State Amateur: Unusual path leads Erwin back to golf
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va - Rob "Duke" Erwin has been everywhere, but it's nowhere near the place he wants to be.
The 1999 graduate of South Charleston High School didn't play competitively as a teenager, but is tied for 17th after Wednesday's third round of the 94th State Amateur.
The 32-year-old Erwin - who has been in a rock band, helped build a house for a former NFL star and played four years of golf in the West Virginia Conference - has much bigger aspirations than earning a top 15 finish and an exemption into next year's Amateur.
Eventually, his career destination - and he's admittedly had some already - is to play for pay.
Despite being a considerable distance from his dream, the 2010 graduate of West Virginia State University and former Yellow Jacket player, might have finally found his calling.
"I started getting serious about golf when I was about 21 or 22," said Erwin, who moved to Florida after high school to live with his father and work building homes, including one for former NFL wide receiver Laveranues Coles. "We moved near a golf course in St. Augustine (The Golf Club at South Hampton). I got with a coach and he started helping me and in a couple years I went from a 15 handicap to a 5. So, I decided to go to college to see where it takes me."
He determined that building houses was too stressful and his future making money in a rock band came into question.
Erwin played bass guitar in "Happy Hour," a rock band that toured the Sunshine State.
When producers "ripped the band apart," splintering its members, Erwin came to another conclusion.
"When we broke up I realized I'm at the mercy of these other people," said Erwin, whose musical background comes from his mother Kristi Wick - 1975 Miss West Virginia and a professional singer - and his father, who plays guitar professionally. Erwin himself played in the West Virginia Youth Orchestra.
Erwin returned to West Virginia and was offered a scholarship to play for then State Coach Dave Wentz - the Big Bend Golf Course pro. Despite Wentz's insistence that Erwin could be the best golfer in the WVC, Erwin didn't take the game seriously enough.
"The last three years it dawned on me that I didn't have any more tournaments to play so I needed to find something to keep me going," he said.
The lanky former high school swimmer has gone through multiple swing changes when, in 2008, he ran into some "dark days" with his golf game and almost "lost" it.
"I put a lot of work into it and the last year it's finally come around where I can attack and put four good rounds together," Erwin said. He finished tied for 17th at last year's Amateur, his first.
His biggest mistake on Wednesday was thinking too much about another player - leader Sam O'Dell, who holds a commanding nine-stroke advantage into today's final 18 holes.
"I didn't have my swing at all, I never could get anything going," said Erwin, who shot a 3-under 69 on Tuesday at the Greenbrier Course, but followed with an 81 Wednesday. "I came in here today thinking I had to go shoot a 64 to catch Sam, and that's the absolute worst thing I could've done. It put me under undue pressure."
Erwin is quite aware that it's going to take more than four rounds at the Amateur or an exemption for a top 15 finish to get money to turn professional. The average age for the PGA Tour rookie in 2013 is 31, so he already faces an uphill battle.
The sales account manager for Dr. Pepper/Snapple struggles to find time for practice with 50-60 hour work weeks, and a wet summer in Putnam County put a damper on regular rounds at Sleepy Hollow.
Considering where Erwin has been, however, he can be patient, and is comfortable with that conclusion, as long as it results in another.
"You can't find sponsors until you win something," he said. "Like Sam (O'Dell), he could play as a tour pro if he dedicated himself to it. There's so many good players, until you prove you can be clear cut dominant at this level, nobody's going to throw money at you.
"The only plan I have is to continue playing well in these things to the point I can finance it myself or get to the point where I break through."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837.