RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Austin Ernst has to think for just a split second when asked what surprised her most about her first LPGA start at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The LSU sophomore quickly thinks of a story and begins telling it in her thick southern accent.
“Monday, I didn’t realize that everybody and their mom would be out here,” she starts, going on to explain that she had to tee off at 6:50 a.m. to get ahead of that day’s loaded tee sheet.
Is it even light that early?
“It is, surprisingly. Even when you hit balls at, like, 6:30, it’s pretty light.”
Aside from learning the ropes from young pros like Cydney Clanton and Alison Walshe, she was paired with the latter player for the first two rounds, Ernst hasn’t been shocked by much of anything but the crowds this week. She chuckled about someone asking if she was star struck at Mission Hills.
What: Ping/ASU Invitational
When: March 30-April 1
Where: Karsten GC, Tempe, Ariz.
Why it’s important: The premiere West Coast event of the weekend, and with a few extra teams from the Midwest and East Coast. Pac-12 teams are hard to beat here and USC, UCLA and Arizona are the top three of those to watch. LSU is without top player Austin Ernst. As for the Midwest representatives, Oklahoma State and Texas both are capable of a top 5.
Ernst, the only current college player in the field at the Kraft, birdied the 18th hole during Thursday’s opening round to finish at 5-over 77. It was the only birdie during rough day for the reigning NCAA champion, who said nerves came into play a little during the first few holes.
For Ernst, it’s a little weird not being with her LSU teammates at the Ping/ASU Invitational this week –especially since this is the first time she hasn’t traveled with the team since entering the roster midway through the fall of her freshman year — but there was a bigger lesson learned this week. That part is uttered without a hint of reserve.
“I feel like there’s not a big difference between where my game is and where Yani and Paula Creamer and all of them are,” she said. “I feel like I stack up pretty well and I came in trying to win.”
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Five questions with Oregon freshman Cassy Isagawa of Wailuku, Hawaii, who finished T-8 at the Avenues Spring Break Challenge. Isagawa is No. 5 in the Golfweek’s/Sagarin College Rankings.
1. You had another top 10 at Hawaii. What do you think will get you over the hump to a win?
I’m still a freshman and still trying to get into the groove of the whole collegiate experience. For me to buckle down and maybe get a win, I think I just have to not overthink things coming into the last day or the first day or the middle day. Just try to keep the same mindset throughout each day and never put too much pressure on myself.
2. What was the best part of getting to go back close to home and play?
I think just being at home, playing a tournament, I felt like I had a lot of support, people were supporting me out here. I felt like that gave me a lot of confidence knowing that they’re coming out to support me and watch me play. Especially my parents, they’re a huge support system for me. I felt a little more comfortable playing at home and I just enjoyed it a lot.
3. You lead your team week in, week out. Did you expect to have that kind of an impact as a freshman?
I never expected it because my summer, I was struggling a lot. Junior PGA, I made the cut but I didn’t play the greatest. (Callaway) Junior Worlds that same year, I didn’t play as well as I probably could so coming into college I wasn’t as confident as I was the past years but my first tournament my first round, I shot 77. It wasn’t that bad, I put too much pressure on myself when it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. After that, everything kind of fell into place for me.
4. What’s the story behind your yellow ball?
The yellow ball, I started my junior year of high school I believe, around April. The reason I played it was because I played with the white Srixon ball beforehand and when they finally came out with the yellow one, it was something different and I wanted to try it. I did not commit to Oregon just yet and it just so happened I committed to Oregon. Playing a yellow ball, I use a green mark for my ball — it just ended up well. I’ve been using that ball ever since.
5. What do you think of those crazy uniforms worn by Oregon’s football and basketball teams?
They have amazing outfits. At the Rose Bowl they have like chrome helmets and just their attire is amazing. I also like our attire too. We may not get as much attention as the football and basketball players, but our attire is just amazing. We have all these different color combinations that we can do. I’m just glad that Oregon is green and yellow and we’re able to put a lot of different combinations together with our outfits.