As he looks forward to watching Jordan Spieth aim for his third consecutive major championship this week at St. Andrews, North Carolina golfer Carter Jenkins gets to enjoy his own piece of history.
Jenkins took his third consecutive Carolinas Golf Amateur Championship at the Farm Course at the Greensboro Country Club Sunday, firing a course-record tying eight-under-par 64 to win by three strokes. With the win, Jenkins became the second player ever to win three consecutive Carolinas Amateur titles, joining Fred Laxton, who accomplished the feat from 1921 to 1923.
“It’s a pretty sweet feeling. It took awhile to settle in – I had to get home and get away from the golf course, the tournament and everything,” Jenkins said. “It’s pretty sweet just to think about the fact that I’m one of two guys to ever accomplish that in Carolinas Golf history.”
Playing against the best amateur players in the states of North and South Carolina, Jenkins, 19, separated himself in the middle of Sunday’s final round after starting the day two shots back. Between holes seven and 13, the Raleigh native carded six birdies to not only tie the lead, but establish control after making the turn.
When he makes eight or nine birdies in a round, he’s obviously making putts he didn’t make a couple of months ago.
UNC head coach Andrew Sapp
Jenkins, a rising junior at UNC, finished with a four-day total of 20-under-par.
“I played well on the front side, but I felt like I played better than three-under well,” the graduate of Leesville Road High School said. “I made the turn and saw that there were about five or six of us tied at 15-under, and basically said to myself ‘Who is going to take it now?’ That was when I caught fire and started making a couple of putts and got some separation from the rest of the field.”
Putting pays off
The victory was Jenkins’ eighth career CGA win and came three weeks after he came from behind to win the North Carolina Amateur Golf Championship at the Country Club of Landfall’s Jack Nicklaus Course. The last several months have been busy for Jenkins – who transferred to UNC after spending three semesters at UNC Greensboro.
According to his coach, recent work on his short game allowed Jenkins to light up another North Carolina golf course over the weekend.
“This spring his ball-striking was very good, he just wasn’t making the putts,” UNC head coach Andrew Sapp said. “He wasn’t playing poorly, he just wasn’t making as many putts. He worked really hard on that the early part of the summer to get his short game better, to get his putting better, and it’s really starting to pay off.
When he makes eight or nine birdies in a round, he’s obviously making putts he didn’t make a couple of months ago.”
Jenkins explained that he switched to a new Titleist putter two months ago and slightly changed his grip after struggling on the greens in the spring. Known as a sound ball-striker, he has also focused on improving his wedge play around the greens as he prepares to enter qualifying next week for the U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields Country Club just outside Chicago, which will begin in mid-August.
Jenkins will attempt to qualify for the event next Monday at Benvenue Country Club in Rocky Mount.
“As long as I can keep knocking the wedges close and making a few putts, I’m feeling very good about my game,” he said.
UNC golf progress
Jenkins will play in two other prestigious amateur events this summer – the Porter Cup July 29-August 1 in Niagara Falls and the Western Amateur Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in another Chicago suburb, Sugar Grove. He will be joined in the Western Amateur by teammate Ben Griffin, who earned honorable mention All-America honors as a freshman last season after posting a 71.06 stroke average, and incoming freshman Joshua Martin from Pinehurst.
The inclusion of three Tar Heels in the event won in the 1990s by Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods shows the growth of UNC’s program as Sapp enters his fifth season at the helm.
“We climbed about 70 spots in the rankings from the end of 2014 to the end of 2015,” Sapp said. “We look forward to the future. We’ve got a really good freshman class coming in, including the best player in the state (in Martin), and we return four of our starting five from last year. We’re starting to see that momentum (as a program).”
Although Jenkins has helped UNC’s recent resurgence, he originally took his talents to UNC-Greensboro, where he earned Southern Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2013-14 and competed last fall.
But after winning the Carolinas Golf Amateur in 2013 at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort – which hosted the 2012 PGA Championship won by Keegan Bradley – and defending his title last year in the 100th edition of the event in Greenville, S.C., the 6-foot-4 junior decided to make a change given the success he experienced early in his college career.
“As I went through my sophomore year, I felt that UNC was going to give me a better opportunity to play professional golf after school, which has been my dream since I was 14,” Jenkins said. “I knew the program was trending in the right direction with Ben (Griffin) and William (Register) coming in this year and Henry (Do) playing well.”
Because of the timing of Jenkins’ release from UNC-Greensboro, he did not have to sit out, entering spring competition right away for the Tar Heels and quickly earning a spot in the team’s five-man lineup.
His knowledge of the top amateur players in this part of the country did not hurt either, Sapp noted, explaining that Jenkins already knew many of his future teammates and coaches before he even arrived on campus.
“It was one of those transfer situations that was going to be very comfortable from the get-go,” Sapp said.
Now part of a program that finished the season ranked in the top 20 nationally, Jenkins has his eye on more individual success throughout the rest of the summer, but also continued improvement with his teammates next year.
“I just want to continue on the path that I’m on, take each tournament as it comes, hopefully get a couple of wins and have the team do really well, make it to nationals and win a national championship,” Jenkins said. “That’s always our goal.”