Stevens: James Erkenbeck Has Found Ways To Win On The Golf Course

May 23, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Men's Golf - At The NCAA Championships

When/Where: May 28 to June 2 - Capital City Club, Atlanta, Ga.
The Format: 54 holes of stroke play with top eight teams advancing to three days of match play to determine 2013 champion.
The Lobos: James Erkenbeck, Sr. John Catlin, Sr. Benjamin Bauch, Sr. Gavin Green, Soph. Victor Perez, Soph.

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

When James Erkenbeck first took up golf with serious intent, there was something that bothered him. His friends were beating him.

This was something that didn't sit well with James.

"I went out there and my friends were all better than me. I didn't like that," said the New Mexico senior and an NCAA regional medalist. "All the other sports I played had come easy for me and then in golf my friends were all beating me.

"It became my challenge."

It was a challenge that also forced Erkenbeck to find different ways to win. In other sports, Erkenbeck simply could will his way into a higher gear and beat down his buddies with quickness, guts, agility, speed or maybe pure effort.

Golf has different demands, different disciplines that bring success.

"When I first started playing golf, I found out that I couldn't work extra hard or out hustle someone on the course to make up for something and that kind of bothered me," said Erkenbeck.

"In basketball, you could play harder on defense or rebound harder. In soccer, you could run back and play defense or go take the ball away.

"You can't do that in golf. I didn't like that at first. You have to use your patience and your mind and control your emotions. But there is still a competitiveness that drives you."

Golf also is a game that demands a high work ethic when it comes to practice because the other guys in the game are working their tails off. Like most D-I sports, an athlete is forced to give up the other games, if he wants to find success at the collegiate level.

For Erkenbeck, that meant stepping away from the soccer field.

"I grew up playing all the other sports that you can think of," he said. "Then they built a golf course right next to my my house and they had a junior program. My friends and I started going over there goofing around. I was 12. I had played golf before but I wasn't any good. I was still interested in soccer."

At Torrey Pines High (San Diego), Erkenbeck went out for soccer and golf as a freshman. He made the varsity soccer team. He did not make the varsity in golf. Of course, that bothered him. He practiced. He got better.

Then in his sophomore year at Torrey Pines High he came down with mononucleosis and could not run up and down the soccer fields. However, he could still hit golf balls. Again, he got better. His itch for the game grew stronger.

"I decided golf was more down my alley for the future," he said.

The future Erkenbeck envisions is the PGA Tour. His growth as a golfer has been steady since those challenging days as a 12-year-old and also steady as a Lobo. He won one tourney as a freshman in 2008-09 and had six consecutive Top 25 finishes as a sophomore.

He redshirted in 2010-11 and came back as a junior to make the All-Mountain West team and also the PING All-West Region team. He took medalist honors at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in July of 2012 and rode that performance into a solid senior season at UNM.

Erkenbeck was named the Mountain West 2013 Player of the Year and was runner-up by a shot at the MW Championships. He won the Columbus Ohio NCAA Regional by four shots, but never showed too much excitement over the individual win.

He was at that tournament as purely a Lobo teammate.

"I was so focused on making nationals that that was where my mind was at," he said.

"Regionals is such a team tournament. Every other tournament an individual wants to win the tournament, but in regionals you just want to make sure your team gets to nationals."

That bid to nationals was a big deal for the Lobos even though the No. 5 ranked New Mexico team carried a No. 1 seed into the Columbus regional. UNM had missed qualifying for the national finals by a single shot both in 2009 and 20012. They enter this year's NCAA finals as a regional champion.

"It's definitely a nice boost," said Erkenbeck of the regional win. "I have no set expectations (for the NCAA finals). Obviously, I know if I play well I have a chance to win and that's all I'm shooting for."

The format for the NCAA Championships calls for 54 holes of stroke play with the eight top teams seeded for three days of match play. It is a format that is fan friendly - and TV camera friendly - but deviates a bit from the format that usually determines the best team on a course.

"In match play, anything can happen," said Erkenbeck.