Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It has been said that when winning a PGA Tour event, a player shouldn’t change anything – except perhaps underwear. But apparently Derek Ernst didn’t get the memo.
Ernst, you might recall, was one of the most remarkable sports stories in 2013. A 22-year-old Tour rookie ranked No. 1,207 in the world, he won the Wells Fargo Championship over the heavyweight likes of, among others, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. Making the story even more amazing, the victory is Ernst’s only Tour finish better than 30th.
And, so, what did Ernst do after succeeding? For better or worse (he says better), he changed everything.
Body (gained 20 pounds).
I know what you’re thinking. “Why?” Or, “Huh?”
“I knew I had that two-year exemption so I was like, ‘OK, I want to prepare myself for longevity out here on the Tour,’ ” Ernst said Wednesday on the eve of his Wells Fargo Championship defense. “I basically cleaned house with everything.”
His swing changed some as a result of the 20 extra pounds and the new coach. So did his feel on and around the greens. While getting comfortable with his different body and all the other new stuff, Ernst has missed 19 cuts in 29 starts (with a best finish of 30th) since his surprise success here at Quail Hollow.
“It’s been tough, you know,” Ernst said. “It ain’t going to be easy. I knew that going into it, but I’ve been working with my psychologist. This is what it is; you just gotta pull through.”
Despite the less-than-desired results, Ernst says he has no regrets. In fact, he says he has never regretted anything and never will. He was emphatic when he said that.
“I felt I needed to make the changes that I did, and I’ll start seeing them pay off in the next couple years, I think,” he said.
Ernst says he hasn’t changed “as a person.” Nor has his name changed, although you’d never know it by the way some confused golf fans greet the man who defeated David Lynn in a playoff last year.
“Everyone calls me David Ernst,” Derek Ernst said. “Even all the people here. It seems like I’ve had it five times this week. ‘Hey, David Ernst, great job.’
‘No, David was the guy I played in the playoff last year. I’m Derek.’ ”
I suppose I can see where people might get mixed up. I mean, I called Ernst & Lynn to do my taxes this year.
Anyway, despite his struggles, Ernst says he feels he is a “way better” player than he was a year ago. That well may be. A year ago, he was only a few months removed from getting through four Q-School stages after winning five college tournaments at UNLV.
All the same, Ernst decided to latch onto an important link from last year. He brought in his caddie from that remarkable week (Aaron Terry, his friend since childhood) to work this week.
“I just brought him back for good vibes,” Ernst said. “Good mojo going on this week.”
If you’re scoring at home, put that up as another change, this one sprinkled with superstition.