Queens Girl Turned Golf Pro...
I was born and raised in Jackson Heights, New York — a little slice of New York City in the borough of Queens. I lived one block from the 7-Train. I could see the Empire State building from my black-topped roof, my six-story apartment building was in walking distance from LaGuardia Airport, and the closest thing to green space was the St. Joan of Arc School’s L-shaped parking lot that served as my bike route, roller-rink, tennis court and jungle-gym. My dad wasn't a golfer... he was a Russian immigrant from Venezuela, employed as an Executive Chef. I was a first-generation, Russian-American city girl whose chances of ever being exposed to golf were slim-to-none.
The stars aligned and at the age of eight, my adventurous parents and I — an only child — tried our hand at golf. Five subway stops away, we took our first swings at "Pitch & Putt": an exhibition built as part of the 1964 World's Fair Grounds at Flushing Meadows Park. At a height of 4' 5", I negotiated a full length pitching wedge and petite bulls-eye putter. The three of us spent two years playing in the shadow of Shea Stadium before ever stepping foot on a "real" course. When we did, we were hooked for good.
We resorted to mail-order VHS tapes, TV golf tips, and golf magazines to teach ourselves. Our 1988 camcorder captured our homemade golf swings, and Mom signed me up for any free junior clinic she could find. Old men at the driving range would stop and watch me hit, and always felt obliged to give me advice. After a few years I finally wised up and stopped listening! I eventually had the opportunity to take a series of 6 lessons with a local Pro, who "instructed" me with his arms folded and eyes closed. They were definitely lessons in how NOT to teach. So it was back to self-help.
Before I graduated 6th grade, I won my first 9-hole trophy at Clearview Park Golf Course. When it was time for high school golf, my school didn't have a football team, let alone a golf team. So, I obtained special permission to play for a neighboring school and was one of two team members who ever played golf before, period. There was still snow on the ground for our first practice, so we set up some mats and wiffle balls in a gymnasium. The coach and I taught the rest of the squad how to hold a club and the right way to carry a golf bag. The dress code included jeans and I played as #1; no qualifying was necessary. All in all, we were no more unprepared than the other high schools in our division, and I enjoyed a great individual record, for all practical purposes... undefeated.
I continued playing golf in numerous junior events at the local, state, regional and national level. The more serious golf tournaments I played in during the summertime were a wake-up call. I played against the Long Island, Westchester and Upstate New York girls, many of whom were polished, well-trained and had country-club parents. I'm happy to say I held my own most of the time, even though my home course didn't have a practice putting green or grass driving range. Grass on a driving range? What's that? My living room floor and my automatic ball return cup worked just fine as a putting green. Thank God for the 10-foot ceilings in my apartment; if I moved the coffee table back just enough, I could take full swings and only wear a small hole in the carpet. This indoor "practice" was only possible if I lugged my golf clubs from the car (so they wouldn't get stolen), down the sidewalk, through the lobby and up six flights of stairs. You can imagine that whenever I was invited by a friend to play at their "club", I conveniently arrived early and stayed late to get in the most free practice time as I could on those gorgeous grounds.
I did win some titles, though. Over the years I won a handful of Metropolitan PGA Girls' Junior Tour events, competed several times in the Championship Flight of the New York State Girls Championship, and qualified to go to San Diego, California for the Junior Worlds. I was always told that I had "potential." Then, I met Frank Darby, and to him I owe the next part of the story.
Frank was a PGA member, an active Junior Golf supporter, and a Queens boy himself. He became my mentor, coaching me to realize some of my potential. I learned to improve my mental game, course management, and proper technique. With his guidance, we compiled all of my playing and academic achievements in a way that earned me a college golf scholarship.
I attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia — a LONG way away, and certainly a different world, from Queens. I played all four years on the Division I Team, lettered and was co-captain my senior year. I enjoyed playing many great golf courses, loved the team environment, and was under the constant watchful eye of Coach Paul Gooden. In those four years I practiced, practiced, practiced and played — in that order. In the summertime, I worked at a private club on Long Island in exchange for golf privileges. I couldn't get enough. I graduated cum laude with a B.S. in Marketing, a continued passion for golf, and a strong desire to work in the industry.
American Golf Corporation offered me a position in the Washington, D.C. market as their Membership and Marketing Director. I represented three golf courses and learned the management side of the business. Along the way I was roped into some teaching by Steve Loesher, PGA Director of Instruction at Reston National GC. After running a few ladies clinics, Steve encouraged to take the "Playing Ability Test". I did, and passed on my first try — with my future husband as my caddie (thank you Mike!). This granted me entry into the PGA Professional Golf Management program, which is the equivalent of a Master's Degree in Golf. I completed it in three years while working full time as First Assistant Professional at International Country Club in Fairfax, Virginia. In September, 2006 I was elected to Class-A membership!
I've been very busy since! I took on a role as "Teaching Professional & Director of Junior Golf" at International CC so I could pursue teaching full time. I established Larkin Golf LLC, this website, and became 1 of 14 women in the United States to be a "Certified PGA Professional" in Instruction. Titleist Performace Institute certified me as a Golf Fitness Instructor in 2007 and in 2008 I had the pleasure of being a guest instructor at PGA Village alongside Suzy Whaley and Rick Martino. I have since found a new home for my teaching operation which is Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia where I am the Director of Intstruction for my own Larkin Golf Learning Community. I've grown the business quite a bit over the last three seasons at Stonewall, and have received numerous accolades including Top Teacher (Washingtonian Magazine 2011) , Middle Atlantic PGA Section Teacher of the Year 2012 and now Top 40 under 40 "Best Young Teachers in America" by Golf Digest! My goal remains simple... I want to help people avoid learning the hard way. So I present golf in the simplest way possible. so students can quickly get in the game start enjoying golf without the learning curve that I experienced growing up.
I now reside in Gainesville, VA with my husband, Mike of 6 years and my two little golfers Mikey (5 yrs) and Kiera (2 yrs)! With a lot of heart, a desire to learn, a little talent and a few kind people along the way, I am excited at how far I've come and where I am going. At 31 years old, I have a lot of goals and time ahead of me to impact the audience I hope to reach... you!
Thanks for reading!
- Erika Zwetkow Larkin, PGA