For Austin Ernst, the 2020 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship was an event to remember, and the start of a career resurgence. Heading into the final round four strokes behind Saturday leader Anna Nordqvist, Ernst knew she would have to “birdie every hole” to have any chance. And with a final-round 63, Ernst secured her second-career victory by two strokes over Nordqvist, her first in 134 starts and since the 2014 Cambia Portland Classic.
“I had a ton of confidence coming off the  AIG Women's Open, finishing fifth last year then coming straight to this tournament and winning. Those [major championship] weeks give you a lot of confidence that I could play in different conditions and contend,” said Ernst, whose previous-best result at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship was second in 2018. “The week I won, I hit the ball great and made a ton of putts. You can't shoot 20-under and not make a lot of putts. That's key to my game. When I putt well, I typically play my best.”
Much of that success can be attributed to her interest in analyzing personal statistics, a technique aided by the launch of KPMG Performance Insights this year. The LPGA Tour began advanced tracking at the MEDIHEAL LPGA Championship in June. Of the 145 players with at least 10 measured rounds in that span, Ernst ranks third in strokes gained (2.37) from tee to green and second in strokes gained approach (2.08).
While the statistics drive Ernst to better understand her game and where to put in the work, the victory in Rogers transformed the LSU alumna. She returns to Pinnacle Country Club with a different mentality. Since the win in 2020, Ernst has only missed four cuts in 27 starts, added a third trophy to the mantel at the LPGA Drive On Championship presented by Volvik in March and earned her way onto her second U.S. Solheim Cup Team earlier this month.
“Winning breeds confidence. I think that gave me a ton of confidence, and then obviously I had my best year on Tour [in 2020],” said Ernst. “Then winning wire to wire at the beginning of the year in Ocala, I've won a lot of different ways now, and that just gives me a ton of confidence in my game. I've won on a lot of different types of golf courses in different conditions.
“Looking back on that first win in 2014, I contended a lot but had not won, so I think just getting the job done. Then getting that win here, chasing and it being a little bit different golf course than when I won in 2014, I knew I had become a better player.”