Alberta’s Carter Graf takes aim at qualifying for U.S. Open

‘I’m excited to live out the dream, to try to chase pro golf and try to chase being on the PGA Tour’

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Pinehurst isn’t that far away. From Carter Graf’s residence in Raleigh, where he recently graduated from North Carolina State University, it’s only a one-hour drive — “or maybe just a little more” — to the famed No. 2 Course.

After the Alberta-raised birdie-seeker advanced to the final stage of U.S. Open qualifying, a trip to Pinehurst doesn’t seem so far-fetched either.

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Graf will tee it up Monday for a 36-hole entrance exam, shooting for the opportunity to join Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and the rest of their superstar pals at the next major on the schedule.

“After I made it through local qualifying, you know that if you can make it through sectionals, you’ll have a chance to play in the U.S. Open and that’s a place you kind of let your mind go,” Graf said. “And I think it’s OK to let your mind go there when you’re kind of thinking of the prospect of that happening.

“But during the tournament, you try to block that stuff out as much as you can. You’re just trying to take it one shot at a time and trying to treat it like any other tournament or any other round of golf, even though it’s obviously not quite the same.

“The goal is to put myself in a position to qualify with nine holes left and just kind of see where I can go from there. But I really just want to relish the opportunity and try to see what you’ve got in that moment of pressure.”

U.S. Open qualifying can produce some incredible stories, allowing a relative unknown to book a tee-time at one of the biggest events of the season. More than 10,000 divot-digging dreamers signed up this year for a shot at it.

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Graf started this quest with a smooth 68 at Duke University Golf Club in Durham, N.C. By a stroke of good fortune, his sectional qualifier is at the same course, but this time the 23-year-old from Sylvan Lake will need to emerge from a field that is headlined by past U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and several of the rising stars on the Korn Ferry Tour.

“I’ve heard it before and it’s true — ‘pressure is a privilege,’ ” said Graf, a member at Red Deer Golf & Country Club. “You’re trying to put yourself in these pressure situations. That’s what you practise for and that’s really where you see where you need to get better and where you need to improve. I love being in those situations where you have nine holes left and you have a chance to win a golf tournament or you have a chance to qualify. Those are the times that you really see what you’re made of.

“I think that’s how you have to look at it. You have to look at it as an opportunity to do something good instead of an opportunity to fail.”

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Graf just graduated with a major in finance and minor in psychology, but this former Alberta Junior Championship winner is ramping up for a run at his dream job — a career in the birdie-making business.

If he doesn’t earn an invite to the 2024 U.S. Open, which is set for June 13-16, he’ll instead be headed that week to PGA Tour Americas Q-School on Vancouver Island. He will attend Korn Ferry Tour Q-School in the fall.

“I’m feeling good. I’ve been doing a lot of good work,” said Graf, who had a pair of Top-3 finishes in his final collegiate season with the NC State Wolfpack and recently combined with his brother Logan to win the Alberta Best Ball Championship. “I think I’m learning more and more about my game every day and learning how to practise more efficiently and really go about things the right way. You know, you can practise for hours on end but if you’re not doing it the right way, then you’re not really getting anywhere. I think that’s the big piece and it’s really starting to show slowly in my game. I’m just trying to get better every day, but it’s definitely rounding the corner.

“I’m excited to live out the dream, to try to chase pro golf and try to chase being on the PGA Tour.”

Monday, for Graf and so many others, has dream-come-true potential.

“I love Pinehurst,” he said. “Especially now that I’ve been here at school, we’ve been there a lot. I’ve played three or four tournaments on No. 2, actually. So I know the layout of the golf course. Obviously, I don’t know what it’s like in U.S. Open conditions, but Pinehurst is a place that I love to go and it would be unreal to have an opportunity to play the U.S. Open there.”

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