Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world ranking not all that long ago, tweeted the following Sunday evening after a fellow player won the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. His tweet says a lot.
Ernst, a 22-year-old who was attending the University of Nevada-Las Vegas a year ago, got into the Wells Fargo as the fourth alternate. Then he wins the thing. Go figure.
As an aside, there’s a Canadian connection to UNLV. J.C. Deacon, who is from Toronto, is the assistant coach of the men’s golf team. Deacon made it to the semi-finals of the 2005 U.S. Amateur at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, PA before losing. Merion will host the U.S. Open next month. Deacon, who played for the UNLV Rebels, later turned pro. He gave that a try on the Canadian Tour for the most part, but then decided to go in another direction. The Rebels are a top U.S. college team.
As for Ernst at the Wells Fargo, he jumped, no, leaped, no, soared, a mind-boggling 1,084 places in the world ranking. He was, or so said the official ranking, the 1,207th best player in the world before playing in Charlotte in a field that included Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson. Now, or so says the world ranking, he is the 123rd best player in the world.
As for Donald’s observation, well, he’s right. The PGA Tour fields are deep, week in and week out. Eighteen tournaments have been played this year, not including any opposite regular events. Eight players many people had never heard of before won tournaments.
Russell Henley? He won the Sony Open in Hawaii. John Merrick? He won the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles. Michael Thompson? He won the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens. Martin Laird? He won the Valero Texas Open.
And now Ernst wins the Wells Fargo. Yes, the PGA Tour fields are deep. Any player in a tournament can win anytime. Ernst ripped his approach from 184 yards out on the 72nd hole at the Wells Fargo within five feet of the hole, and it’s not like there wasn’t trouble near the green. He made the birdie putt to grab a chance of getting into a playoff.
Ernst beat David Lynn on the first hole of their sudden-death playoff. Lynn, by the way, finished second to Rory McIlroy in last year’s PGA Championship. The 39-year-old Englishman was second by eight shots, yes. But still, he finished second in only his second major. He didn’t win, but that’s something. Something impressive.
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting who wasn’t in the Wells Fargo playoff. That’s Phil Mickelson, the No. 10-ranked player. Mickelson was leading with three holes to go, but bogied the 16th and 17th holes and didn’t birdie the last hole. He was out. Mickelson said there was no excuse for what happened to him. What did happen? Golf happened.
The Wells Fargo conclusion demonstrated that not only can any golfer who gets into a tournament win the thing, but that even the best of the best can falter at the end. Who would have thought that Mickelson would be the one to give it up down the stretch? Mickelson, the winner of four majors and 41 PGA Tour events.
Luke Donald had it right. Ernst’s win showed how deep the fields are on the PGA Tour. Hmm. I wonder who will win the PLAYERS this week in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Your guess is as good, or as bad, as mine.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein