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Opinion & Analysis

Ernst: Rising to the occasion against all odds

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It wasn’t a mastery of the slow and much maligned greens at Quail Hollow that propelled Derek Ernst to victory. Neither was it the assistance of Phil Mickelson, who leaked fuel as he headed through the Green Mile on Sunday. Mickelson left behind quite a bit of green over the stretch as he plummeted down the leaderboard.

The No. 1,207-ranked player in the world had only played in eight PGA Tour events before this week; clearly neither experience, nor comfort with the course, were critical to the rookie’s win.

Ernst was third in the field in greens in regulation for the week and 11th in strokes gained-putting. He was ninth in the field in scrambling, as well as 11th in driving distance. Statistically, then, Ernst was near the top of major categories. Statistical dominance, however, doesn’t adequately explain the win.

The precondition for Derek Ernst’s victory was the willingness of Tour golfers to withdraw from any tournament that doesn’t present them with the finely manicured conditions they’ve come to expect. Ernst, the fourth alternate for the Wells Fargo Championship, would only have seen the first tee box on television, were it not for the mass exodus of pros who took a look at the forecast, considered the greens and decided there were better ways to prepare for the Players Championship next week than by teeing it up at Quail Hollow.

It would be unfair and inaccurate, however, to characterize the victory of the 22-year-old and four-time All American at UNLV as the product of better golfers opting out of the field, thus opening up a spot and occluding the possibility of, say, Tiger Woods’ name on the leaderboard.

The real key to victory for Ernst was something we’re seeing more and more on Tour: The ability of young/rookie golfers to play like seasoned winners down the stretch, rather than wilting under the immense pressure of the final round of a Tour event.

We saw this last year with Charlie Beljan’s incredible performance at the Walt Disney Classic and, again, we saw the same thing with Russell Henley at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Ditto Michael Thompson and Billy Horschel.

In the cold rain on Sunday, staring down the likes of Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, Derek Ernst was able to play his game and rise to the occasion. At no point was this clearer than when the young golfer needed a birdie at the notoriously difficult closing hole. Ernst stepped up, calmly stuck a 6-iron approach shot to a few feet and made the putt.

It was this ability, refined thorough his mental game work with Susie Meyers no doubt, that was the critical element in Derek Ernst’s Wells Fargo Championship win.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Lee

    May 9, 2013 at 4:00 am

    This is what it’s all about in my opinion, young guys gets an unexpected start then hangs tough down the stretch. A great life changing performance from Derek may he go on and upwards. Good luck at the Players Derek what a story it would be if you can go back to back!

  2. Dane

    May 7, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Had the opportunity to watch Ernst play Corbin Mills for the Pub Links championship match out here. He lost in extra holes, very impressed the way he handled himself. Love to see him get his first win this way!

  3. ProGolfer

    May 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Great story. This is what made the “old” model of q-school so great– a guy can go from just out of college to playing, and winning, on the PGA Tour (Ernst got through every stage at q-school, including the pre-qual). Now, we will no longer see young guys bursting through and getting to the biggest stage. Guys like Michael Thompson and Charlie Beljan also went through the same route, and now they’re among the best in the world. No doubt the vast majority of fans would rather watch some young up-and-comer try to make it through q-school than watch a bunch of 30 and 40 year olds compete in the new playoff system.

  4. BBGolfer

    May 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Congrats to Derek!
    Great to see a young talent take on some big name players and WIN!
    His composure, maturity, and humility are much appreciated in contrast to many on tour.
    Refreshing to say the least – I;m definitely a fan of this young man.

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Opinion & Analysis

How Tiger Woods lost the 2009 PGA Championship

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11 years ago, the PGA Championship produced one of the greatest upsets in sporting history.

The all-conquering Tiger Woods arrived at the 2009 PGA Championship as the prohibitive favorite, having won three of his last four events. Woods then backed up that favoritism over the opening two days, picking apart Hazeltine National with extreme precision to build a four-stroke advantage by the halfway point.

It felt like such a formality that here in Ireland, our biggest bookmaker, PaddyPower declared Tiger as the winner and decided to pay out all outright bets on the World Number One after just 36 holes.

It proved to be a big mistake.

Next week will be the 11th anniversary of the monumental upset, and here I’ll take a look at the factors behind Woods’ unthinkable loss that week to Y.E. Yang.

Tiger’s Ultra-Conservative Saturday

On a scoring Saturday, Woods was too content to play it safe. Why not? After all, the ultimate closer had won so many majors by forging a lead, aiming for the middle of the green, two-putting for par and watching his opponents slowly falter one by one.

Only this time was different, and even Tiger with a two-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round as much as admitted he was too conservative during round three, saying after his round:

“They gave us a lot of room on a lot of these pins, six and seven even from the side, so you can be fairly aggressive. I just felt that with my lead, I erred on the side of caution most of the time.

“If I did have a good look at it, a good number at it, I took aim right at it. Otherwise I was just dumping the ball on the green and 2-putting.”

The incessant safety first, lag putting strategy of Saturday even transformed into a tentativeness at the beginning of Sunday’s final round.

On the par-five seventh hole, with Yang in trouble, Woods had 245 yards to the pin for his second with a huge opportunity to make a statement eagle or textbook birdie. He inexplicably layed up, hit a poor wedge and once again lagged for par.

Horrific Sunday Putting

To say Tiger’s trusty Scotty Cameron betrayed him during Sunday’s final round would be underselling it. Putt after putt just refused to drop when he needed it most.

In the end, Woods’ seven-foot birdie effort on the 14th hole is the only putt of any note he managed to make on the day.

Tiger played Sunday’s final round in 75 strokes. Thirty-three of them were putts.

Yang Stood Up To Tiger

Critics of Woods have long claimed that in his prime, Tiger would crowd his opponents as an intimidation tactic, or rush off the green to the next tee leaving his competitors to putt out while the crowd dispersed.

Regardless, nothing was going to faze Yang that Sunday.

In fact, during the early stretch of the final round, Tiger’s indecision and tentativeness led to the pairing being behind the pace of play. It forced on-course officials to remind the two that they needed to speed it up—and of course, they only stressed that Yang needed to do so.

How did the Korean respond? By pointing at Tiger and saying “Not me. Him.”

The Pivotal Two-Shot Swing

Many look back on Yang’s chip-in eagle to take the lead at the 14th hole on Sunday as the significant turning point of the Championship. However, Yang was always likely to make birdie on the short par-four hole, and the previous hole may well have been the tipping point for the upset.

On the par-three 13th hole, Yang found the bunker, while Woods hit a beauty to eight feet. The two-shot swing in Tiger’s favor looked even more likely when Yang failed to get his bunker shot inside Woods’ ball.

But when Yang buried his par effort, and Woods let yet another putt slip by, the two remained all square.

Woods’ reaction following his putt was telling; his frustration poured out despite him still being in a share of the lead. It was a show of exasperation that may have given the Korean all the encouragement he needed to turn Tiger’s 54 hole major lead record of 14-0 into 14-1.

Asked following his round when he felt his control on the tournament beginning to loosen, Woods said:

“But as far as the tournament switching, 13, I stuffed it in there. He made a mistake, hit it in the left bunker. He blasted out. I missed my putt. He made his. And then he chipped in on the next hole.

“So that two-hole stretch turned — if I make my putt, he doesn’t chip in, you know, he doesn’t make his putt on 13.”

The 2009 PGA Championship preceded a ten-year barren spell for Tiger at the majors before he claimed his fifth green jacket at the 2019 Masters. He is still yet to appear in the final twosome on a Sunday at a major since the 2009 PGA.

As for Y.E Yang, the 48-year-old now spends most of his time competing in Japan and his native Korea. He has played in all 10 PGA Championships since his remarkable victory. He has missed the cut seven times.

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The Gear Dive

The Gear Dive: Brandel Chamblee is back!

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny goes in on the distance debate with a friend of the podcast, Brandel Chamblee. Also picks for the WGC, filling a hole in the bag and why the LPGA is the best place to learn how to play.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

How to warm up like a PGA Tour pro

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@skysportsgolf

One of the keys to playing a great round of golf stems from how you prepare for your round. When you go to the range, you’ll often see amateur golfers hitting shots quickly and sporadically without much rhyme or reason. On the other hand, when you take a look at players on the PGA Tour, each of them has a well structured and methodical approach to how they warm-up.

From watching the pros, there are a few key takeaways that you can implement in your game to improve the quality of your warm-ups.

Arrive Early

Give yourself enough time to warm up before your round. Showing up 10 minutes before you’re due to tee off is a recipe for disaster and a double bogey waiting to happen on the first hole. Allowing yourself 30 minutes to an hour should be plenty of time to get through an awesome warm-up, leaving you confident when you step onto the first tee box.

Spend More Time Putting

Whether you watch Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas or any other pro, one thing is consistent: they all spend a lot of their warm-up practicing putting, accounting for well over half their practice strokes. And why wouldn’t they? If you 2 putt every hole, you’ll be hitting 36 shots, literally half of all your strokes during the course of your round.

Practicing both long and short putts will give you more confidence standing over your first birdie putt of the day.

Loosen Up

A little bit of stretching before you start hitting shots on the range can go a long way. Stretching before you start will activate your muscles for the day ahead. Spend some time doing bending toe touches, shoulder stretches, lateral twists, and a standing forward bend stretch to maximize your range session.

Work Your Way Up The Bag

When you watch a pro like Jason Day warm-up, you’ll notice when he gets to the range that he’ll start out by hitting shots with a wedge, working up the bag. This is how most pros structure their warm-up for the most part, and they do so to establish rhythm and tempo as they move into their longer irons and woods.

Try this out yourself by hitting some wedges, and then move up your bag using all even or all odd irons. Place emphasis on your short game as you move through your bag; the shots you hit inside 100 yards will lead you to the most scoring opportunities.

Hit Fewer Drives on the Range

It’s fun to hit the driver, but it’s one of the most taxing swings you can make. Plenty of amateur golfers spend way too much time hitting their driver on the range, and wearing themselves out before they get to the first tee. By doing so, not only do you tire yourself out, but you risk throwing off the swing tempo that you’ve worked so hard on during your warm-up.

Definitely still practice hitting drives, but make them count. Try only hitting 5-10 drives, but treating them as if they were on the course.

Hit Practice Shots With Purpose

It’s really easy to get onto the range and start hitting shot after shot in quick succession, trying to get the right swing out as quickly as possible. Not only does this use up a lot of your energy, but it’s not too realistic compared to how you’ll approach your shots on the course.

Instead, take the methodical approach and try to make each shot count. Take the time to set up correctly, paying attention to alignment and ball positioning. Hitting more shots with real intention on the range sets you up for success when you hit the course.

Wrap Up

Implementing some of this structure into your pre-round routine will put you into a position to score. Practicing more putts and placing emphasis on your short game will help you save strokes where they count. These tips will help you take a better approach to golf.

 

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