Many, if not most, men's college golf coaches weren't familiar with Austin Erickson before the Sparta golfer's name started popping up on junior golf leaderboards in big tournaments across the state this summer.
A fourth-place showing at the WPGA Junior Championship in Milwaukee in June. A third-place finish at the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin College Showcase at Whistling Straits in Haven in July. Solid showings at the Morgan Stanley Junior Tour Championship and WSGA Junior Boys Championship. Most recently, his first WPGA Junior Tour win with a 70 at Reedsburg Country Club.
That success, after qualifying for the WIAA Division 1 state tournament at the end of his junior season at Sparta, convinced him that maybe some college coaches — especially at the NCAA Division I level — needed a bit more time to get to know him. And he felt he needed more time to impress them.
That led Erickson to give his oral commitment to Iowa Central Community College earlier this month and announce his intention to play for Tritons coach Kris Graewin, a Prairie du Chien native. Erickson, who chose Iowa Central over interest from Lake Forest (Ill.), North Park (Ill.), UW-Stout and UW-Superior, is the first golfer from the Class of 2020 to cast his lot with the Tritons, who enjoyed tremendous recruiting success in Wisconsin with the 2019 class, landing Holmen's Cody Dirks and Edgerton's Joe Forsting and Kyle Willie.
"There were quite a few schools I was considering and planning to visit," Erickson wrote in an email interview with Wisconsin.golf. "Going into the Iowa Central visit, I had only done two visits, but had many scheduled after that that point. Iowa Central was already at the top of my list going into the visit — due to a few factors such as price division and the people there.
"In the end, Iowa Central was the right choice for me due to (those) factors, but most importantly, it felt like home and I could picture a future there. Iowa Central is a (junior college), so down the road I'm hoping to gain experience and grow into (an NCAA) Division I golfer after my time is done there."
That Iowa Central made such a swift impression on Erickson speaks to the work that Graewin has done in providing a stepping stone for golfers who have higher aspirations. A year ago, Graewin landed Forsting and Willie from Edgerton and Forsting went on to win the WIAA Division 2 state championship last spring and Graewin understands, because of his success, Forsting's time at Iowa Central might not last past the 2019-20 school year.
"Going into this whole process, I didn't really know what I wanted as far as a college setting," Erickson wrote. "Things I did look for was a good relationship with the coach; I wanted to be on the same page as my coach and enjoy talking to him. Other things I looked for (were) golf course, practice facility, team members and what level the team plays at during competition."
After finishing last among 11 schools at the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference Fall Preview by 68 shots last fall, the Tritons finished ninth out of 10 teams at the ICCAC Spring Preview in April. A strong recruiting class that includes six freshmen should bolster Iowa Central's position this fall.
"On my visit at Iowa Central, I was most impressed with Coach Graewin; he was on top of things and I loved the mindset he has for the program," wrote Erickson, who was as comfortable with Fort Dodge (population 24,305) as he was his future coach. "(It) was in an ideal spot for me. It was in the size of town I was looking for, yet the campus is not directly downtown. The campus felt like its own little community and I enjoyed that.
"Coach Graewin made me know the was the place for me when we had our sit-down talk (and gave) his take on how things should and need to be done here on out. ... He's ready to work hard for us and really wants to win. Most importantly, he wants the best for all of his players and getting them to the next level, such as Division I, is important to him. I'm glad I can go somewhere that wants to help me become better and (will be) happy for me when I move on."
Erickson hopes to build off his strong 2019 season and be ready to compete for a spot in the Iowa Central lineup when he gets to Fort Dodge next fall.
"Coach Graewin really wants me to work hard on course management, which is probably the weakest part of my game," Erickson said. "This excites me because I could take the weakest part of my game and make it my strongest. He also has us working hard on putting, which is my favorite part of the game. I expect to come out of that program with intelligent course management, a clean game and be (Division) I ready."