Carter Graf and the North Carolina State Wolfpack have been scorching hot over the past month.
The Sylvan Lake product, who represented Red Deer Golf and Country Club for most of his junior career, has been a big contributor to one of the top teams in NCAA Div. I men’s golf this season.
NC State is currently ranked eighth in the U.S. They set a school record with four straight tournament wins over the past month and set another school record with a team score of 51-under-par at their last event.
The central Albertan is thrilled with the season so far. Now Graf and the Wolfpack will have a real chance to win at the Atlantic Coast Conference championships this weekend.
“It really comes down to not treating it any different, sticking to our process and controlling the controllables,” said the 20-year-old in a phone interview from North Carolina.
“We’re all really excited for it and we know we have an opportunity to go win the ACC championship and that would be a huge step in the right direction for this team.”
Individually, the local sophomore has started to really make an impact in the second half of the year. His low round this season is a 68 and he’s par or better in 10 of the 15 rounds he’s played.
His best finish was 13th at a two-day event at the beginning of March, where he felt like his play turned a corner. Before that point, he was still trying to find his way into the starting five players at each tournament.
“First few events of the season I didn’t qualify for and I didn’t get the chance to play. I felt like I was trending in the right direction and never really pieced it together. I got a chance to play as an individual in Pinehurst and really just started playing well after that,” he said.
“I finished 13th there and have been racking up constant top 20s, playing in the lineup for the last four events, really meshing with the team and we’re all playing really good golf at the same time, so it’s really exciting.”
That recent success has come with a change in mindset for the young golfer. Graf said he’s trying to appreciate the experience a little more and enjoy the ride that comes with playing the game at such a high level.
“Golf-wise, it’s been a lot of hard work to really find what works for me. A lot of trial and error. College golf is just a lot different than junior golf back home. It’s a lot different, it just demands a lot more. I’ve had to really search within myself to find what works best,” he said.
“Starting to realize that golf isn’t all that comes with life and really trying to take pressure off myself and really enjoy it. Taking that to heart and really appreciate my time on the golf course.”
NC State men's golf has catapulted to No. 8 in the national rankings after winning four consecutive tournaments to end the regular season, the most at the program since 1995.
The secret sauce behind the Pack's success in 2021? Two words: "Do us." ⬇️
— The Wolfpacker (@TheWolfpacker) April 18, 2021
Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic, this season has been anything but ordinary. Graf said it was difficult missing out on play last spring and this fall, so it was tough this year to get in the competitive zone right off the hop.
“It was definitely weird. I hadn’t played in a college event in a long time, leading up to this spring because last spring was cancelled and the fall was cancelled. Haven’t got too many competitive reps,” he said.
“I was eager to get going. I’ve really just started to find my stride and figure out what works well for me as a person and a golfer. Really just embrace it all. Embrace the opportunity that we have.”
Graf said he hardly spends any time on campus and really only socializes with the rest of the golf team, in order to keep their contacts low.
“Coming down here, especially as a student-athlete, with some of the consequences that can happen if you were to test positive and the whole team gets shut down, you gotta stay really diligent,” he said.
“It’s been a lot of social distancing, staying within your bubble, which has been tough obviously because you want to enjoy your time at college. At the end of the day, we’re kinda here to accomplish something greater than going to school. We’re trying to win a national championship.”
Graf and his teammates will get their chance to pursue that title starting Friday against some of the best teams in the Eastern United States at the ACC Championships in Atlanta, Georgia. The tournament starts with 54-holes of stroke play, followed by the top four schools advancing to match play.
“It’ll be fun to play that format. Hopefully, get a chance to get into the match play and then anything can happen from there,” Graf said.
“I’m looking forward to it.”