For a guy who wasnt supposed to play in the Wells Fargo Championship, Thursday was an especially good day for Derek Ernst.
Playing Quail Hollow Club for the first time this week, Ernst, a PGA Tour rookie who was only informed he was in the field on Monday, shot a five-under par 67 and is tied for the first-round lead.
Ernst, 22, was listed as the events fourth alternate when he received a call Monday to replace Freddie Jacobson, who had withdrawn.
Ernst had just finished playing in the Zurich Classic in New Orleans (where he tied for 47th) and was driving a rental car to Athens, Ga., where he was to play in a Web.com Tour event. To avoid a hefty drop fee of $1,000, he returned the rental to Athens, rented another car and drove to Charlotte.
The practice round he played Tuesday was the first time he had played Quail Hollow.
He got off to a fast start Thursday, birdying No. 10, the first hole he played. He made four consecutive birdies on Nos. 14-17, which moved him to the top of the leader board.
Included in that stretch was a 60-foot birdie putt from the front edge of the 17th green.
That was sweet, Ernst said.
He plays despite blurry vision in his right eye, which he injured when he was in second grade while making a Valentines Day present for his mother at their home in Fresno, Calif.
Using a childrens tool set, he was sawing a piece of PVC pipe that would serve as the fence around a fort (that would enclose bears, he said).
When the saw became stuck in the PVC, Ernst threw it to the ground and a shard of PVC bounced up and cut his eye, requiring 10 stitches.
Scar tissue remains in the eye and his depth perception is poor.
If this eye is not good, then Im not going to be able to see at all, said Ernst, holding his hand up to his left eye.
The Wells Fargo is his eighth PGA Tour tournament. The only cuts he has made were at New Orleans and the Sony Open in Hawaii. He missed the cut in the five tournaments between Hawaii and New Orleans, admitting to getting overwhelmed by the pro golf scene.
I started thinking about everything, he said. Like, wow, there is Tiger (Woods) and all these guys. I think I just tried to be someone that I wasnt.
Ernst made some changes, including bringing back his caddie from junior golf, Aaron Terry.
Everyone says you need to get a professional caddie, said Ernst, who played collegiately at Nevada-Las Vegas. But I went back to (Terry). Were buddies and we get along really good.
He also uses a sports psychologist who has helped him calm down when he gets jittery.
That helped him Thursday after he 3-putted the par-3 sixth hole, one of his three bogeys.
My mind started, he said. I started complaining. But then you just deep breathe. All you think about is breathing and it takes your mind off everything else.
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