How Raleigh golfer Carter Jenkins came to make unexpected U.S. Open debut at Pinehurst

Standing on the ninth tee, Carter Jenkins tried to point out to Jim Herman the very few safe landing spots on the par-3’s devilish green, sketching imaginary contours in the air with his hands. It was Herman’s first time on Pinehurst No. 2. Jenkins, who grew up in Raleigh and played at North Carolina, knows it well.

“You’d like to think a little bit of home-course knowledge can serve you well,” Jenkins said after playing nine holes Monday morning. “You know the flat areas to hit it to. The 8th green really only gives you one spot to hit the green. So I was just helping Jim out with that, because he’d never played here before and I’d played it a dozen or so times. Just making conversation, helping him out, happy to offer any input I could.”

But playing in his first U.S. Open — his first major — this close to home was never on Jenkins’ radar the way it has been for some of the other local pros at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club this week. The 28-year-old played well at the UNC Health Championship at Raleigh Country Club two weeks ago, and since he was in town already, figured he’d try to qualify for the Open at Duke last Monday — only to emerge from a seven-player playoff after two extra holes.

“I told a couple of guys I didn’t really care whether I made it or not, to be honest with you,” Jenkins said. “I was just out there playing. It’s one of those things. It just happened to work out. I never really gave it any thought about, ‘Ooh, I’d like to make this one because it’s in Pinehurst. I just honestly didn’t think about it.”

So he unexpectedly found himself walking the front nine of No. 2 like he’s never seen it before, with giant grandstands and ropes and thousands of fans who came early Monday to see Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas and stuck around to ramble through the pine straw on a perfect June day.

US Open at Pinehurst features six Triangle players as region becomes pro golf hotbed

For Jenkins, 67th on the Korn Ferry Tour points list, it’s like a free lottery ticket. House money. A chance to play against the best, among the best, on the biggest stage in golf, within an hour of home and family and old friends and friends he didn’t know he had. If he has a little extra local knowledge, what can it hurt?

“It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” Jenkins said. “It’s kind of hard to beat a setting like this.”

Still, it’s not exactly the circumstances under which he would have liked to participate. He’s still wrangling with the overwhelming emotion and grief left by the tragic death of his close friend Grayson Murray, and while the little time that has passed since the ceremony honoring his life at the UNC Health Championship makes it a little less raw, a little less acute, that pain will never go away.

Jenkins missed Murray’s funeral to play in the Open qualifier at Duke, probably the truest tribute to a golfing life, but he also would have envisioned playing nine holes here, today, with Murray, who had already earned a spot in the Open on his world golf ranking.

“It’s tough to think about the fact that it would have been cool to see him out here this week, to maybe pick his brain and talk to him a little bit and just see how he was going to approach it,” Jenkins said. “It would have been fun to get a practice round or two in together.”

The USGA waited until the very last minute to give Murray’s spot away, awarding it to former Masters champion Adam Scott on Monday, extending Scott’s streak of playing in every major since 2001. But Murray will still be remembered here by the players who knew him — Akshay Bhatia got a tattoo in Murray’s honor before last week’s Canadian Open — and especially by Jenkins, who felt his presence with him on Monday. And will all week.

“Grayson’s still with me,” Jenkins said. “He’ll always be with me. He’ll always be with everyone he’s touched. I guarantee you, even if he’s not here physically, he is here in spirit.”

Korn Ferry Tour’s UNC Health Championship honors Grayson Murray with honorary tee time

Never miss a Luke DeCock column. Sign up at to have them delivered directly to your email inbox as soon as they post.

Luke DeCock’s Latest: Never miss a column on the Canes, ACC or other Triangle sports