Ernst wins third LPGA Tour title

Seneca’s Austin Ernst enjoys the applause from the crowd after winning the Drive On Championship at Golden Ocala Golf Club. (LPGA Photo)

It took Austin Ernst six years to earn her second LPGA Tour victory, but barely six months more to win her third Tour title.

The Seneca golfer led wire to wire to win the Drive On Championship at Golden  Ocala Golf Club.

“You know, the first win was in the playoff and then obviously Arkansas, coming from behind and winning. Going wire to wire is really cool,” said Ernst. “I think it’s just really cool to be in the heat of it all week and to be able to perform the way I did,”she said.

Ernst shared the lead after the first two rounds with Jennifer Kupcho before pulling ahead of the former Wake Forest golfer by a shot at the end of the third round.

Kupcho eagled her last hole on Saturday to get within a shot of Ernst.

In  the final round Ernst built an early 5-shot lead on the strength of birdies on  numbers 4 through 7.

“I think when I was making all the birdies I was hitting a lot of shots right where I was looking and executing really well. I didn’t really have to work too hard. I had my speed dialed in really well,” she said.

Ernst got to 17-under par before she gave back a pair of shots with bogeys on number 12 and 14.

Instead of a very comfortable 5-shot lead Ernst now was only 3-shots ahead of Kupcho with 4-holes to play.

“I had hit a good putt on 12 and I was still 3-under for the day. Just made a bad swing on 12 and then the shot on 13 just kind of went a little higher than I thought,” she said.

The leader got some encouragement from her caddie, who is also her brother Drew, a former Coastal Carolina golfer and an SCGA Amateur champion.

“Drew just told me, hey, you’re playing great. Just keep doing what you want to do and let’s just make a few birdies coming in. Didn’t make any birdies, but played well coming in,” she said.

On the 15th hole an errant tee shot by Kupcho opened the door for Ernst to hold off the last chance anyone had to catch her.

Austin Ernst and her brother Drew have teamed up for a pair of LPGA Tour wins. Drew Ernst was a college golfer at Coastal Carolina and won the 2010 SCGA Amateur championship.

“I knew anything can kind of happen on any hole. You can have those swings and if she got hot and I stalled out I knew she could still kind of catch me. She got a little closer to me than I would’ve liked,”said Ernst.

Kupcho carded a double bogey while Ernst put another par on her scorecard to build her lead back up to 5-strokes.

Ernst shot a final round 2-under par 70 for a 15-under par 273 total and her third Tour win.

With her second win near the end of last season and her third win at the beginning of this new season Ernst believes she is playing the best golf of her career.

“I think in the last year I’ve played better than I ever have. I think when I do play well I manage it much better. I have a really good feel for my swing. I feel the most in control of my game I ever have,” she said.

Ernst’s victory marks the third straight tournament won by an American. It is the first time since 2007 that has happened.

Jessica and Nelly Korda won the first two events and Ernst’s victory seems to suggest a resurgence of American golfers on the LPGA Tour.

“I feel like we’ve got a lot of really good young Americans. I don’t know if I’m still a young American or not. I’m 29. I think we all want to play really well and I think we’re all pushing each other to play better,” she said.

Austin Ernst’s third LPGA Tour win moved her up to 3rd place on the season long money winning list. (LPGA Photo)

The extra incentive of earning a spot on the US Olympic team or the Solheim Cup team is a goal that Ernst now can consider for the year,

“I think it would be unbelievable. I mean, if you talk to any athlete and if you’re talking to somebody and they said, I’m an Olympian, that’s really cool. So, I mean, as a golfer it was never a thing that — when I was a little kid I never dreamed of it. Never could do it. But I think it would be really cool to do it,” said Ernest.

The winners purse pushed Ernst career earnings over the $4 million mark and moved her up from 32nd to 3rd. on the LPGA Tour money winning lust.

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