LSU’s Ernst enjoys first-year success

Dave Moormann

Austin Ernst is no Tiger Woods, but what she’s done for LSU women’s golf is just as significant is the impact Woods had on the PGA Tour before his fall from grace.

Ernst won the Division I Women’s Championship earlier this month in becoming the first LSU women to do so in the 32-year history of the program. What’s more, she did it emphatically with a 6-under par 66 in the final round that matched her second-round performance.

In all, Ernst shot a school-record 7-under par 281 over the Traditions Club course in Bryan, Texas.

To further realize the significance of her accomplishment, LSU has little golf history to speak of. LSU produced a pair of individual men’s champions, but that was in 1937 and 1941.

Even former Tiger David Toms, who recently won the Colonial, couldn’t lay claim to an NCAA title.

Ernst, a freshman from Seneca, S.C., etched her name into posterity with an effort that earned her women’s national collegiate golfer of the week recognition and solidified her selection to the National Golf Coaches Association All-America first team.

With her three-shot victory, Ernst became the first freshman to win the women’s national championship since 1998. What’s more, she finished in the top 10 in all three of LSU’s postseason tournaments.

Ernst’s first-year success may create undue pressure for her later on, but by all accounts, she is grounded enough to handle whatever may come her way.

“She’s always been an achiever,” her father, Mark, told the Seneca Journal. “I definitely believe this will push her to an even greater plateau, and I really believe the sky’s the limit.”

The proud papa may be excused for prejudicial thinking, but he also has the credentials to be speak with authority. Mark is Cross Creek Plantation club professional and Director of Golf Operations at Austin’s home course. A true golfing family, her brother, Drew, plays for Coastal Carolina.

For all the family’s love golf of and Austin, no one was there to witness her historic victory. Supposedly a fear of jinxing Austin kept them away, but on hindsight, Austin wished someone had been present to share in her immediate jubilation.

“It would have been nice if they were there,” she said, “but I had my team there, so that was still nice.”

No one could have been happier than her teammates, who combined to give LSU a best-ever third-place finish. Included in that group was senior Megan McChrystal, who along with Ernst became the first pair of LSU golfers to receive All-America first-team honors in the same year.

“I’m proud of them,” said LSU coach Karen Bahnsen in an LSU news release. Bahnsen has coached LSU for all but the first five years of the women’s program.

“It was a total team effort,” she said. “I said it was going to take that. Finishing third is tremendous. They fought really hard. It feels awesome. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m so proud of the girls. They tried so hard the entire week.”

Effort isn’t necessarily reflected in performance, but in this case it was, with Ernst leading the way. As unusual as that may be for a freshman, Ernst had an explanation.

“As a freshman, everybody’s been telling you it’s not supposed to happen,” she said. “But after that first 66, the ball doesn’t know how old you are…I was just trusting my shots.”

Others picked up on Ernst’s grit and determination, as she rebounded from her hard luck third round of 77 to shoot the second of her 66s. Ernst’s final round included a hole-in-one on the second hole followed by a 60-foot putt for birdie on the next hole.

“For Austin to come in here and handle all this shows how poised she is,” Bahnsen said. “She handled everything so well, especially with the (third-round) adversity. It couldn’t happen to a nicer person.”