Virginia Elena Carta (Tim Cowie photo)
At the forefront of the college game is the concept of being a student-athlete. It can be hard to tap the full college experience when so much time goes into athletics. Virginia Elena Carta
is a case study in figuring that out.
If Carta’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s the Duke senior who won the NCAA individual title back in 2016 as a freshman. A made cut at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic and a runner-up finish at the U.S. Women’s Amateur followed that summer. Carta, an Italian who had successfully played all over Europe before arriving in Durham, N.C., had established herself as one of best upcoming amateurs in the game in just a year.
It would be a long journey back to that point.
Success stalled for Carta once her sophomore year began. She spent much of the next two years injured – tendinitis in her elbow followed by a weight-lifting injury to her chest, neck and shoulder – or ill. Antibiotics used to treat repeated bouts of tonsillitis wiped her out. Eventually, she underwent surgery to remove her tonsils.
“I was never really able to get in the practice that I needed,” Carta said in looking back on her sophomore and junior seasons. She admits that in that two-year span, she never truly felt 100 percent.
In many ways, the Duke community got Carta through the tough times. Far from wallow in a situation that often toned down her ability to golf, Carta found an outlet.
“After winning nationals, people asked if I would turn pro that summer,” Carta said. “I always wanted to finish (school). I took advantage of what Duke can offer you.”
Carta has grown in unimaginable ways. Down time with illness and injury resulted in an unusual idea for a student-athlete at a rigorous school like Duke. Surrounded by so many caring trainers and medical professionals, Carta’s every need was tended to. At some point, she realized that it may not be that easy for everyone who needs medical help.
That’s an admirable bit of awareness for a college athlete, but it led to the creation of Carta’s own charitable effort, called Birdies for Babies. It’s a fundraising program that benefits the Duke Children’s Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Units. Donors pledge money for each birdie made by a Duke golfer. The men’s team joined the women’s team’s efforts this fall.
Last spring, Duke’s women raised more than $10,000. Carta reports that the fall total stands at just over $6,000, but that she hopes to reach $20,000 by the end of the year.
“It’s a way for me to give back to the community, but I think part of it comes from all my injuries and understanding…what (others) were going through,” said Carta, who reports that the program basically runs itself now that she has it set up.
Setting the charity in motion helped Carta keep moving forward despite her own physical setbacks. Just as she gave back to the greater Duke community, good deeds and kind words came her way, too. Ultimately, it took friends and a bigger calling to dig her out of a low spot in a game she’d known since she was 8 years old.
“I have no idea how I was able to get out, but I definitely didn’t get out from it by myself,” Carta said. “I had all my friends around me, they really pushed me.”
Part of that was bittersweet. Carta tied for individual medalist honors with freshman teammate Gina Kim at the Landfall Tradition on Oct. 28, winning an individual title for the first since the NCAA Championship her freshman year. A dear friend wasn’t there to see it.
Carta and former Iowa State player Celia Barquin Arozamena
became close friends traveling the European golf circuit. Carta had beaten Barquin Arozamena in the final match of the 2014 French Ladies International, one of Europe’s most prestigious events. After that, as Carta struggled with her game, Barquin Arozamena, a lively Spaniard, often posed this question: Why did you beat me if you’re playing like this?
She had a point, and Carta knows her friend genuinely wanted to see her win. Barquin Arozamena was tragically murdered in September.
“It really gives you perspective,” Carta said of Barquin Arozamena’s death. “It really pushed me to work even harder to show her, even if she was not there to see it, that I could win again. I’m sure in some way she saw it.”
Carta could have graduated from Duke in December, but she reserved a few classes for the spring so that she can see her college team through to the finish. Duke won twice to end the fall, and as other teams lose top players to the LPGA at the halfway point of the season, looks strong for the spring.
“I think this fall especially we really worked on getting close as a team and comfortable,” she said. “We have never been as close in the years before. That is really working in our favor.”
Very likely, that’s the Carta factor.
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TRULY, COAST TO COAST
: USC won the East Lake Cup in Atlanta for the second consecutive year, but while the Trojans’ first team was competing in the Golf Channel-televised mini match-play event, a team of USC individuals were playing across the country at the UC Irvine Invitational.
It’s an interesting coaching move that allowed for all 10 of USC’s players to see action at the end of the fall season. Even though USC played five players at the event, they didn’t enter as a team.
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CARDS ON CARDS ON CARDS
: In case you missed it, eight amateurs finished inside the top 45 and ties Saturday after eight rounds of LPGA Q-Series player at Pinehurst Nos. 6 and 7. That’s an unusually high number a year after the LPGA made changes to its qualifying format.
In the aftermath of the Q-Series, a few teams might look a little different come the spring season (click here for the run-down of who got a card, who is deferring and who is leaving
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TWEET OF THE WEEK
U.S. Amateur champion Viktor Hovland remains the match-play buzz saw.
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PRACTICE BACK-DROP OF THE WEEK
Arizona State University unveiled its new golf practice facility Nov. 1 at Papago Golf Course in Tempe, Ariz. The Thunderbirds Golf Complex spans 7,000 square feet and includes a team gym and locker rooms for both men's and women's teams, a fueling station, study lounge, team lounge and indoor hitting bays, among other things. And yes, the scenery really looks like that.