Wells Fargo Championship: 1st Round Notes and Derek Ernst

Wells Fargo Championship is the formal title of the tournament, but speaking informally, the players refer to it as “Quail Hollow.” They do that because when they think of any tournament, they reflexively think of the course. And they love this course.

Zach Johnson summed up the love affair:

I expect a great leaderboard.  Any given week it’s a great leaderboard, but I expect a really good one this week.  Usually when we play this tournament, Quail Hollow wins, and I don’t expect anything less. 

The best part of the week so far is that the agronomy staff somehow performed a minor miracle and even with two freshly sodded greens, they managed to make the course playable. Daniel Summerhays ended up a co-leader at 5-under, but he made eight birdies doing it.

The consensus is that with recent rains, the course was immaculate — except for the greens and everybody was forgiving of that given how much they love the tournament and the job they do — but played very long because there was no roll. And the greens were at least playable. So no harm no foul.

And it ended up a very tight leaderboard:

5-under 67: Ryan Moore, Nick Watney, Robert Garrigus, Derek Ernst, a 4th alternate, Rory McIlroy, Daniel Summerhays and Nate Smith, a Monday qualifier who shot 63 to get in.

4-under 66: Boo Weekley, Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover, Kevin Streelman and Jason Kokrak.

3-under, 9 guys; 2-under, 15 guys; 1-under; 15 guys, for a grand total of 52 guys under par and within 4 shots of the lead group.

The two biggest stars, McIlroy and Mickelson, were coming in after off weeks. McIlroy seemed a bit more comfortable with the transition than Phil was:

For me, usually it isn’t that difficult.  I took the best part of two weeks off after Augusta and didn’t touch a club.  Flew back out to Florida last Friday, had three or four really good days’ practice, and I feel good about my game.  I knew if I could just take that from there to here, I’d do okay.

But Phil might have been a little further along towards a playing mindset because he wasn’t trying to fix anything:

Usually it will be kind of touch and shot making, short game shots around the greens, little touch shots.  But sometimes it just kind of comes together and it’s not an issue.  I usually take a week off after a major like that and don’t touch a club, and then when I pick it back up, either it goes really well and I play well the rest of the weeks, or if I’m fighting it early on, it’s like I’m always trying to fix it for the next coming weeks.

When I picked up a club a week ago and started playing, I was playing really well.  So it felt good.  I wasn’t trying to fix anything.  I was just kind of swinging the club, and I ended up playing well at home and it kind of carried over into this week.  Hopefully, I can continue to play well here next week as well.

But you know me, I’m a sucker for obscure players who suddenly achieve great things. This week the leader in that category is Derek Ernst, who earned his Tour card in last year’s “Last Q-School” with a T17. So far this season he has been working on how to make a cut on the PGA Tour having missed five in a row between his T59 at Sony in Hawaii and last week’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

This is how his week began, typical fare for the bottom of the food chain and a man who estimates that he’s averaging being 8th or 9th on each week’s alternate list:

Yeah, I was actually going to play on the Web.com Tour event, so I rented a car — I played last week in New Orleans, and we were just going to drive to Atlanta.  That was about six‑and‑a‑half hours.  Then on the way there, I got the call that I was in.  So I had to return the car in Athens, and then we rented another car and drove up to Charlotte.  I got here Monday night and then played the practice round Tuesday, so, yeah.

On top of that, they slapped him with a dropoff charge:

Yeah, we called to ask if we could drop it off in Charlotte, and they were like it’s another thousand dollars, and we were like okay, no.  No way.

Ernst may be finding his way in his rookie season, but this guy can play.

It’s been a lot of fun.  It just happened so fast.  I stayed amateur until U.S. Am last year in 2012 and then had to go through pre‑qualification [for Q-School] all the way through [to the finals, quite a feat].  I had no expectations.

Next thing I know I’ve got my rookie card and I make the cut at the first at Sony Open. Then I started thinking about everything.  Like, wow.  Look at all this.  There is Tiger and there are all these guys, and I think I just tried to be someone that I wasn’t.  Now I’ve kind of realized that and I’m going back to all the things that got me there in the first place.

How many times have we all heard it, “Just be yourself.” Fortunately for Ernst, his refresher in that concept came early in his career:

Some of those things are I changed caddies right when I first got out here thinking because everyone says you need to get a professional caddy.  And I ended up going back last week in Louisiana I went back to my old caddy here in Terry who has been on my bag since caddies were allowed when you’re a junior.  And I think he just — I don’t know.  We’re buddies and we get along really good.

One of the reasons he made the cut in New Orleans is that he just began with a mental coach two weeks ago:

I didn’t really know she was a mental coach.  I thought she was a swing coach.  My agent, Burt Kinerk from Tucson, he recommended her.  Michael Thompson (who won Honda this year), actually gets lesson from her.  He’s known her since he was a kid.

Yeah, I went there and I was like, hey, I need help with my swing.  Everyone thinks their swing’s messed up if you’re not playing well.  So I go there and she doesn’t tell me anything about my swing other than how to think around the golf course, and I made the cut last week, and I’m playing well this week and my swing feels better than ever.

Her name is Susie Meyers.  She just says my mind races way too much.  I’m just really fast and I’m jittery, and she just tries to calm me down and think about one thing at a time.

And Thursday her coaching came at just the right time:

Right there on — what is that par‑3, 6?  Is 6 the par‑3?  I three‑putted that one, and my mind started — I really started like complaining or saying some stuff and getting really fidgety.  I thought about breath walking, basically, where you just deep breathe.  All you think about is breathing, and it takes your mind off of everything else.

It’s clearly working for him because he too managed to make eight birdies on the day.

It is so inspiring to be able to watch somebody blossoming into himself.

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