BARRINGTON, R.I. — LSU women’s golfer Austin Ernst had never won a match in a USGA event before she arrived at the Rhode Island Country Club for the United States Women’s Amateur.
She’s now on her way to Saturday’s semifinals after a 5&4 victory Friday over Stephanie Kono of Honolulu, a member of the 2011 NCAA team champions at UCLA.
Dad Mark Ernst had the right advice again for his daughter Friday. During the final round of the NCAA Division I Championship in May, father helped settle daughter during a phone call after a couple of bad third-round holes. Ernst went on to win the tournament.
Dad, the pro at Cross Creek Plantation, told the LSU sophomore to treat each round as if it was still stroke play and not to worry about what the other player was doing. It has worked well so far.
Ernst’s ability to mix pars with an occasional birdie made what was expected to be one of the best matches, a walk in the park Friday.
“It’s always been nice to have my dad as my coach growing up and playing against my brother (Drew) has really helped. I’ve always been confident and not much shakes me,” said Ernst.
Ernst used the stroke play strategy to make par on the first seven holes to go 2 up after Kono made bogey on the first and fifth holes.
Then things really turned Ernst’s way on the eighth when she chipped in for birdie from off the green to go 3 up after eight holes and 4 up with six holes to play when her approach shot on the par 4-12th led to a conceded tap-in birdie.
On the par 4 13th, it look like Kono would win her first hole of the match, but Kono missed a 3-footer for par and the hole was halved. Ernst finished it off on the next hole with a two-putt par as Kono made a bogey.
“I was hitting the ball well off the tee (Friday),” Ernst said. “On the greens, I was putting the ball in play. I was rolling it well on the greens. I was lagging it solid up to the pin. I came into it with a different mind-set and it has worked out so far.
“Winning nationals gave me a lot of confidence. Before that I was always pretty much an underdog. So it was just giving me confidence to know I can play against the best. Now I really like match play.”
Ernst, trying to become the first player to win the NCAA Division I championship and the U.S. Women’s Amateur in the same year since 1992, meets Moriya Jutanugam of Thailand in the semis, who won the 16th (birdie) and 17th (par) holes in an all square match to win 2&1 over Casey Danielson of Osceola, Wis., in the other quarterfinal on Ernst’s side of the bracket.
The matches don’t get easier for the 19-year-old Ernst as the 17-year-old Jutanugam was the low amateur in the U.S. Women’s Open earlier this summer. Her 15-year-old sister, Ariya, has already claimed the U.S. Girls Junior and the PGA Junior Championship and will be on her sister’s bag as caddy Saturday.
In the upper bracket quarterfinals, Brooke Pancake, of Chattanooga, Tenn., and the University of Alabama, defeated Erynne Lee of Silverdale, Wash., on the 20th hole, 1 up; and, defending champion Danielle Kang, of Westlake Village, Calif., was a 4&3 winner over Demi Frances Runas, of Torrance, Calif.
The semifinals are set for 9 a.m. Saturday with same-day coverage on the Golf Channel beginning at 2 p.m.
The four semifinalists Saturday will be playing their seventh round of the week after qualifying Monday and Tuesday, the round of 64 on Wednesday, two rounds on Thursday and Friday’s round … The winners Saturday meet for a 36-hole final Sunday … Former LSU player Meredith Duncan won the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2001.