It was an ‘oh wow’ moment on the first weekend of qualifying for Carter Graf.
He remembers the six-round event well, battling his teammates on the NC State Wolfpack just for an opportunity to compete in his first-ever NCAA Division I golf event.
“It’s extremely competitive. When I first got there we had six-round qualifier for the first event and the first guy on our team was like 18-under after six rounds and it kinda just opened your eyes,” said Graf, who’s now back home in Sylvan Lake for the summer.
“You have to be able to play for sure. That’s a cool part of it, too. You play with those guys every single day you have to shoot four or five-under to be anyone. It’s a cool atmosphere to be apart of.”
It was intimidating at first for the young golfer, who was a standout at the provincial level and had some success nationally, only to find himself in a whole different conversation after arriving in Raleigh, North Carolina.
He eased into the new world and eventually played in three events for the Wolfpack, which is one of the top 50 NCAA Division I golf programs in the U.S. He said one the cool parts is they basically get treated like professional athletes, with access to world-class training facilities, as well as trainers and coaches to help keep you in top shape.
“It’s a lot different. The biggest thing is it’s not so much individual. You’re playing for four other guys, which adds quite a bit of pressure, you’re playing for your school. It’s added pressure,” Graf said.
“And you start to realize and understand that at the NCAA Division I level, the top 50 teams– there are some really good players out there. You get your eyes opened about what level you need to be at in order to get top 5 or 10. It was a good learning experience and fun to be a part of.”
Graf said from sorting out his class schedule to the intense competition on the course, everything was next-level about his freshman year. His low round on the year was a 69 at the Mea Lanakila Individual and his season average was 72.56.
“I think I definitely got better a little bit physically, just some of my skills. The biggest thing comes from realizing parts of my game need work to compete at that level,” he said.
“The mental skills as well. Like a lot of junior golfers are, I was a little bit feisty and I’d get pissed off with one bogey and it would ruin me. It took a lot of time for that and we really worked on that. Really worked with my coach on the mental side. The whole year was a learning process.”
Even so, it didn’t end exactly the way they had hoped.
Graf was on spring break when the news that the NCAA Championships were cancelled and the Wolfpack were set to compete in regionals as well.
“It was just really hard. I was on spring break with a teammate and it was pretty devastating. We had a strong team, a lot of talent. We were just never able to piece together a full tournament where we all played well,” he said.
“We were just kinda waiting on it. Sitting tight and being patient. Our ranking wasn’t bad but we were just waiting for our time to come. The season ending like that kinda sucks.”
Watching the season get cut short and embracing the experience as a whole, the freshman said he can’t wait to go back for his sophomore season.
Still, it will be a long summer for the Central Alberta product as most of Alberta Golf events are cancelled for the time being, but there’s plenty of mental skills to work on and little things to sharpen up to make sure he’s at his best when he goes back to school in August.
“it’s going to be tough not playing many events, if any. The biggest thing is continue working on my strength and skills,” he said.
“Just keep on working on my mental with our sports psych guys… just trying to develop my mental skills so when I go back in the fall, I’m a little bit more of a confident player and know where my head’s at a little more and really ready to go once tournament season rolls around.”