Austin Ernst wanted to go home.
So, after the NCAA Championship in May, she asked LSU coach Karen Bahnsen for a release. Ernst, the 2011 NCAA champion and a two-time All-American for the Tigers, wanted to transfer to Clemson, which is starting a women’s program and is eight miles from her hometown of Seneca, S.C.
Bahnsen denied the request, saying that she should have been notified of Ernst’s intentions earlier in the season.
“I just didn’t like the way it was handled,” Bahnsen said July 25, adding that this is the first time in her 28 years at LSU that she has denied a player’s release.
Ernst said she didn’t make a final decision until the week of the NCAA tournament, which was May 22-25 in Franklin, Tenn.
Ernst, 20, appealed Bahnsen’s decision, but an LSU committee upheld the denial. Ernst since has signed up for LPGA Q-School, where she will compete as an amateur in up to three stages this fall. Should Ernst earn her tour card in December, she said she would turn professional.
If, however, Ernst were to come up short at Q-School, she would enroll at Clemson in January. She likely would have to sit out two semesters before being able to compete for the Tigers, whose inaugural season starts in the fall of 2013. Ernst would be able to compete in January 2014.
Ernst said being closer to her father and swing coach, Mark Ernst, a PGA professional at Cross Creek Plantation and former college player at Furman, played a big role in her decision to leave LSU.
Ernst helped LSU finish a school-best third place at the 2011 and 2012 NCAA Championships. Her sudden departure puts Bahnsen in the unenviable position of scrambling this summer to replace a player who last year finished at No. 20 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.
Ernst plans to compete in the U.S. Women’s Amateur next month, an event in which she was a semifinalist in 2011. She recently won the North & South Women’s Amateur and was a member of the 2012 Curtis Cup team.
Ernst averaged a team-best 73.4 strokes per round during the recent college season. In 59 career rounds, she averaged 73.3 to rank second in LSU history. She had three career victories among nine top-10 finishes, with 28 rounds of par or better.
“I kind of grew into my own there,” Ernst said of her time at LSU. “Found out what I was made of.”