Derek Ernst: A work in progress

Derek Ernst is two shots out of the lead at the 54-hole point in the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Florida. Winning this thing on Sunday would be a nice validation of a big risk and a lot of work.

Coming out of UNLV, Ernst won $20,000 in his first PGA Tour event in 2012. Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, he finished T41 in the Frys.com in San Martin, California. In the Fall, he managed to get through pre-qualifying, 1st and 2nd stage and finish T17 to earn his PGA Tour card.

But as promising as all that was, the reality of playing on the Tour didn’t start out so well. He did manage to get into the Sony Open in Hawaii, the first stop for all newly minted Tour pros, and finished a predictable T59. But then he missed all four cuts in California, Puerto Rico and San Antonio. He came up for air in New Orleans, but just with a T47. 

And then inexplicably, he won a playoff in Chorlotte. A PGA Tour winner with just eight events of experience. Unfortunately, that was the highlight of what would become a long winter. With his card secured for two years, he decided to do the heavy lifting on swing changes he knew he would have to make but didn’t dare risk until his future was more secure.

Two years later, he has fallen all the way to 757th in the Official World Golf Rankings. His win in Charlotte was his only top-25 finish in his career. He has missed 37 of 61 cuts. And yet, here he is with another chance to win. But he walked into his post-round interview with a big sigh of relief:

It’s brutal mentally and physically.  You’re just trying — sometimes you want to make par and that’s all you can do.  Other times there’s a couple holes where you actually can make birdie.  You’re trying to take advantage of that.

But he see’s a lot of similarities between the Charlotte win and what’s going on now:

I think there I was also a couple back going into the final round and I’m just kind of playing one shot a time.  Feels good to get the competitive juices going again.  I’m having a great time.

Coming into this week, he had missed 7 of 8 cuts. How does he explain how he not only made the cut here, but is one of the leaders?

All belief in yourself.  Golf is so mental and this week I just flipped the switch and started believing in myself and had some positive affirmations I’ve been telling myself.  It shows obviously right there.

And just how confident is he about Sunday?

I’m really good.  In Charlotte I was a couple back going into the final round.  I like coming from behind and being the underdog and going posting a low number and have them chasing me.

And he was pretty happy with how he played on Saturday shooting a 2-under 69 while there were only two players who shot 4-under:

I give myself an A today on how I played.  More mentally than physically.  I had a few bad swings out there.  Mentally I fought all the way through.

So what would he estimate his comfort level was?

I got a little anxious, you know, I’m not going to lie.  I got a little ahead of myself but I also when I got ahead of myself I tried to put myself back in the present, you know.

What happened on 17 how I got up and down, that’s probably an example of how I got back into the present.  On the tee I wasn’t.  Came back with a great up and down.

He came into the week with the attitude, if I believe it, good things will happen. And here he is. How can he sustain that into Sunday?

Been doing it good.  I have positive affirmations I wrote down in my bag and continue to read those.

Whatever it takes to keep the belief going, because you’re nowhere without that…as he so brutally demonstrated coming into this week.

We human beings are an amazing lot.

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