Gina Kim caddied for her Duke teammate Virginia Elena Carta (Duke Athletics photo)
By Rick Woelfel
GALLAWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Virginia Elena Carta aspires to a career in professional golf. Her credentials are impeccable.
The recent Duke graduate closed her collegiate career by helping the Blue Devils win the NCAA championship. As a freshman in 2016, she captured the NCAA individual title before reaching the finals of the U.S. Women's Amateur that summer.
Carta is one of just 20 players who, over the course of their college career, won an NCAA individual title and also helped their school win a team championship. She was also a WGCA All American this past year and a four-time All-ACC selection.
Carta has a full summer of golf on her calendar. She's teeing it up this week at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway Township, N.J., after receiving a sponsor exemption. She opened with a 2-under 69 on Friday with Duke teammate Gina Kim on her bag.
"I think it's nice to just have the vibe of a professional event such as the ShopRite," Carta said. "Just being around the professional players and just practicing with them on the putting green or on the driving range and just seeing a lot of ex-college friends that now turned pro. It's just a lot of fun."
The ShopRite LPGA Classic is serving as a kickoff to what will be a busy summer for Carta. In mid-July, she'll compete in the Marathon LPGA Classic in Sylvania, Ohio on a sponsor exemption, before moving on to the U.S. Women's Amateur and the first stage of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament. She'll also compete for the Italian national team, which she's been a part of since 2010.
But at summer's end, the 22-year-old Carta, who hails from Udine, Italy, will shift her focus away from the golf course and enroll at the University of Cambridge, in England, where she'll spend 10 months earning a master's degree in environmental policy with a focus on sustainable development and small-scale farming (her undergraduate degree is in environmental sciences and policy).
In a sense, Carta will be traversing familiar ground and reconnecting to a family tradition.
"I've had a passion for environmental science since I was a kid," she said.
My granddad was not a farmer, but he had a big garden and I used to spend a lot of time with him, whether that was in the vegetable garden or in the orchard. I've always had this passion and I wanted to pursue it a little bit longer."
Over the course of her career at Duke, Carta learned to balance the demands of a rigorous academic schedule with the challenges of being a Division I student-athlete.
"It was a lot of nights of not much sleep," she said with a chuckle. "Going to sleep at three, my freshman year at four, five, six, any hour of the day or the night.
"I just wanted to do both and wanted to do both well and that's what kept me going until the very end."
Carta stressed the importance of having another career option if her golf ambitions go unfulfilled.
"It's one of the most important things I think, to have a second option," she said. "Going to Cambridge is such a great opportunity and probably nobody would say 'No' to that. It's not something that happens every time. I just think it's going to put me in a position long-term, when I'm not going to play golf anymore, to just just fall back on one of my passions, which is environmental sciences."