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Ernst claims LPGA Drive On Championship crown

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Austin Ernst used four consecutive birdies on her opening nine in the final round of the LPGA Drive On Championship presented by Volvik to open a six-stroke lead, then withstood the challenging conditions coming in to capture her third LPGA Tour title this afternoon at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club.

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“Going wire-to-wire is really cool. I told [my fiancé] Jason last night it would be really cool to win wire-to-wire, so glad I didn't jinx myself,” said Ernst, who carded a final-round 70. “To be in the heat of it all week and to be able to perform the way I did, I think it’s a testament that I can do this week in and week out. If I have a little belief in myself, this is what I can do.”

Ernst and Jennifer Kupcho were both even through three holes but on the par-3 4th, Ernst buried a birdie while Kupcho found bogey. It was a two-shot swing that gave Ernst a three-stroke lead and all the momentum.

“I hit a good 50-degree wedge in then made a good putt and I was trying not to really focus on what she was doing,” Ernst said. “I was aware all day of where we stood, knew it in my head but I just wanted to keep the pedal down. I did what I wanted to do all day. The conditions just got a little tougher at the end of the round.”

She added a birdie on No. 5 for a four-shot advantage and continued the birdie barrage on Nos. 6 and 7 to open a six-stroke gap between herself and Kupcho at 17-under par overall. From there, Ernst played the control game by managing the course and avoiding big numbers.

“After the birdie on five, I turned to [my brother and caddie] Drew and said, ‘I’ve got to stay aggressive and keep making birdies, keep being confident.’ I knew anything can happen on any hole. You can have those swings and if she got hot, I stalled out, I knew she could still catch me. I was just trying to separate myself by as many as possible and just ended up making a couple bogeys on the back nine. She got a little closer to me than I would have liked.”

The $225,000 winner’s share moves Ernst over the $4 million threshold ($4,127,272). She also becomes the third American to win (in as many events) on the LPGA Tour in 2021, joining Jessica Korda at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and Nelly Korda at Gainbridge LPGA.

Kupcho made a stellar effort on Sunday and even lined up an eagle putt on No. 12. A tribute hole to No. 13 at Augusta National Golf Club, the actual hole was a major turning point in the 2019 Augusta National Women’s Amateur that vaulted Kupcho to victory. She found the green with a three-hybrid for an eagle then and reached it with a four-hybrid today but recorded a slightly different result.

“I nearly played it the same as I did at Augusta, actually,” said Kupcho, who found a birdie at No. 12 and signed for a 2-over par 74 in the final round. “Obviously, missed my hybrid to the right instead of the left and thought the putt [here] was falling the whole way, just wrapped right around the hole. Really tough hole location to make a putt on for sure with where I was at.

“I set myself up well after 12 to be able to make a little bit of a move. I just missed a pretty easy up and down on 13, honestly, and missed the putt on 14. It was really close as well. But I didn’t really think it was over until I hit the tee shot on 15. Everyone hits bad shots. It’s just unfortunate that is when mine came for the week. I can’t look at that. There’s plenty of shots from the four days I could have made.”

Jenny Coleman fired a 1-under par 71 to sit in solo third at 8-under par overall and In Gee Chun signed a 3-under 69 card with four birdies to shoot -7. Playing out of the final grouping, Albane Valenzuela rounded out the top-five players on the leaderboard at 6-under overall and went 1-over par for the day.

JENNIFER KUPCHO WILL FIND WINNER’S CIRCLE BEFORE SHE KNOWS IT
After four rounds at Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, Jennifer Kupcho saw her name in solo second on the leaderboard at -10 overall. From battling migraines and the inability to see clearly earlier in the week to her final-round battle with Austin Ernst, Kupcho couldn’t be happier with how hard she fought. 

 

“It's amazing. I didn't start very well after COVID-19 hit last year and everything, so it's nice to see that I can come off a break strong,” said Kupcho, who tied for 21st in her first start of 2021 at the Gainbridge LPGA. “I was hitting the ball really well last week and came into this week doing the same thing, so it's nice to see all the work that I put in over the offseason to really come out and start the year really well.”

 

Based on her current play and the diligence to improve her health, Kupcho can’t wait for the next event to give herself a chance and show that she can win. 

 

“Going to work on getting stronger and continuing to focus on my game. Pretty much the same thing I did over the offseason,” Kupcho said. “I think it will be nice to have a little bit of a break [before heading to the West Coast] for a couple days, for sure.”

DRIVE ON CHAMPIONSHIP INSPIRES JENNY COLEMAN TO DRIVE ON TO CAREER-BEST FINISH
Jenny Coleman
 fired a 72-hole career-best total on the LPGA Tour of 280 this week at the LPGA Drive On Championship presented by Volvik at Golden Ocala. It bested her previous mark of 283, which she shot in the 2017 Volvik Championship at Travis Pointe Country Club. The solo third result in Marion County was also good for a career-best finish.

Currently ranked No. 440 in the Rolex World Rankings, Coleman’s hard work and end result certainly helped her to feel more confident early in the season.  

 

“It's so nice to have worked so hard and finally my game is kicking into gear. Last year was just, man, just kind of treading along. Now I'm finally getting after it,” said Coleman, who hit 15 greens in the final round. “It helps boost my confidence and know I have the game to be out here, that I deserve to be out here. What I'm doing is working well, so just keep on that and turn it up a notch.”

 

The end result would be reason enough to celebrate, but the third-year LPGA Tour member says she will continue to work hard with a long season ahead of her and particularly on her putting. 

 

“Stick to my gameplan and play my game, just keep the approaches strong and driver, play it to the side that gives you the best angle into the greens,” said Coleman, who will tee it up at the Kia Classic in a couple weeks. “And putting, just keep grinding. It's something I could improve on the most. Get a good read, put the best stroke you can on it and that's all you do. If they fall, great. If they don't, they don't.”

CME GROUP CARES CHALLENGE—SCORE 1 FOR ST. JUDE 
The CME Group Cares Challenge is a season-long charitable giving program that turns aces into donations. CME Group donated $20,000 for each hole-in-one made on the LPGA Tour in 2020, with a minimum guaranteed donation of $500,000 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which is leading the way in how the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and life-threatening diseases.

The 2020 LPGA Tour season saw 13 aces from 13 different players, while the 2019 campaign had 32 total aces from 31 different competitors for a total of $620,000. That more than covered the average cost of $425,000 needed to treat a pediatric cancer patient. Through three tournaments so far in the 2021 LPGA Tour season, no hole-in-ones have been made.

Published : March 08, 2021