The daughter of a golf pro at Cross Creek Plantation Golf and Country Club in Seneca, S.C., Ernst spent the majority of her father’s work day right by his side.
“My dad, he was always my swing coach starting from when I was really little,” said Ernst. “It was nice always being able to go out and work with him. Being out there really from 8:30 in the morning until my dad got off work at 5:00.”
She put in several hours of practice a day. There wasn’t a single staff member at the course who didn’t know Ernst, who often hung out with the cart boys and pro shop gang.
“Really I just grew up at the golf course,” said Ernst. “I just loved going out and practicing and just being at the course all day long. But I wasn’t always practicing; I would sometimes just go out there and just hang out.”
The hours spent at the course as a youngster paved the way for Ernst’s successful junior career. A two-time AJGA All-American with several wins and top-10s, Ernst was a force to be reckoned with at an early age. A true leader on her high school golf team, Ernst won the 2007 3A State Championship in South Carolina and was runner-up in 2006 and 2009. She was South Carolina’s Player of the Year and ranked sixth in the nation in the Golfweek rankings.
It was inevitable that such a decorated junior golfer would be recruited by top colleges around the country, but the Lousiana State University Tigers seemed to be the perfect fit.
“When I walked on campus I knew that’s where I was going to school,” said Ernst. “I just fell in love. I knew they had a really solid team and we would be fierce in competition.”
Her intuition proved correct. At the end of Ernst’s first season on the Tiger squad was an accolade most college women only dream about.
Authoring one of the most storied moments in LSU women’s golf, Ernst wrote her name in the history books when she became the first player to capture the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship title… as a freshman.
Ernst had no idea she would play such a contributing factor to the team.
“I don’t think I quite understood what I had done,” said Ernst. “But looking back on it now I think I just felt pure elation. Winning Nationals, you don’t expect to do that, especially not as a freshman. It’s always a goal but you can’t expect to do it. That’s probably the highlight of my golf career… so far.”
Ernst turned professional shortly after completing her sophomore year at LSU. Participating as a sponsor invite at the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship where she finished tied for 49th, Ernst felt her game was ready for the LPGA Tour.
“I felt there was no reason to hold off on it,” said Ernst. “It was really tough to leave what we as team had done and leave what I had accomplished there. But looking back on it this year, it was definitely the right decision.”
Ernst had a solid start to her rookie campaign with top-30 finishes in her first two events. Struggling through the mid-season tournaments, Ernst regained faith in her game after finishing sixth at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in mid-July. With another solid T9 finish at last week’s Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola, the 21-year-old ranks fifth in this year’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year race.
“My rookie year, it has had its ups and downs that’s for sure,” said Ernst. “But overall, I think it’s been a really good learning experience. I’ve kind of taken this year to learn how to travel and learn how to play every week. ”
Helping her cope with the new life on Tour is her brother Drew, who played on the men’s golf team at Coastal Carolina. He joins her on the road as her caddy.
“It’s nice having someone to travel with and having someone to eat with,” said Ernst. “I know I’ll always have someone in my corner.”
A true country girl, Ernst enjoys all things southern from fried chicken to sweet tea. While the Tour may take her far away from the southern hospitality she’s used to, a couple stops on the schedule make her feel right at home again.
“I’m so thankful for the little breaks in the season where we go to Mobile, Texas and Arkansas and it brings me right back to my roots,” said Ernst.
It won’t be long before this young gun is rewriting the history books on the LPGA Tour.