GALLOWAY, NEW JERSEY | Maria Fassi and Jennifer Kupcho emerged from the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the NCAA Championship as the future faces of women’s golf as well as glowing examples of the value – in terms of growth as both a person and a player – of four years of college. But when it comes to combining golf and academics, Virginia Elena Carta wins, 1 up.
The Italian star by way of Duke University is deferring a pro golf career to pursue a master’s degree in environmental sciences at the University of Cambridge in England. The résumé of this engaging and articulate young woman makes Bryson DeChambeau look like an academic underachiever.
And did we mention she was the NCAA individual champion her freshman year and tied a bow around her college career with Duke’s NCAA team title last month? Hold onto your hats, you’re about to be blown away by an impressive fresh face in the game.
“It’s just been two weeks, but I’m still smiling about it,” Carta said at the ShopRite LPGA Classic, where she is competing as an amateur this week on a sponsor exemption, about Duke winning the team title. “It was a fantastic week and I’m very happy that Gina Kim is going to be on my bag.”
Yup, that’s right. Carta’s caddie this week is Gina Kim, a freshman on the Duke national championship team who finished T12 in the U.S. Women’s Open last week and was the darling of the news coverage the first two days. Smart move, although Carta admits to anxious moments as Kim soared up the leaderboard at the Country Club of Charleston.
“I was pretty sure she was going to be a little tired. In fact, she’s still in the room sleeping,” Carta said shortly before noon on Thursday, the day before competition began at the 54-hole ShopRite tournament. “I was just waiting for the last day (of the U.S. Women’s Open) and just seeing whether Gina was still agreeing to come (to New Jersey). But hats off because that (week for her) was very cool.”
This young woman, who opened the ShopRite tournament with a 69 on Friday, seems to get the big picture on everything.
“I played the pro-am with Chris Lane, the chairman of ShopRite, and some of the directors and vice presidents, and it was just a lot of fun,” she said. “We really enjoyed our time.”
Carta may not be a pro but she sure has the savvy of one.
She has a hectic few months ahead. Carta will play in the LPGA’s Marathon Classic in July on a sponsor exemption then go back to Italy for a week. That’s followed by the European Ladies’ Amateur, then back to America for the U.S. Women’s Amateur before going off to California for the first stage of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament.
Carta wanted to pursue education and golf, in that order. Of 29 college offers, Duke seemed to have the best combination of quality golf and a stellar education.
That brings her to October. “I’m going to keep my amateur status in the meantime, and then I’m going to turn pro next summer, as soon as I’m done with Cambridge,” she said.
Carta wanted to pursue education and golf, in that order. She knew that to become better at golf she’d have to leave Italy and come to the United States. Of 29 college offers, Duke seemed to have the best combination of quality golf and a stellar education. So off she went to study environmental sciences and policy.
“At Cambridge I’m getting a (master’s) in environmental policy, mostly focused on sustainable development and small-scale farming,” she said. “So that’s kind of my passion, understanding how to have really local community development starting from agriculture itself.”
Any questions, class?
Carta was a Rhodes Scholar finalist, which would have taken her to Oxford, the main rival of Cambridge. That already has her thinking. “I’m going to be playing for the team at Cambridge,” she said. “It’s going to definitely be different there than NCAAs, but still, competitive golf with our match against Oxford, which I’m very excited about.”
I wouldn’t want to be the Oxford student who draws Carta in that match. She is one determined customer. After winning the NCAA individual title as a freshman, when her golf was derailed by injuries and illnesses, she turned that stumbling block into a stepping stone.
“I was injured and sick for a long time and that’s why I focused (on academics) a lot,” she said. “I then created the charity for the children’s hospital.”
I beg your pardon? You created a charity?
Yup, she started a fundraising effort for the neonatal and pediatric intensive-care units at Duke Children’s Hospital, creating Birdies for Babies.
Wait, there’s more. During her pro-am round at the ShopRite, a kid approached her and she stopped to give him a Duke-logoed ball.
“I feel like when I play, I never really play for myself,” she said. “I love to play for the game and for the growth of the game. So just seeing young kids around, that’s just the best part of playing golf in my opinion.”
I sure hope world peace is on her agenda. You get the feeling that Carta would get that done, too.
“Knowing that I have a master’s degree in my pocket, I think it’s just going to give me much more freedom and peace of mind for my game,” she said, wisely.
If she’s looking for a nickname when she turns pro, try this: Magna Carta. It means Great Charter and refers to the document of human rights created by King John of England in 1215. But she probably already knew that.
Virginia Elena Carta is competing this weekend as an amateur in the ShopRite LPGA Classic. Photo: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images
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