West Xtra: Ambridge grad enjoying success on links

COLLEGE GOLF

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It hasn't been that long since Eric Poplowski took pride in being able to reach his dad's tee shot in two strokes.

His father, Ken, taught him everything he knew about golf through his high school years -- which was a lot, considering Ken was a scratch golfer, shooting par for his average round.

Add in two years of study at the Golf Academy of America and two more playing for coach Chuck Bell at CCAC-North, and the result for Poplowski, a 23-year-old Ambridge Area High School graduate, was being named to the 2013 NJCAA Division II PING All-America Team as an honorable mention.

Only 15 players from across the country were named to the All-America team by way of a coaches' vote. Poplowski was also named to the All-East Region team.

"I knew I was eligible, but it was a surprise," Poplowski said. "It was a goal of mine at the beginning of the year because last year I felt I got a little shafted from winning it, so it was definitely good to see hard work pay off."

Bell mentions consistency as one of the best parts of Poplowski's game, and this year he was consistently great.

"He did the trifecta," Bell said. "He won the conference championship, the state championship and he won the regional championship. Medalist in all events."

Poplowski was of course excited to win the award, which comes with a certificate and recognition in the PING guide that goes out to college coaches and players, but on more than one occasion he noted it was "just another steppingstone."

"As in, another great accomplishment that is vital to long-term success in the game," he said.

Success for Poplowski isn't necessarily measured in trophies or even holes-in-one. For the man who was also his student government president at CCAC, success can mean making a career out of the game he loves.

The Golf Academy he attended in San Diego wasn't exactly a teaching school for players -- it's more accurate to say he majored in the business of golf.

"It's an 18-month program, just all golf-related, business-related. We got a dual degree," he said. "Class five days a week, four to six hours a day. We learned all the ins and outs of the golf industry. After that we just practiced and played different courses throughout the area ... it's as good as it sounds."

Off his performance at CCAC-North, Poplowski earned himself a scholarship to play for Point Park University this coming year, and after that he plans to work his way through the golf world, starting by teaching the game and maybe one day becoming a course operator.

There's still plenty for Poplowski to learn -- mostly mastering the mental aspect of the game, a lifelong process -- though he feels he's already learned a lot from golf.

"I've gotten a lot of life lessons out of golf, which is weird to say, but it's made me a better person," Poplowski said. "It's made me more 'real,' more understanding of what life is and what could happen and how to deal with stuff. How things could always be worse.

"The worst day on the golf course is better than the best day at work."

For now, Poplowski's happy to continue his playing career close to home, where his biggest fans -- his mom and dad -- can see him play.

Just living the dream?

Yes, he nods, "Trying to ride it out as long as possible."

golf - sportscollegedistrict

Nick Veronica: nveronica@post-gazette.com and Twitter @NickVeronica.


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