SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Paul Erdman wears a brace on his left knee, a reminder of the five knee surgeries and other physical ailments that caused him to give up golf in his late 20s. He wasn't sure if he would ever play again, but one day, someone who knew he used to be a pro asked him to tee it up in a scramble. He thought, "why not?," and to his pleasant surprise, there was no pain. He had caught the golf bug again.
Fast forward a little more than a decade, and Erdman, who regained amateur status, won the Championship flight at the 2011 Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. Last year, at the same location, he finished second after losing in a playoff in 40 mph winds. Now at 46, he has his sights set on another title, and he's well on his way.
On Thursday, he fired a 1-over-par 73 on the Talon Course at Grayhawk Golf Club. Having already played the previous two rounds at Talking Stick Golf Club at 4-under-par (69-68), Erdman has things pretty much under control with a five-shot lead. He'll be playing his final round on the Raptor Course at Grayhawk Golf Club on Friday with Hardeep Dhani of Poway, Calif. (+2) and Brian Lomeli of Gilroy, Calif. (+3), so he should know where he stands the whole way.
"This will be a new experience, playing with this kind of lead," said Erdman, who works for State Farm Insurance in Golden, Colo. "I've played decent for three days and it's been pretty consistent. I really haven't gotten into trouble. If I can do that tomorrow, somebody would have to really go low to beat, and I'll take the odds on that."
Spoken like a player with a lot of experience.
The long road back
If you're thinking Erdman was one of those terrific high school players who played college golf, then went on to become a pro only to give up the game because of injuries and come back as an amateur, well, that's not exactly what happened.
Erdman played high school golf, but he was nothing special. He was about a 6- to 7-handicap, as he recalls, but when he got to college at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, he improved rapidly. After two years of just playing casual golf, he lowered his handicap by seven or eight strokes, so he had an idea. He visited the school's athletic director and asked what it would take to start a varsity golf team there. After he got his answer, he put everything in motion and basically founded the school's golf program. The team never excelled, but for a couple of years, Erdman played Division I golf at a fairly high level.
And after graduation, he decided to play the mini-tours in Florida while he worked as a club pro in the Maryland-Virginia area. By the time he was 26, he was head pro at the new Great Hope Golf Course in Westover, Md.. He was fully vested in the golf business, but then the injuries came.
"I couldn't swing a golf club anymore," he said. "So I got out the business."
So he started a second career in insurance, and then came the scramble.
"I got out there and started swinging and nothing hurt," recalled Erdman.
He played in everything he could, in Virginia, where he moved to, and in the Carolinas. He was ranked fourth in the state at one point and even found himself in a match against Mike Goodes. Then an amateur, Goodes now serves as an inspiration to Erdman. In 2007, Goodes turned pro and now has more than $4 million in earnings on the Champions Tour. Erdman will be eligible to try his luck on the senior circuit in four years.
"After the Golf Channel Am Tour, where am I to go?" asked Erdman. "I've been competing my whole life. I'm just living the dream."