoys working with center manager Duerscherl and studying the golf swing with him. The feeling is mutual.
“If I wasn’t here, I’d feel comfortable having him teach one of my students,” Duerscherl said. “That’s rare. I feel like we’re on the same page. Our style of instruction and research are very similar.”
Dudley also lauded the nonstop training GolfTEC coaches go through: “It’s like you learn something and then you realize how much you didn’t know,” he said. “I thought this was a great opportunity to improve myself as an instructor.”
Dudley helps a wide array of players. About 20 percent are elite golfers, including some on mini-tours, and 20 percent are juniors, with the other 60 percent of men and women falling somewhere in between. He especially enjoys working with juniors, who have resources to improve their skills that he never could have imagined growing up.
One of his young standouts is Northern Guilford sophomore Kendall Dobbins, who won Guilford County’s Bryan Invitational in September with a school-record 73. Dobbins has worked with Dudley for two years and watched her scoring average plummet.
“He’s very good with making sure you understand. He tells you the cause-and-effect, shows you how to do things,” Dobbins said after a recent lesson at GolfTEC. She added that being hooked up to all the wires and seeing herself in action on the monitors was a bonus: “It’s pretty cool. Not everybody gets to see all this technology.”
Given Dudley’s past, you never know what you’ll see. After an interesting journey, though, he seems to have found a home teaching at GolfTEC.