Austin Ernst puts LSU golf on the map

LSU's Austin Ernst said her father, a golf professional in her native South Carolina, waited until she and her brother came to him to say they wanted to learn the game. In Austin's case, that took all the way until she had hit the ripe old age of 6.

Patric Schneider

Austin Ernst bounced back from a rough third round with a championship-worthy performance.

"And when I was 8, I played in my first tournament," she said. "With my dad being a pro, I could always go out to the course and kind of just hang out. In the summers, I basically spent all day there.

"I'd go play with the morning groups, and then with the cart boys in the afternoon. Just play as many holes as I could every chance I got."

All good preparation for what Ernst just accomplished: She became the first freshman to win the NCAA women's golf title since Southern California's Jennifer Rosales -- who went on to the LPGA tour -- did so in 1998.

It was part of a monumental golf weekend for LSU: Ernst was the first woman from the school to win the NCAA individual championship. She and her teammates had the best-ever finish for the program, placing third behind winner UCLA (its third NCAA team title) and 2010 champion Purdue at Traditions Club in Bryan, Texas.

Meanwhile, the LSU men's golf team qualified for its upcoming NCAA championship -- to be held May 31-June 5 in Stillwater, Okla. -- with a fourth-place finish at the NCAA regional in Blacksburg, Va. And the school's most famous golfing alum, PGA Tour pro David Toms, bounced back from a disappointing loss in a playoff at the previous week's Players Championship to win the Crowne Plaza Invitational. That event at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, was Toms' first PGA tour title in five years.

Ernst, who is from Seneca, S.C., had her pick of several SEC, ACC and Pac-10 schools that wanted her to play there. She narrowed her choices to LSU and Alabama; she ended up loving everything about Baton Rouge, La., and the LSU campus, so she joined coach Karen Bahnsen's purple and gold program.

Bahnsen is an LSU alum who was the school's first signee for women's golf and played in the first NCAA tournament for women in 1982. She took over coaching the Tigers in 1984-85, shortly after she graduated. So, Bahnsen, whose husband is LSU senior associate athletic director Bo Bahnsen, has been with this program as a player or a coach since day one.

And Saturday was the best day yet for LSU women's golf. Ernst shot a 6-under 66 for a four-round total of 7-under 281 (72-66-77-66), beating Arkansas' Kelli Shean by 3 strokes.

Ernst's final round included a hole-in-one on the 162-yard second hole, on which she hit an 8-iron. It was her first career ace, and it fueled her after a difficult third round that she had to finish early Saturday.

Her third-round 77, which included two triple-bogeys on Friday, didn't really bother her. She knew she could rebound strongly.

"I think that's just my personality," amiable Ernst said. "I don't think it's sunk in quite yet that I really won. It's a goal I've always had; it was about finishing the job. How I won it makes me feel really good -- the fact that I came back from that rough round and that I shot two 66s. And to know I beat college golf's best."

Ernst said her parents had planned to come watch on Friday and Saturday … but her first 66 stopped them.

"My mom is very superstitious when it comes to golf," Ernst said. "She had called my coach and said, 'Put us down on the pass list,' but when I shot the 66, she decided, 'Oh, she did that when we weren't there! We can't come now!'"

Ernst laughed as she told that. Her father, Mark -- who played collegiately at Furman -- knows her game and her swing so well that he doesn't need to be there to give advice. In this case, the most important thing he told her was not to worry about the third-round rough patch. Those usually do happen at least once over the course of 72 holes.

"I felt very good after I talked to him," she said. "I've always worked very well with my dad. He can say things he needs to as a coach, but at the end of the day, he's still my dad."

Around the nation

• Men's golf regionals: As expected, Oklahoma State ran away with the title in the Colorado region, qualifying Saturday for the NCAA championships for the 65th time. The Cowboys are hosts for the NCAA meet at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. Other regional winners were Duke, Michigan, San Diego State, Florida and UCLA.

• Big league in lacrosse: Of course the ACC is one of the power conferences in the sport of lacrosse. Still, the league has to feel very good about its participation in the upcoming lacrosse Final Fours for men and women. The ACC accounts for six of the eight teams involved. On the men's side, defending NCAA champion Duke, Virginia and upset-minded Maryland, plus Denver, will be playing in Baltimore this weekend for the title . The Terps pulled the surprise of the weekend with their 6-5 overtime victory against top-seeded Syracuse. For the women, top-seeded Maryland will be joined by league rivals Duke and North Carolina, along with Northwestern, for the event in Stony Brook, N.Y.

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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