When Erik Billinger left DU athletics eight years ago to serve as a Professional Golf Association (PGA) instructor, he did not expect to be returning to DU other than to visit professors and to attend class reunions.
However, nearly a decade later, Billinger finds himself in the place where he made a name for himself as a collegiate golfer from 1999 to 2002. This time around, as the new assistant coach for the Pioneer women’s golf team, he hopes to help other athletes reach the heights he once attained.
“Erik is known as one of the best teachers and players in the area and has a passion for the University of Denver and college golf,” said head coach Sammie Chergo. “Combine that with his professionalism, positive energy and the quality of person he is, and I feel Erik will play a huge role in growing our program over the next decade.”
Billinger and his wife both graduated from DU in 2002. Despite his absence from DU for an extended period of time, he says his enthusiasm and love for the school have not diminished in the slightest.
“First and foremost, my love and my passion for DU [are why I came back],” said Billinger when asked why he decided to return to his alma mater. “When head coach Sammie Chergo presented the opportunity to me, I jumped on it.”
While playing at DU, Billinger compiled an impressive record both as a golfer and a student. He was a two-time NCAA individual qualifier and a Sun Belt Conference individual champion, as well as an Academic All-American.
After graduating from DU in 2002, Billinger stayed on with the university’s athletic program for two more years, assisting both the men’s and women’s golf teams with recruiting and practice planning. From 2004 to 2012, Billinger worked as a PGA golf instructor in addition to his position as the president of Billinger Golf at the Highlands Ranch Golf Club, which is the Pioneers’ home course.
Billinger hopes to take these experiences and use them to improve the women’s golf program at DU.
“Ten years ago, I thought it was more a techniques and a mechanics game,” said Billinger. “But I have learned over the past 10 years that there is so much more to playing golf at a highly competitive level.”
According to Billinger as the Pioneers head into the season, expectations are high for this year’s team. With returning veteran talent such as senior Kelly Drack and junior Tonje Daffinrud, as well as freshmen Elyse Smidinger and Shannon Lubar, Billinger looks to make this year one to remember.
“I think we are going to be awesome,” said Billinger. “We are taking steps to get back to the top five; this year will be a good stepping year. If I had to guess, I’d say we are a top 25 to 30 team. We have some wonderful talent coming in, so we have some exciting expectations. We are all really looking forward to this year.”