Ernst goes low, captures lead
Freshman fires 66, moves to top of leaderboard
BRYAN, Texas – For LSU freshman Austin Ernst, golf truly is a family affair.
Her father Mark is a PGA Professional at Cross Creek Plantation in South Carolina. Her brother Drew is a golfer for Coastal Carolina currently playing in the NCAA Men’s Division II Regionals.
And Austin? She found herself on top of the individual leaderboard at the Division I Women’s Championship at Traditions Club after shooting a six-under-par 66 – four shots clear of anyone in the early wave on Thursday and three shots better than anyone in the tournament had shot before her.
Is she the best golfer in the family?
“That’s up for debate,” Ernst said with a grin. “I might be today.”
At times Thursday morning, it looked like Ernst may have been playing a different tournament than everyone else. She was three under through five holes while most of her competiors for the individual title were fighting for pars. Starting at the 10th hole, Ernst made a 10-foot putt. Another 10-footer dropped on 13. A 12-footer dropped on No. 14. Yet another dropped from 18 feet on No. 1. For good measure, she dropped another 10-footer on No. 9 – her final hole of the day – for birdie to polish off the 66.
“I made a lot of putts. A lot of putts,” Ernst said.
Thursday’s head-turning round is a culmination of a slow build that Ernst has been riding during the spring season. She got her first career win in February at the Central District Invitational with a three-under-par total which included a 69, becoming the first LSU freshman to win a tournament since Lisette Lee won the Fairwood Invitational in 1997.
She finished ninth at the SEC Championship, leading the Lady Tigers to a third-place finish. She also finished third at the NCAA Central Regional.
She’s the first freshman to win All-SEC honors since her teammate – and mentor – Megan McChrystal did it in 2008.
So seriously - how does a freshman accomplish all that?
“The ball doesn’t know how old you are,” Ernst said with a laugh. “I just played smart.”
LSU head coach Karen Bahnsen attributed Ernst success to a little bit more than just that.
“She is just a tremendous ball striker,” Bahnsen said. “That kid can hit the ball. I’ve seen this coming for a while now. She had [LSU assistant coach] Alexis [Rather] following her today and I think that relaxed her. Austin feels comfortable with her.”
Ernst said she had been in touch with her brother and father before her round, but hadn’t talked to them since the final putt dropped.
“I just texted my brother to wish him good luck today and my father texted me this morning just to tell me to have fun,” Ernst said. “That’s all he usually tells me – just to have fun.
“I imagine I’ll be texting them a little bit later,” she grinned.
Ernst, who first picked up a golf club at age 6, isn’t just driven on the golf course. She won the Wendy’s High School Heisman and she was named her senior class’ Outstanding Student at Seneca High School in South Carolina.
How’d she do this semester in Baton Rouge?
“I made a 3.2,” Ernst said. “I was pretty happy with that.”
So which is better, 3.2 or 66?
“Oh, 66,” she said with a smile.