Change of Plans: 22-Year-Old Rookie, Derek Ernst Goes From Alternate To Wells Fargo Championship Winner
Derek Ernst took just eight tries to accomplish something that it takes some golfers years, if not a lifetime, to accomplish: win a tournament on the PGA Tour. The rookie, fresh off his four-year career at UNLV, was not even supposed to attend the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina when he received a phone call that would ultimately change his life. Just six days before the event began, Ernst received a call from the PGA telling him he was in the tournament as the fourth alternate. Ernst took full advantage of his last minute invite, leading a stacked field of seasoned PGA Tour veterans, ultimately hoisting the trophy for his inaugural victory on TOUR.
22-year-old Ernst ended the first day of the Wells Fargo Championship tied for the lead, with some very elite company. And while he battled back-and-forth throughout the weekend, always remaining toward the top of the leaderboard, Ernst entered the final hole on Sunday one shot off the lead. Regarded as the toughest hole at Quail Hollow, the 18th and final hole had only produced three birdies throughout the final day on Sunday. Ernst needed a stroke to force a playoff, which he earned thanks to a beautiful 6 iron approach shot from 192 yards out. Despite less than desirable conditions, Ernst left his ball four feet from the hole, ultimately securing his birdie and forcing a playoff with David Lynn.
Returning to the 18th hole, both players were hoping to feed off of the energy from their respective two-under, 70 performances on Sunday. Ernst hit a 3-iron about 15 feet from the hole, allowing himself two chances for par, and the win, which he took full advantage of. By tapping in for the victory, Ernst wracked up some impressive stats:
-Ernst became the fourth first-time winner in the last six Wells Fargo Championships
-He’s the second rookie and the youngest player to win on TOUR this season.
-He became the first alternate to win a PGA TOUR event since Wes Short Jr in 2005.
-Ernst moved from 196th to 32nd in the FedExCup
“This feeling is unbelievable right now,” Ernst said. “Just at the beginning of the week not even knowing I was going to be in the field. … All week long my swing felt good, mental game was good. The big thing was, what I said all week long is, I got out of my own way, and it paid off for now.”
Before Ernst got the call to join the field at the Wells Fargo Championship, he had planned on returning home to Las Vegas this week. Following his big win, those plans have changed. The youngster will now join the elite field at one of the most coveted tournaments in the world: THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass. His victory also netted the rookie a 2-year exemption on tour and a check for over $1.2 million. The humble champion was much more excited about the first prize than the massive pay-day.
“The money is money, it will come and go,” he stated. “But winning and having a job and playing out here for the next two years, that’s what I want to do. I want to play out here, so that is the best part.”
The Oakley family would like to congratulate Ernst on his breakthrough victory and wish him good luck at THE PLAYERS and beyond. What a remarkable week it was in North Carolina.
Video courtesy of PGA Tour