RALEIGH — Carter Jenkins stood on the practice range Tuesday at TPC Wakefield Plantation, smashing drive after drive into the distance.
Nearby, his caddie kept a close eye on things. A week ago, Grayson Murray was the one hitting balls on a range – at Merion Golf Club, before the U.S. Open.
That Murray will be toting the bag for Jenkins this week in the Rex Hospital Open is a testament to their friendship. They once were golf teammates at Leesville Road High in Raleigh and will be united again next year on the college level at UNC Greensboro.
When Murray made the 36-hole cut three years ago in the Web.com Tour event at Wakefield, at 16, Jenkins was in the gallery urging him on. Now, Murray can repay the favor in his own way.
“I had such a fun experience last week,” Murray said of the Open, even thought he missed the cut. “He asked me if I’d caddie for him and I said, ‘Why not, this will be a cool experience for both of us.’ ”
In 2010, Murray became the second-youngest player to survive a cut in a Web.com event. Having won the Rex Hospital Open Junior Invitational to earn a spot in the field, he then had rounds of 73 and 66.
A year later, Jenkins was the junior winner. Only 15, he came to Wakefield for the 2011 tournament all braces and wide eyes and generally feeling out of place, and promptly shot 76-80 to miss the cut by a wide margin.
But Jenkins, who will be a freshman at UNCG next year, appears a lot more comfortable with his surroundings now. The braces and glasses are gone. His game is more mature. He also had a 63 in the junior invitational – from Wakefield’s back tees.
“I kind of know what to expect now, having been there, practicing and playing with the pros,” Jenkins said. “I feel like I’ll be a lot better prepared, just having had two more years of experience under my belt.
“Two years ago, I had no idea what to expect. It feels a lot different this year. I feel a lot more calm and collected and not quite so intimidated by everybody, I guess.”
Murray appeared anything but intimidated in the 2010 Rex. Then one of the nation’s top-rated juniors, he was committed to playing college golf at Wake Forest, where he would be on the prestigious Arnold Palmer scholarship.
Things didn’t work out for him at Wake. Murray transferred to East Carolina but that didn’t work out, either, so it was on to UNCG, where he will sit out next year as a transfer.
“For me, it has been a roller-coaster ride,” Murray said. “I’m excited about getting to play with Carter again (at UNCG), seeing how he has progressed as a player. We push each other a whole lot. We play with each other a lot.
“His game has elevated a lot. He has the length. He might be among the top-five longest hitters out here. He just stripes it. I’ll stay out of his way.”
Murray, 19, made it through local and sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open. Merion proved to be a little too much for him, like nearly everyone in the field, but he put in a practice round with Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley and was able to meet Tiger Woods and eventual U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.
“As a 19-year-old, you can’t expect but so much, playing in your first U.S. Open,” Murray said.
This week, Murray will carry the bag, clean clubs, offer a few words of advice. Jenkins has the golf to play – and a wedding to make.
Jenkins’ older sister, Emily, will be married Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Carter is one of the groomsmen, but should he make the cut in the Rex and have an afternoon tee time Saturday, it could be problematic.
Jenkins’ father, Bobby, caddied for him two years ago but has a lot of other duties this year. Murray has that covered. And Emily, 24, who will marry Christopher Limer, wants her brother to play all four rounds regardless of the tee times.
“He really wants this and I want this for him,” Emily said.