Pro golf | The Masters

Peach fuzz & The Masters

2014-04-08T18:00:00Z 2014-04-15T23:26:06Z Peach fuzz & The MastersAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
April 08, 2014 6:00 pm  • 

It was a scene straight from a Norman Rockwell painting where two youngsters, in patchy jeans with slingshots in their back pockets, are peering through a hole in the outfield fence of a big-league ballpark.

Wow. O-o-o-h. Awesome. Cool.

PGA caddie Jeff King and rising star Derek Ernst experienced the same adrenaline rush, the same emotional high, on March 29 when they dared to stop their car at the entrance to hallowed Augusta National in Georgia, site of this week's Masters tournament.

King and Ernst are participating in their first Masters.

"It was starting to get dark so I said let's go roll down the hill and just drive by the gate," said King, a 1991 Bishop Noll grad. "Augusta National is kinda buried in a neighborhood and you can drive right past it 10 times and not notice it.

"We pulled up, the gate was open, and we stopped right in the middle of the road, rolled down the window and snapped a picture of Magnolia Lane."

Turns out, they weren't alone.

"There's a cop car sitting right inside the gate. He saw us stop, he opened the door, started getting out, and we took off like a couple of 15-year-old kids," King said.

"Derek's 23. He's still kind of a kid. He's like: 'I don't even want to go to sleep tonight. I just want to stay here. This is so awesome.' I was like the getaway driver."

The next day, Ernst shot a practice round and was 2-under par on the second 18.

King has been a PGA/LPGA caddie since 1998 and is considered among the best on both tours.

Augusta National still leaves him weak in the knees.

"When I put the bag down on the first tee ... there will be 3 or 4 seconds when I look up around the trees and at the sky and go: 'This is what it's all about after 17 years,'" King said. "'Now let's get to work.'"

Ernst has one tour victory — the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship — is currently ranked 168th in the world, made seven of 21 cuts last year as a rookie, and has earned $159,901 in 2014.

Currently No. 4 in total driving on the PGA Tour, the former UNLV star certainly isn't Norman Rockwell-like off the course.

If not a pro golfer, Ernst said he'd want to be a rock star and is a dynamite drummer. He's a big fan of the Bears and Broncos, wants to own a sports team one day and claims his dream foursome would be Arnold Palmer, Rory McIlroy and Tim Tebow.

"I think the nerves settled down during my practice round today. I worked the jitters out," Ernst said Tuesday.

King and Ernst met last December through an agent.

"Just watching his eagerness, his want to get better ... this is the new breed of PGA Tour players," King said. "They don't care who you are. They just want to be good and they want the people around them to help make them better.

"It was like watching a 15-year-old out there just going and going and going. I had to ask him: 'Are you hungry? Do you want to get some lunch? No, I'm good.' Everything takes a back seat to golf.

"He wants to get better for the next 10 years. At that age, that's very mature thinking. That's good stuff."

Nicknamed "Stripes" in college because of his driving accuracy, Ernst feels fortunate to have King at his side.

"I like how confident he is in himself when he caddies," Ernst said. "I've had problems with other caddies who weren't. I've only been out here a year and four months; he's been doing this a long time.

"I'll take his word any day."

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