BRYAN, Texas - Freshman Austin Ernst became the first LSU women's golfer in the 32-year history of the program to win the NCAA Division I National Championship, firing a final round of 6-under 66 to win the championship by three shots at The Traditions Club.
Ernst, from Seneca, S.C., becomes just the third golfer in school history, man or woman, to win the NCAA individual national championship and the first in 70 years, joining Fred Haas, Jr., in 1937 and Earl Stewart in 1941. She also becomes the first freshman to win the women's national championship since Jennifer Rosales of USC in 1998.
It was also a historic day for the LSU women's program as they rallied in the final round to easily finish the highest they have ever finished in their 11 Championship appearances, taking third behind champion UCLA and runnerup Purdue. The best previous finish for a women's team was in 1998 in Madison, Wisc., when LSU finished fifth.
The best previous individual finish prior to Ernst's championship was third place finishes by Kristi Coats in 1991 and Katy Harris in 2001.
The effect of two triple bogeys and having your chief opponent at the time take the lead from you with a hole-in-one in the third round, could have been demoralizing but Ernst took it all in stride and came right back on the second hole of the day with a hole-in-one of her own. A 60-foot birdie on the next hole put her in the lead to stay as third-round leader Tiffany Lua of UCLA began to stumble toward a 75.
"I had 162 (yards). It was a solid eight iron and it was going right at the pin," Ernst told the media afterwards. "I looked down and looked back up and begin to hear the roar because it got really, really loud and I looked up and the ball was gone. Everyone was going crazy. I don't remember exactly what I did, but I went crazy. It was my first hole-in-one ever."
It didn't hurt that the large Texas A&M contingent of fans were all gathered at the hole and let out a raucous cheer when the ball dropped.
By the time she reached the 18th green for the fourth and final time, the 77 that forced her to get up before 6 a.m. Saturday to finish was a distant memory.
"It wasn't that bad a round. It was just two holes," she said. "I hit two bad drives. Other than that I was one-under on the round. I talked to my Dad (Mark, a PGA Club Professional at Cross Creek Plantation in Seneca) and he said in 72 holes you are going to have a rough patch and that was my rough patch. I slept great and then I had to wake up way too early. But I hit the ball good this morning and felt good."
Ernst, showing maturity beyond her freshman status, won by three shots over Arkansas' Kelli Shean. Ernst posted rounds of 72-66-77-66 for a 72-hole score of seven-under 281, the lowest score ever shot for 72 holes by an LSU women's golfer, edging the 283 shot a year ago by Megan McChrystal. Shean posted a four-under 284 (75-70-71-68). Laura Gonzalez of Purdue finished at two-under 286.
"I was very confident coming in," Ernst said. "Coming down the stretch my nerves were really good which I was little surprised about. I was just trusting my shots. (Coach Karen Bahnsen) kept telling me one shot at a time. Stay in the now not yesterday. Don't focus on results."
In fact, Ernst told Bahnsen on the seventh hole she didn't want to know her place in the standings during the round and the scoreboards on the course were only showing team results.
"For Austin to come in here and handle all this shows how poised she is," said LSU Coach Karen Bahnsen, who completed her 27th season at the helm of the Lady Tigers. "She handled everything so well, especially with the adversity (Friday). It couldn't happen to a nicer person."
Ernst played the par 3s in two-under, the par fours in two-under and the par fives in three-under. She tied with runnerup Shean with 19 birdies and her hole-in-one was one of an amazing five over the last two rounds of the event.
The Lady Tiger team played the final 10 combined holes early Saturday in one-over par to fall to a tie for fourth and Bahnsen knew her team had one final kick left.
"When we got done this morning we talked about how the girls are the tops in the country in final round average and that's a fact," she said. I told them they just have to play like that and be confident. I'm proud of them. It was a total team effort. I said it was going to take that. Finishing third is tremendous. They fought really hard. It feels awesome. I've been doing this a long time and I'm so proud of the girls. They tried so hard the entire week."
Besides Ernst's 66, junior Tessa Teachman came out big for the team with a one-over 73, senior Megan McChrystal closed her record-breaking career at LSU before turning pro with a 75, Jacqueline Hedwall had a 76 and LSU's other senior in the lineup, Amalie Valle posted 80. Hedwall (who led the team in pars with 50) finished in a tie for 26th place, while McChrystal finished in a tie for 43rd.
LSU settled into a battle with Virginia for the third spot for most of the round with Southern California and Arkansas trying to make big moves from behind, but with Ernst leading the way and with three team birdies on the 17th hole, the Lady Tigers guaranteed their finish. LSU finished with a school record 72 hole total of 1,181 (292-296-303-290), topping the 1,187 total they recorded in 1998.
UCLA won the title by four shots with a 1,173 (21-over par) with Purdue at 25-over par 1,177. After LSU in fourth and the final trophy position was Virginia at 34-over 1,186.
LSU now has for the first time in women's golf an NCAA Championship trophy for its third place effort and Bahnsen already knows the spot in the middle of the trophy case where it will be displayed at the Bilyeu Golf House at the U-Club.
NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN'S GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP
The Traditions Club - Bryan, Texas
Final Team Results (Par 288-1152)
1. UCLA 289-295-294-295 - 1173 +21; 2. Purdue 292-295-298-292 - 1177 +25; 3. LSU 292-296-303-290 - 1181 +29; 4. Virginia 291-300-299-296 - 1186 +34; 5. Southern Cal 302-302-292-294 - 1190+38; 5. Arkansas 305-296-296-293 - 1190 +38; 5. Arkansas 305-296-296-293 - 1990 +38; 7. Texas A&M 295-294-302-300 - 1191, +39; 8. North Carolina 305-293-297-298 - 1193 +41; 8. Alabama 301-303-297-292 - 1193 +41; 10. Vanderbilt 297-294-304-301 - 1196 +44; 10. Florida 294-298-309-295 - 196 +44; 12. California 306-292-305-294 - 1197 +45; 13. Tennessee 299-299-306-296 - 1200 +48; 14. Wake Forest 298-307-301-296 - 1202 +50; 15. Arizona 304-295-305-301 - 1205 +53; 16. Washington 312-307-297-293 - 1209 +57; 17. Arizona State 296-303-308-303 - 1210 +58; 18. South Carolina 302-315-298-296 - 1211 +59. 19. Minnesota 305-294-307-307 - 1213, +61; 20. UC Davis 313-305-307-294 - 1219 +67; 21. Ohio State 303-315-298-305 - 1221 +69; 22. Notre Dame 308-310-307-299 - 1224 +72; 23. Stanford 308-305-303-309 - 1225 +73; 24. Coastal Carolina 322-302-298-310 - 1232 +80.
Individual Top 5 (Par 72-288)
1. Austin Ernst, LSU, 72-66-77-66 - 281 -7; 2. Kelli Shean, Arkansas, 75-70-71-68 - 284 -4; 3. Laura Gonzalez, Purdue, 74-71-70-71 - 286 -2; 4. Tiffany Lua, UCLA, 71-71-70-75 - 287 -1; 4. Marta Silva Zamora, Georgia, 71-71-72-73 - 287 -1.
1. Austin Ernst 72-66-77-66 - 281 -7
T26. Jacqueline Hedwall 72-76-73-76 - 297 +9
T43. Megan McChrystal 72-77-76-75 - 300 +12
T80. Tessa Teachman 81-77-77-73 - 308 +20
T102. Amalie Valle 76-77-80-80 - 313 +25