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Wednesday October 5th

UNC junior golfer Krista Junkkari delivers record-shattering day at Cougar Classic

Krista Junkkari holds her second-place trophy at the Cougar Classic on Sept. 14, 2021. Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.
Buy Photos Krista Junkkari holds her second-place trophy at the Cougar Classic on Sept. 14, 2021. Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications.

UNC junior Krista Junkkari’s approach to golf is simple: stay in the moment and take things one day at a time. 

In fact, she had been so in the moment at the Cougar Classic golf tournament on Sept. 13 and 14 and didn’t realize until afterwards that she had broken and tied several school records. 

The season-opening tournament was hosted by the College of Charleston at Yeamans Hall Club in Charleston, S.C. It was the North Carolina women's golf team's first tournament under head coach Aimee Neff.

The tournament consisted of 54 holes, played over two days — golfers played 36 holes the first day and 18 the next. 

Junkkari came into the tournament familiar with the course. She had played the course as a first year in 2019, where she had scored a collegiate-low round of 70.

“I had a really good feeling about it,” Junkkari said. “I knew there were big fairways, which is a good thing for me. I knew I had all the elements that I needed to play well, I just needed them all to click.”

And click, they did. 

The first day, Junkkari set a school record with a 7-under-par 65 on the first 18 holes, then shot a 67 that afternoon. Junkkari’s 65 is one shot better than the previous school record, which was shot by seven different players. Her 132 is the lowest 36-hole total in UNC history.

Before Junkkari, no Tar Heel had ever shot 67 or lower in two rounds of the same tournament.

UNC tied for fifth place at three under, but had the best finish of the four ACC teams competing. 

Junior Kayla Smith, who set a personal record with a final-round 67, said that because Junkkari had played the course before, teammates were able to look to her for guidance. 

“She was kind of the one that was was guiding all of us and like, what shots to hit and where to play to,” Smith said. “We relied on her a little bit for advice, and luckily we were able to have a pretty good tournament.”

Neff, who became the team’s head coach in June, has taken an individualized approach this season, which involves meeting with each player before the round and talking about their strategy.

“(Junkkari) was really disciplined in an approach on shots into the green, knowing where to be on the green," Neff said. "Those greens at Yeamans Hall are very undulating, so there's just certain pins you can go at and other pins that you could not.”

Playing 36 holes in one day is tiring, and Junkkari had to find ways to fight off fatigue. 

“I have to say that people who arranged the tournament did a really good job of providing with snacks and drinks," Junkkari said. "And I just took advantage of those opportunities and took care that I was fueled until the last holes."

After the tournament, Junkkari said her coaches and teammates were excited for her. 

“It felt really warm to me,” she said. “I didn't even know that I did such a great thing and it still kind of feels surreal."

Neff — who said Junkkari was like a professional in the way that she trains and conducts herself — was proud of her, but said her record-breaking performance was not something out of the ordinary. 

“This wasn't some secret sauce thing,” Neff said. “It was just the fact that she's done this for thousands of days, and so her game kind of came together, which is encouraging to see as an athlete when you perform at that level and you do what you know you're capable of. It wouldn't surprise me if she does that again.”

With a strong first tournament under her belt this season, Junkkari is focusing on what she can control in each moment.

"Just one shot, one tournament at a time," she said. "And whatever’s to come is to come, and just stay in the moment. It seems to work.”


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