• Player’s Take: Chris Erwin

  • Then and now: Chris Erwin, a 2021 Forme Tour rookie, resumed his career as a professional golfer last year after serving in the military. During his four-year Army stint, he was deployed to war-torn Syria for seven months. (Photos are courtesy of Chris Erwin)
    Then and now: Chris Erwin, a 2021 Forme Tour rookie, resumed his career as a professional golfer last year after serving in the military. During his four-year Army stint, he was deployed to war-torn Syria for seven months. (Photos are courtesy of Chris Erwin)
  • In This Article
  • At the Forme Tour Qualifying Tournament at Callaway Gardens Resort in Pine Mountain, Georgia, in April, contrary to conventional wisdom, Chris Erwin, at 38, was not the oldest player in the field. There was a 40-year-old who teed it up. But none of the other 93 players entered had four daughters, and none of them had his oldest daughter walking all 72 holes with him. No other player had spent any time in war-torn Syria, either, parachuting from airplanes and analyzing data for his superiors. That’s part of Erwin’s resume. From avoiding water hazards and sand traps to working around roadside hazards and booby traps overseas, the Tennessee resident’s journey to playing professional golf as a Forme Tour member has been anything but unadventurous as we find out in the latest edition of “Player’s Take.”

    I went to college from 2001-04. I went to Valdosta State University in Georgia, where I played golf on scholarship.

    I played in the 2003 U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont Country Club, and in 2004 I left school early. I felt like I was the only one on my team who wanted to play professional golf, so I decided to quit college and start playing professionally. That’s what I did for 10 years.  

    In 2015, things weren’t going well with my golf career, so after that I decided that the best thing to do was to step away from the game to clear my mind. I didn’t know what I was going to do, not having a college degree, but I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the military. 

    During the first part of my time away from golf, I took a job for two to three months for this construction company. It was terrible. I wasn’t going anywhere with the job, and it was a time when “American Sniper,” the movie about Chris Kyle, came out. I loved the story and was blown away by his experience in the military.

    My wife, Jenny, and I decided that the best thing for us was for me to join the military. Initially, I was planning on going into the reserves, but I found out it would benefit our family way more to be active-duty. I signed on to do a four-year stint in the Army. I was 32 years old at the time.

    Erwin is the proud father of four girls. On the right-side photo with his wife, Jenny. (Courtesy of Chris Erwin)

    I took the step, but I was nervous, especially when I got on the bus to go to basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. I don’t have any ties to the military through my family, but I have always had a deep fascination with the selflessness of individuals who serve in the military. 

    After I got to basic training, I was screamed at constantly. Now, it’s not nearly as rough and tough as it used to be, from what I’m told, but being 32 years old, I was like “Oh my gosh! What am I doing? I wish I was on a tee box hitting a tee shot right now.”

    Then I got into it. Basic training was fun. It was pretty easy. I trained hard to be in shape physically, but it wasn’t as tough for me mentally because I had a little bit more life experience. I had two daughters at the time, and it was funny in comparison seeing these 18-year-olds who had never been away from Mom and Dad, those who had depended on their parents for everything. They were terrified.

    My job in the Army was as an intelligence analyst. I learned how to analyze information and turn it into a product such as a PowerPoint presentation and do military briefings for commanders. Then, I went from Fort Jackson to Fort Huachuca in Arizona for Advanced Individual Training, learning more about my job and receiving additional training. Then it was off to airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia. 

    Airborne school lasted three weeks. Leading up to this, nothing really was a challenge for me physically. Mentally there were some challenging moments, but when I signed my contract, I put “airborne” in for a reason: I’m terrified of heights. But I said to myself, I’m going to do this. I’m going to jump out of an airplane.

    From the time I joined the Army to when I got back from Syria, I only played golf a handful of times. To say the least, it was a struggle getting some rhythm back in my game again. 

    When I got to airborne school, I started to get scared. It’s only three weeks long, but it’s intense: the first week you learn how to jump; the second week you learn how to land; and the third week is jump week, where you have to do five jumps by yourself. 

    I’ll never forget that first jump. It was one of the most fascinating things I have done. I did those five jumps and graduated air school, where I then joined my unit, Fifth Special Forces group at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. 

    Erwin during his military service in Syria. (Courtesy of Chris Erwin)

    The Army eventually deployed my group overseas. I was on my way to Syria for seven months. 

    My area of operations as a service member took place when ISIS had occupied all of Northern and Eastern Syria. As soon as I got back, I only had a year and a half left in the Army. I was like, Sweet! Once I returned to the U.S., I wasn’t really doing intelligence work anymore. For the most part, I was doing more security management. 

    In 2018, one of my Noncommissioned Officers in Charge suggested I try out for the All-Army golf team. I had had a misconception of All-Army sports because if you’re an Army football or basketball player, that becomes your full-time job. After some research, I found that I all I had to do to be on the All-Army golf team was to show up at a place for 14 days, try out for the Army golf team and if I made it I would play in the Armed Forces Championship the next week. 

    I applied, got invited and made the team that played in the tournament. We played against the Marines, the Air Force and the Navy. 

    When we teed off in the tournament, there were only 24 players. After the tournament, the top-six overall individuals qualified for Team USA. That year, the Army won and I placed second individually. The five other guys who qualified for Team USA stayed afterward for a meeting where we found out we would be going to Germany in the next couple of months to compete against other countries’ militaries in the World Military Games. 

    Two months later, we flew to Germany for 10 days and played against 25 different military teams. It was awesome! It was like a small-scale, Olympic-style setting. The opening and closing ceremonies had thousands of people there. I finished fifth individually, but Team USA finished second. We got a silver medal and everything. Visiting Germany was unbelievable.

    Erwin representing Team USA at the 2018 World Military Games in Germany. (Courtesy of Chris Erwin)

    I was in the Army just under four years, until August 2019. I kind of started missing golf while I was in the military, especially when I got back from Syria, so I wanted to get back in the golf business because that was really all I knew.

    I earned a degree in criminal justice in the military, but I didn’t really feel like pursuing that as a career. To get back into golf, I became an assistant golf pro at Tennessee Grasslands Country Club in Gallatin. 

    I have a really close friend of mine on the Korn Ferry Tour, Jonathan Hodge, who I caddied for several times while I was in the military. In December 2019, I took a week off of work to caddie for him at the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School. That was the first time in a long time that I had been around professional competition. I decided what I wanted to do.

    When I got back home, I talked to Jenny and talked about my plan. She said, “I’m all for you starting playing again, but we can’t do it on our own.” So, I sat at my computer and wrote an email that I sent to a potential investor and a member who had introduced me to a bunch of other individuals. Three days later, I had a check that would allow me to start playing again. 

    That was in February 2020. Literally three weeks after the check arrived, everything got shut down because of COVID. 

    I was going to go to Mackenzie Tour Q-School last year, but the Tour canceled that. Last year, I played very sporadically, but when I did, I primarily played at PGA TOUR Champions member Kenny Perry’s golf course, Kenny Perry’s Country Creek in Franklin, Tennessee. I’ve known Kenny for a long time, so when I got back into playing, I sent him a text and he was ecstatic. We practice together almost every day. 

    I’ve worked so hard over the last year and a half to get some form back. I just hope I play well enough to get a few starts. 

    When I finished 10th at the Forme Tour Q-School at Callaway Gardens in April, that was the first time I ever qualified for a Tour that was affiliated with the PGA TOUR. I’m hitting the ball farther than I ever have, and I feel like I’m mentally tougher than I have been—even though I’m 38.

    That’s the beauty of this game. You can play great golf until you’re 65. Like I tell my daughters, I try to get one percent better every day in whatever I do. That’s what I focus on.