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Ernst Relishes 'Unbelievable' Feeling of First Tour Win
With all the great names near the top of the Wells Fargo Championship leaderboard Derek Ernst's wasn't one of them. And no wonder, as the 22-year-old rookie came into the $6.7 million PGA Tour event ranked 1,207th and was supposedly out of his league against the likes of Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Nick Watney, Lee Westwood and the others in contention on a wet, chilly Sunday at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C.
But Ernst pulled it off, closing with a 2-under 70 thanks to a birdie on the 72nd hole (only the fourth all day on the tough par-4 18th) to tie David Lynn in regulation, then beating the 39-year-old Englishman on the first sudden-death playoff hole - also the 18th - with a par.
Ernst, who had played in only eight previous Tour events, wasn't even supposed to be in the field. As the fourth alternate, he was en route to Athens, Ga., last week to play in the Web.com Tour's Stadion Classic at UGA when he got the call that changed his life. He had a tee time at Quail Hollow.
After opening with rounds of 67, 71 and 72 in what turned out to be very difficult scoring conditions, Ernst's closing round put him in position for the improbable, and he took it from there. The win was worth $1.17 million and 500 FedEx Cup points, along with a cherished two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. There'll be no more Monday qualifying or hoped-for invites in the near future for Ernst.
"This feeling is unbelievable right now," the Fresno, Calif., native told reporters later. "Just at the beginning of the week not even knowing I was going to be in the field. I was fourth alternate last time I heard, and then a couple people dropped out so I got in. All week long it just felt really - 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."
Here's what else the UNLV graduate - with a degree in Hotel Management - had to say to the media following the awards ceremony.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the winner of the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship, Derek Ernst. Congratulations on your first PGA Tour victory. I know that's got a good sound to it. Without taking too much of your time, I'll just turn it over to you for some comments on the week and then we'll take a few questions.
DEREK ERNST: Yeah, this feeling is unbelievable right now. Just at the beginning of the week not even knowing I was going to be in the field. I was fourth alternate last time I heard, and then a couple people dropped out so I got in. All week long it just felt really - 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 (laughing).
Q. Do you know who withdrew that got you in? Do you know which player it was?
DEREK ERNST: Mark Wilson was the last one I heard.
Q. Is he getting a fruit basket from you?
DEREK ERNST: I don't know, probably (laughing).
Q. When did you find out you got in?
DEREK ERNST: What was that? Monday morning. I rented a car from New Orleans because I was going to play on the Web.com Tour event this week and rented a car, and then got the call when I was driving here, so came straight here instead.
Q. You had so many good chances on the back nine and short putt that's didn't go in. Talk about 18, what club you hit in and was winning even on your mind?
DEREK ERNST: Winning was not on my mind. On 18, I had 190 something, I don't know. I hit a 6 iron and choked up a little bit and hit a draw in there, yeah.
Q. Trying to hit it four feet?
DEREK ERNST: I was trying to hit it as close as I possibly could, yeah. I knew Dave was at 8, so I didn't know what Phil was or where he was at. So I was just trying to get tied with David at 8.
Q. At what point were you thinking about winning today? Any point?
DEREK ERNST: Never, really at all. Just kind of if I stuck to my game, then whatever happened, happened. If I win, great. If I got 10th, great. I just stuck with my own game.
Q. You spoke on Thursday about being fidgety. When the conditions are this tough, does it almost work in your favor because you have to concentrate so much?
DEREK ERNST: Yeah, for sure, because you're trying to dry your hands off, you're trying to dry the club off and everything and play becomes a little bit slower too. So I think for me, it kind of worked in my favor just because I'm such a fast player that it kind of slowed me down a little bit, yeah, for sure.
Q. Were you already standing on the 18th tee for the playoff when Mickelson was finishing his round? Where were you and did you have any thought when you knew it was going to be one other player rather than Mickelson?
DEREK ERNST: Me and Dave were on the practice green over there. You could hear everyone yelling "get in, get in" from over there, and then you heard a little bit of ohs. So right as soon as that happened, they said let's go. So that's how I found out.
Q. At this point in time, has it sunk in yet or is this one of those things that you'll look back in a couple of days and go wow?
DEREK ERNST: It's a little sunk in, but I'm sure in a couple days it will be even more unbelievable than it is right now, yeah.
Q. We spoke on Friday after your second round. When you came in on the 18th, you saved par on that particular hole and there were maybe a dozen people out there, and then nobody was there to talk to you or anything like that even though you were at the top of the leaderboard. Have you compared that scenario right there to this right here where you're going through the playoff and now you're actually winning your first PGA Tour event?
DEREK ERNST: The difference between that and this, I birdied, so the roar was probably a little bit louder than parring the hole. I mean, just this feeling is unbelievable. Yeah, that's all I've got.
Q. What is the last tournament you won?
DEREK ERNST: Last tournament I won? Probably conference - no, I won ASU's tournament in college about a year ago and a month, a year and a month ago, so mid April.
Q. Best part of the spoils come from this, is it the two year exemption on Tour, the seven figure paycheck, The Masters invitation? What is the best part of this for you?
DEREK ERNST: It's the two years on Tour, for sure. I don't know. The money is money, it will come and go. 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.
Q. What do you think enabled you to play those three finishing holes as well as you did today?
DEREK ERNST: I stuck to the process. I didn't think about what I had to do or what I didn't do. I just thought about each shot. It was what's next? What is the next one? How am I going to get this next one in the hole, so that was big.
Q. You were in college at this time last year, right?
DEREK ERNST: Uh huh.
Q. At that point, did you think you were capable of getting on the Tour already and winning this early in your career?
DEREK ERNST: I don't think like that. I don't think far ahead that far. I live day by day, I guess, and I just try to do the best I can. I've got to practice every day, and then whatever comes from that hard work comes from it. So right now, I've got this one.
Q. You mentioned getting out of your own way. Has that been a problem?
DEREK ERNST: Yeah, for sure. And that's what was the problem in the beginning of the year is I'm trying to control everything. Like, for example, today, the last three holes I didn't think about anything other than the next shot. Where, maybe in the first couple months I would. I'd be like okay, I've got to do this on this hole. I've got to do this on the next hole, and then maybe I'll have a chance, and then you just completely screw with your mind. So that's what I mean by the process and getting out of your own way.
Q. When did you actually learn that David's ball hadn't rolled into the water?
DEREK ERNST: Well, off the tee you could tell it didn't go all the way in. You could kind of see the white speck just on the side right there. I don't know how he stood if the water was in between him and the ball and his stance. I don't know what it looked like.
Q. Did it change your game plan?
DEREK ERNST: Yeah, on 18, on the playoff hole I was trying to hit the very right side of the green. I had like 219 to the pin, so I was just trying to stay right and I pulled it a little bit.
Q. What was that club?
DEREK ERNST: 3 iron.
Q. When you look around the room at the past champions of this event and you join the likes of Vijay and Tiger and Jim Furyk, what is your immediate reaction that you've joined some of the biggest names in the game to win this event?
DEREK ERNST: That I want to go play with them, play with them like this moment, like right now. Now I get to play The Masters next year. I don't know. I had fun playing with Lucas Glover and Lee Westwood today. Last week in the final round I played with Bubba. I don't know. I like golfers and hanging out with golfers and playing with good golfers. It's just fun.
Q. At any point today did it occur to you that you guys may not finish?
DEREK ERNST: No, I didn't even think about that at all.
DEREK ERNST: Maybe. I don't think that far ahead, just day by day kind of thing. I just wanted to make enough or get high enough on the FedEx points so I could play next year.
Q. That was goal number one?
DEREK ERNST: That was goal number one for this year, yeah.
Q. Where was the pouring rain worst for you, how would you describe it and what were you thinking about?
DEREK ERNST: The rain wasn't so bad. It was more like how cold it got too. I don't like playing with sweatshirts or jackets on. I like what I've got on now is the most I want to be wearing when I golf. It was wet and everything, but it was fine.
Q. What were your original plans for this coming week?
DEREK ERNST: Play that Web.com, go home to Vegas, relax, go get a lesson and go play Byron Nelson.
Q. That's this week as opposed to the Players Championship?
DEREK ERNST: Yeah, I had to win in order to get there.
Q. So will you go home to Vegas?
DEREK ERNST: No, if I'm in the Players, I'm going to go play the Players.
Q. No, I'm saying you were going to Vegas?
DEREK ERNST: Yeah, I was.
Q. Are you going to rent another car or are you going to fly?
DEREK ERNST: No, I'll fly this time.
Q. Is there any sense of that being the last Q school of being able to go straight to the Tour when you were playing?
DEREK ERNST: I didn't think about it that way. I just wanted to get top 25 and that's all I thought about.
Q. Can you talk about how much of a factor you wanting to have fun played in your success this week here at this tournament?
DEREK ERNST: I mean, you've got to have fun. If you're not having fun, you're not going to enjoy it. If you're not enjoying it, you're not going to win I don't think. Yeah, having fun is the most important part out here. I live to have fun. I think it's a big part for me.
Q. What would you say was the funnest moment out there?
DEREK ERNST: The most fun moment? Probably when I tapped in right now on the playoff hole right there. Probably knowing that it's over.
Q. At one point today the top four names on the leaderboard were Mickelson, McIlroy, Westwood, Watney. I wondered if you noticed that or what were your thoughts on that?
DEREK ERNST: Yeah, I noticed it. I mean, they're all great players. Watney - I know Watney a little bit. He went to Fresno State and I grew up in Fresno, so he was kind of like my idol growing up when I was in - I don't know probably when I was just beginning high school.
Q. Is that a daunting view seeing those guys up there?
DEREK ERNST: They're up there every week, so, no, not really.
Q. Nick Watney was your idol?
DEREK ERNST: Yeah, when I was in high school because Fresno is a small community.
Q. Does Nick know this?
DEREK ERNST: I don't think Nick knows this (laughing).
Q. Does Susie Meyers have a full time job now, I assume?
DEREK ERNST: Yeah, she was with Michael Thompson and he won at the beginning of the year too. So, she's got two of them now, I guess.
MODERATOR: Derek, congratulations.
DEREK ERNST: Awesome, thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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