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UMN golfer making her mark in sport, journalism

A Division I golfer and senior in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, Emma Carpenter went to high school in DeKalb, Illinois, where, before her, a girl’s golf team did not exist.
Coming to the University, she stood out on the golf team as an aggressive player after having played on a boy’s golf team in high school. Photo courtesy of Emma Carpenter.

Emma Carpenter plays with a different style. She always has.

Calling Carpenter a “pioneer” in a town whose name is synonymous with seed corn might not seem in good taste, but, in 2015, she became just that by trying out for and making the boys’ golf team as a freshman at DeKalb High School in Illinois. Not only was she the only girl on the team, but by her second season, she was playing in the leadoff position for their competitions. 

Her ambition and accomplishments as an athlete would eventually become the catalyst for change in DeKalb as they have since founded a girl’s golf team.

As Carpenter segued into college golf, she quickly discovered she was not done being unconventional. It turns out her unusual background playing on a men’s team left a lasting impression on her game.

Standing out with an aggressive approach and finding joy

Unbeknownst to her, the length of holes is not the only difference between men’s and women’s golf — the entire approach to the sport is different. Men’s golf is a more aggressive style of play, whereas women’s is more about accuracy. 

Carpenter has played on the University’s women’s golf team since 2019. Next year will be her fifth and final year on the team. Photo taken by Brad Rempel.

Carpenter’s coaches at the University of Minnesota immediately noted this unusual element in her game, and this aggressive style is a key component to how she led all of women’s college golf in eagles in fall 2021. (An eagle is a score of 2-under par on a given hole).

Reflecting on her success, she said people assume because she grew up next to a golf course, Carpenter must have grown up playing the game. However, that part of her life did not begin until the age of 12 when, one day, her dad pulled her out of the pool at the country club and entered her into a youth golf competition, which she won.

“My dad really, really wanted it for me and he gave me, I would say, the push in the best way that you can,” Carpenter said. “He always says, ‘kids need a little push.’” 

Three years later, Carpenter was being recruited by Division I colleges. This meteoric rise in the golf world is a microcosm of what she has done her whole life, which somehow all began with singing.

For 10 years, Carpenter was classically trained as a singer and has sung the national anthem for every major sport except football. She said her passion for singing remains a source of inspiration and happiness for her, but this was not always the case.

For a while, she gave it up. In fact, she gave everything up except golf when she first got to college. Carpenter said she “wanted to see how good she could get,” but what she found out was sacrificing all the other things that make her happy did not make her a better athlete.

“As an athlete, while your sport kind of is your whole world, you also can’t let it take hold of your identity. At the end of the day, you’re not going to be happy, you’re not going to be fulfilled, and you can’t have your self-worth tied to results,” Carpenter said. “The advice that I would have for all athletes would be to … find something else that gives you joy. Fulfillment makes you feel like you’re more than just your sport.”

Carpenter said there are a lot of similarities between singing and golf. She described both as being very vulnerable acts because, like being on stage, you cannot hide behind your team if you are having an off day. Once you begin, you have to finish, and everyone will see the result. 

She has a love-hate relationship with the pressure of performance, but joy tends to outweigh frustration. Carpenter’s love for performing also set the stage for her pursuit of broadcast journalism as a career, which she has approached the same way as her other passions, with fervor.

Combining passions into a potential career

Carpenter has been characteristically busy while attending the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

She has worked with Gopher Digital Productions, including sideline reporting, play-by-play, color commentary and camera work behind the scenes. Last summer she conducted interviews during the Celebrity Compass Challenge at the 3M Open and put out content with pro golfer Jason Day, which included promotional videos for 3M.

Carpenter is not sure what her post-graduation plans will entail, but she has thought of becoming a broadcast journalist covering sports. Photo taken by Kelly Hagenson.

Additionally, she has acted in a local advertisement and does a lot of work on social media as well.

Recently, Golf Pride Grips launched an advertising campaign celebrating women’s golf, and Carpenter was asked to interview ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.

“They just found me on social media, and it was an honor that they wanted me to be a part of it,” Carpenter said. “So, I sat down and chatted with him, told him what I was studying and told him I want to be a broadcast journalist in sports.”

That’s when Bilas got to talking about his new podcast called Five Clubs, which is hosted by Golf Channel’s Gary Williams. As it turns out, they had been talking about getting more into the female game and bringing on female voices. They had also considered covering college golf, so he asked if she would be interested in hosting her own segment. She instantly agreed.

“I was aware that I had no experience to offer compared to Gary Williams, who has been on TV for X-amount of years talking about golf,” Carpenter said. “I had done practically nothing, so I just sold them on my abilities to connect with people and all the relationships I’ve made in the world of golf. I felt like that was something I could offer, and I had a lot of people in mind that I could bring on the podcast.” 

Carpenter’s first guest on the show was top college golfer, now turned PGA Golfer, Cole Hammer.

Her growth in the field has been exponential, she said. Being able to put out some content and prove herself professionally led to more and different opportunities, which is why she is not sure what she will choose after graduation in spring 2024. 

For the immediate future, Carpenter will return to play a fifth year for the University’s golf program because the COVID-19 pandemic gave her an extra year of eligibility. Until then, she said she plans to make the most out of every opportunity she gets.

“I really haven’t said no to anything,” Carpenter said. “I’m tired a lot, but I don’t say no. And I don’t regret it.”

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