A bit of fortune favored Ernst Ex-Clovis East star nearly lost eye as a kid.

Akron Beacon JournalJuly 31, 2013 


Derek ErnstLPGA's Park on verge of major history, Page B3


BETHESDA, Md. — Derek Ernst knows he was millimeters away from having a glass right eye.

But the 23-year-old PGA Tour rookie and former Clovis East High star was only in second grade when his project to make a Valentine's Day present for his mother went wrong. He doesn't remember how much clearer things were before the accident that left him with 10 stitches down the middle of his cornea.

He does realize that after winning the Wells Fargo Championship, which earned him his first appearance in this week's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, some will consider him an inspiration.

"Everyone's got something that happened in their past that maybe changed or altered their future a little bit," Ernst said. "This is just one of the things that has altered mine."

Playing golf with good vision is challenging enough. But if Ernst covers his left eye, "everything is super blurry," he said, and past 30 yards nothing is distinguishable. He considers himself fortunate he's not a lefty because of how little he would see during his swing.

His mother, Dawn, said all the Ernsts wear "Coke bottle" glasses. Ernst said the vision in his right eye measures a negative 5.9, and his left is not much better, a negative 5.8.

"If I took my contacts out right now, I would not be able to walk around. My eyes are that bad," Ernst said last month before competing in the AT&T National at Congressional.

"Basically what's in my eye (is) a thick scar. But I'm thankful that I have an eye and I don't have a glass I have to pop in and out."

He remembers in vivid detail the Valentine's Day that changed his life.

Growing up in Fresno, Ernst loved building. So his parents bought him a toy tool kit with a real saw that Derek described as "tiny and not too sharp."

He was making his mother a fence and was going to put bears inside. He got halfway through a PVC pipe before the saw got stuck. Impatient and looking for a shortcut, he slammed the pipe on the ground to break it in half. But it was not the saw that hit him.

"I look up and voom, here comes the pipe," Ernst said.

He ran from the driveway, through the garage and into the backyard. Dawn Ernst gave Derek ice for the eye while she tried to find a neighbor to watch her two younger daughters, Shawna and Brianna, so she and Derek could head to the emergency room.

"My husband is the one who goes crazy," Dawn Ernst said of Mark, who is in the insurance business. "I have to be the calm one and just pray everything will be OK."

He remained in the hospital for three days, his mother by his side every minute.

About three weeks later, Ernst returned to school and spoke in front of his classmates, telling them what happened. He wore "a pirate patch" over his eye, but no one teased him.

"When you're in second grade, it's almost like, 'Gosh, there's that poor kid,' " he said. "When I got to high school they had plenty of other things to make fun of me about."

But Ernst said his doctor never gave him any sports limitations. He played baseball until the eighth grade.

A 2012 graduate of UNLV, Ernst earned his spot on the PGA Tour in 2013 in qualifying school.

He had only one Tour start before getting his card. He missed the cut in five of his first seven tournaments before his breakthrough at the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow, where he got into the field as the fourth alternate. He earned $1.2 million and a two-year exemption on the Tour.

Dawn Ernst still marvels at the triumph.

"I'm still pinching myself. It doesn't seem real," she said in the Congressional clubhouse.

She thought back to the day of her son's accident and conceded that she worried that the eye injury would be a hindrance.

"I still even wonder sometimes," she said. "We've never really talked about it. I always wondered, 'What if he had both eyes? Would his putting be better? Would his distance be better?' Who knows?"

Nicklaus honored

Jack Nicklaus was honored by Northern Ohio Golf Charities as the 2013 Ambassador of Golf at an emotional ceremony at Firestone Country Club in Akron, where the Golden Bear played his first professional tournament and won seven times, including one of his record 18 majors.

The award is presented annually at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to a person who has fostered the ideals of the game internationally and whose concern for others extends beyond the golf course.

Nicklaus was introduced by his wife, Barbara, chosen as ambassador in 1990. Her tribute left him choked up as he reached the podium. He wiped away tears again when he finished.

"I want to thank you again … I do it every time," he said in closing, unable to hold back his emotions, "for a wonderful recognition, something at a place that I love and a game I love."

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