First Tee alum makes her mark on Minneapolis, on and off the course
July 21, 2021
By Aaliyah Jones and Cara Canington , PGATOUR.COM
- July 21, 2021
- Natalie Braga helped chaperon 50 First Tee – Minnesota participants to the 3M Open. (Courtesy of Natalie Braga)
Natalie Braga grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she and many others share a passion for building an inclusive, supportive and strong community. And, in light of recent events in the Minneapolis area, she is more focused than ever on channeling her time and talents to create positive change.
Braga’s family loves golf. As a toddler, her father noticed she enjoyed hitting in the yard with the plastic toy golf clubs she had. So, at just four years old, Braga started taking lessons at First Tee — Minnesota. Braga also recalls her family attending the 3M Open back when the tournament was on PGA TOUR Champions, another way her family helped to foster her love for golf as a young girl.
Braga spent the next several years practicing and playing as much golf as possible, gaining key life skills through First Tee curriculum along the way. Over time, she began to realize she not only had a talent for playing, but also for teaching. Wanting to give back to the program that gave her so much, Braga began coaching younger kids at First Tee during her summer breaks.
“I love that the First Tee makes golf accessible to all kids in a fun and engaging way,” said Braga. “It teaches kids both a lifelong sport as well as lifelong values.
“And now I love serving as a mentor and role model for younger kids just starting out in the sport.”
Braga went on to anchor the girls’ varsity golf team at Highland Park Senior High, going undefeated in the conference and winning the conference championship, earning a spot on the all-conference team this season – a fitting way to close out her senior year after her junior season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
With plans to attend University of Loyola Chicago in the fall of 2021, Braga is applying what she learned at First Tee to her future career goals to make a positive difference. She will study criminal justice and Chinese with the eventual goal of further improving the criminal justice system at the international level.
“Some of the core values that the First Tee has taught me have influenced my future plans and goals outside of golf,” said Braga. “I have developed strong self-confidence and respect for others, which has made me into a strong individual. Now, I want to take that strength and help build stronger communities.”
But Braga’s heart for positive change doesn’t end there. She knew making real change in her community also meant joining the movement for racial and social justice. Last summer, Braga attended protests following the murder of George Floyd, marching alongside fellow protesters to the capitol building in St. Paul. These peaceful and eye-opening protests included chants and listening to insightful speakers, moving Braga to become even more involved.
She decided to create and sell poster art for activists to hold during these peaceful protests. She then donated the proceeds to a grassroots movement, Reclaim the Block, a group of Minneapolis community members and city council members who commit funds from the police department into other areas of the city’s budget that promote community health and safety.
Fast-forward to today and Braga continues to be a game changer and strengthen her St. Paul community. On Tuesday, July 20, she helped chaperon 50 First Tee – Minnesota participants to the 3M Open, where the kids were treated to a youth golf clinic on the practice range, followed by a luncheon and time to explore the course and watch golf.
While onsite, Braga had the opportunity to speak with 3M’s Vice President of Global Security, Greg Bachman. Learning more about Bachman’s background in federal law enforcement and his career with NCIS has only further inspired Braga towards her goals in the criminal justice field.
“I loved learning from Greg and hearing about his experiences and stories with NCIS,” said Braga. “It’s continues to fuel my passion to earn my degree and get out into the world to start making a real difference.”
Braga is not sitting back and waiting for positive change to simply just happen. Instead, she is seeing needs in her local community and taking action by being a game changer in more ways than one.
“As I look back on my First Tee experiences, one lesson I’ve learned is that you get what you give,” said Braga. “I have invested time with the First Tee and because of that, I have been provided with such strong opportunities for growth and leadership.
“My hard work at the First Tee paid off, through both my golf game, but more importantly through learning vital lessons in leadership, responsibility, and confidence. This has shown me that if I work hard and dedicate myself to a cause, the benefits of that hard work will follow.”