VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – For Austin Ernst, the weather delay couldn’t have come at a better time.
All square through 14 holes in the championship match at the 110th North and South Women’s Amateur, Ernst and 2011 runner-up Doris Chen were led to the Pinehurst Resort Clubhouse as an afternoon thunderstorm approached.
It would prove to be a serendipitous moment.
Hours earlier in her semifinal win over third-seeded Ashley Armstrong, Ernst had used a 6 iron into the 165-yard par-3 15th at Pinehurst No. 2. But after hitting the range to warm up quickly before resuming the championship match, Ernst and caddie Michael Wilson found a flag marked at 167 yards. Ernst teed up two 5 irons and landed them right in front of the pin.
They would return to the 15th with a new game plan -- and a new club.
“It was the first time I really had perfect yardage all week,” said Ernst. “And I knew I had it twice.”
Ernst regained control of the match with a dart to 2 feet on the 15th hole, taking a 1 up lead on Chen before another 5 iron on the 170-yard par-3 17th put her 25 feet right of the pin. She then drained that putt to close out the match 2 & 1 and add the North and South Championship to her already impressive resume.
“This means a lot to me,” said Ernst, who won the 2011 NCAA individual national championship her freshman season at LSU and then reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur. “You look at the history of this event and all of the big names who have competed and won here. To be on that list now as a champion, it’s just incredible to be a part of that.”
It was another tough loss for Chen, who fell to Danielle Kang a year ago. Though never down more than two holes in the match, Chen never led, and despite hitting 11 of 13 fairways, she missed 8 of 17 greens.
“The first couple of holes I really didn’t start well,” Chen said. “I just didn’t get the speed of the greens on chipping, and that’s something I'm usually very confident in.”
Ernst won the first two holes as Chen struggled early around the greens. Ernst lipped out from 25 feet for birdie on the first, but won the hole when Chen missed a 10-footer for par after she ran it by the hole on her chip from right of the green.
Ernst took a 2-up lead despite missing the fairway in the right waste area. After Ernst’s two-putt par, Chen missed a 5-footer for par to give the hole to Ernst.
Chen rallied when Ernst had her own troubles close the green on the short par-4 third. Chen nestled a 50-yard pitch within a few feet of the cup, but Ernst left her pitch in the short left greenside bunker, leading to an easy Chen victory and a 1-up lead for Ernst.
But the LSU junior came right back with a 2-up lead after a par on the par-3 sixth and another poor chip by Chen, who missed four of the first six greens in regulation.
But Chen evened the match by the time the pair reached the 11th tee, hitting a beautiful approach within 6 feet on seven for a birdie, and then by getting up and down with a masterful chip from behind the par-5 10th green to win twice in a four-hole stretch.
The pair matched each other par-for-par on the next four holes, despite both players having good looks at birdie chances. After halving 14, the match was suspended for an approaching storm, and did not resume until nearly 90 minutes later.
It started with a bang as Ernst knocked it close, but Chen had a chance to square the match again on 16 before missing a birdie attempt from 8 feet. Relieved, Ernst kept the honor on 17 and found the center of the green. Using a hybrid, Chen was long and left in the bunker, facing a downhill lie in the sand.
Chen’s bunker shot rolled 20 feet past the pin, opening the door for Ernst.
“I knew I probably had two putts to win, but you never want to give your opponent a chance to extend the match,” Ernst said. “I wanted to end it right there and not allow her a chance at making her putt. I looked at it left edge and it rolled dead center into the cup.”
It was a brilliant conclusion to an amazing stretch of match play for Ernst, who beat No. 1-ranked Moriya Jutanugarn in the quarterfinals on Friday before clipping Armstrong, who had tied for second after three rounds of stroke play, early Friday.
Ernst will now shift her focus to the upcoming U.S. Amateur and will enter LPGA Tour qualifying school as an amateur.
Two years after the Men’s North and South Amateur Championship began in 1900, the women’s championship was born and now celebrates its 110th year. It has become one of the most sought after women’s amateur titles and routinely displays the talents of players who are seen competing on the LPGA.
Its champions are among the legends of the game: Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Peggy Kirk, Hollis Stacey, Donna Andrews, Brandie Burton, Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel and Yani Tseng.
“Pinehurst has been a bastion of amateur golf for over a century,” said Pinehurst President Don Padgett. “It is amateur golf at its best.”
110TH NORTH AND SOUTH AMATEUR
Pinehurst No. 2
Round of 16
No. 1 Jaye Marie Green def. No. 16 Breanna Elliot, 21 holes
No. 8 Alejandra Cangrejo def. No. 9 Isabelle Lendl (WD)
No. 4 Kailey Walsh def. No. 13 Margarita Ramos, 19 holes
No. 5 Doris Chen def. No. 12 Emma Talley 2 & 1
No. 2 Moriya Jutanugarn def. No. 15 Gabriela Lopez 3 & 2
No. 10 Austin Ernst def. No. 7 Michell Piyaprattra, 20 holes
No. 3 Ashley Armstrong def. No. 14 Nora Lucas, 2up
No. 6 Lori Beth Adams Def. No. 11 Catherine O’Donnell
No. 8 Alejandra Cangrejo def. No. 1 Jaye Marie Green 4 & 3
No. 5 Doris Chen def. No. 4 Kailey Walsh 3 & 2
No. 10 Austin Ernst def. No. 2 Moriya Jutanugarn 2 & 1
No. 3 Ashley Armstrong def. No. 6 Lori Beth Adams 2 & 1
No. 5 Doris Chen def. No. 8 Alejandra Congrejo 4 & 2
No. 10 Austin Ernst def. No. 3 Ashley Armstrong 3 & 2
No. 10 Austin Ernst def. No. 5 Doris Chen 2 & 1