A pair of freshly-minted PGA Tour pros with Northern California connections are putting their new playing status to good use this week in the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.
James Hahn, 31, of Alameda, and Derek Ernst, 22, of Clovis, each made the move from golf's minor leagues to the Big Show, the PGA Tour, at the end of last season. Hahn, who won medalist honors at the Sectional Qualifier for the U.S. Open at Lake Merced Golf Club and Harding Park Golf Course last summer, advanced to the PGA Tour on the strength of his Top-25 finish in the 2012 Web.com Tour’s money list; Ernst, who was a Monday qualifier for the 2012 Frys.com Open, and went on to make the cut and finish T41, survived the pressure-cooker of the PGA Tour Qualifying tournament to earn his playing status for 2013.
Shiny new PGA Tour cards in hand, the two teed it up in paradise on Thursday in the opening round of the 2013 Sony Open. Negotiating the tight fairways of Waialae’s 7,020-yard, par-70 Seth Raynor-designed course, Hahn carded a par on the first day, matching a birdie against a bogey on each side. Ernst carded three bogeys on the front side before closing the outward nine with a birdie to get a stroke back, following up with a birdie on the tenth hole, parring in for a 1-over 71.
With the frontrunners in the tournament racking up scores in double-digits under par by the time play was over on Friday, Ernst & Hahn each stepped up with three-under 67s to make the cut. Hahn notched up birdies on holes 2, 5, and 9, gave a shot back with a bogey on 10, but finished on a high note with a birdie 4 on the 549-yard 18th hole, a hard dogleg-left with bunkers guarding both sides of the corner. Ernst went out in 1-under, with birdies on 5 and 9 against one bogey, on the par-3 seventh hole. A bogey on the par-4 twelfth hole set him back, and he was looking at a finish below the cut line, but he fought back with a birdie on the par-3 seventeenth hole. Still needing two strokes to make the cut, the former UNLV Rebel standout cut the corner of the hard-left dogleg on the 18th with a 324-yard drive that ended up just at the far edge of the fairway in the right rough. With 235 yards to the green, Ernst nailed his approach to 6-1⁄2 feet from the back-right pin, then rolled in the putt for an eagle three to finish right on the cut line.
The PGA Tour’s shortened 2013 season makes it imperative that new players like Hahn and Ernst make cuts – and money – early in the season in order to secure their playing privileges. With the former Fall Series events, including the Frys.com Open, set to take point on the 2013-2014 season, the golden, post-FedEx Cup opportunities to rack up earnings while the Tour’s top players are relaxing into their off season are a thing of the past. Making the cut at the first full-field event of the season is an important step for Derek Ernst and James Hahn.