Gray Col­le­giate’s Cas­tle is great, and get­ting bet­ter

The State (Sunday) - - Sports - BY BOB SPEAR

PGA pro­fes­sional Tom Ma­son owns Par Tee Golf Cen­ter in West Columbia and watches play­ers of all skill lev­els ham­mer balls on the prac­tice range. He gen­er­ally takes a glance and moves on, tend­ing to the du­ties that make the op­er­a­tion run smoothly.

One golfer, how­ever, al­ways com­mands his at­ten­tion. He lingers, takes in the po­etry-in­mo­tion swing, and shakes his head in ad­mi­ra­tion.

“Jensen Cas­tle,” he says. “She’s out­stand­ing now, and she’s go­ing to be a great player.”

Univer­sity of Ken­tucky coach Golda Borst agrees, sign­ing Cas­tle to a grantin-aid 10 days ago. She called the top-ranked player in the UK class “a strong player who will bring a great deal of tough­ness to our team . . . . I know she will have some spe­cial things in store” for the Wild­cats.

Cas­tle, a se­nior at Gray Col­le­giate Academy, owns cre­den­tials to sup­port those as­sess­ments. She has won a string of state tour­na­ments and has qual­i­fied for the big na­tional events for ju­niors — the U.S. Ju­nior Girls, the PGA Ju­nior Girls and the Big I. In ad­di­tion, she has made the field for the U.S. Women’s Ama­teur Four­ball, cur­rently ranks sec­ond in the South Carolina Ju­nior rank­ings and is 19th in Golfweek’s Class of 2019 poll.

“I’m ex­cited,” Jensen said in look­ing to­ward the next step in her golf ca­reer. “I want to play pro­fes­sional golf one day, but I re­al­ize that’s very far away and for now I want to give Ken­tucky my all.”

Her jour­ney in golf be­gan at age 2, and her com­pet­i­tive na­ture kicked in a few years later. “I wanted to get bet­ter,” she said.

To that end, she re­ceived sup­port from fam­ily and “ev­ery one who helped me,” she said. She played bas­ket­ball, soc­cer and dance be­fore golf took cen­ter stage.

“I prac­tice ev­ery day and try to im­prove in ev­ery­thing,” Jensen said. “Re­cently, my short game is so much bet­ter, and I know how im­por­tant that is.”

Earn­ing berths in the na­tional tour­na­ments con­vinced Cas­tle that she could play and suc­ceed be­yond state and re­gional lev­els.

“Meet­ing girls at the PGA Ju­nior Girls and the U.S. Ju­nior Girls and play­ing on the big stage was re­ally neat,” she said. “Mak­ing the cut and play­ing well in the PGA Ju­nior Girls this sum­mer meant a lot and then I did well (tie for sixth) in the Big I and had a top 10 in an AJGA tour­na­ment.”

That’s with­out men­tion­ing win­ning her sec­ond state high school ti­tle, adding this year’s cham­pi­onship for Gray Col­le­giate to the crown she won com­pet­ing for White Knoll. Be­fore col­lege, she takes aim at her fi­nal year in the ju­nior ranks and the U.S. Women’s Ama­teur.

“The com­pe­ti­tion gets bet­ter with each step and I’m su­per com­pet­i­tive,” Jensen said. “You have to re­ally want to play well and work at the game. Some games you can fake, but you can’t fake golf. It’s a hard game and re­quires hard work all the time to keep im­prov­ing.”

Her for­mula — work hard ev­ery day and keep im­prov­ing — has pro­duce div­i­dends. And this, the pro Tom Ma­son pre­dicted, is just the start.

Chip shots. Clem­son’s Bryson Nim­mer added an­other chap­ter to his siz­zling fall, plac­ing third in the Sun Bowl Marathon All-amer­i­can Clas­sic in El Paso, Tex. The se­nior from Bluffton earned two in­di­vid­ual ti­tles and one run­ner-up fin­ish in five previous stroke-play events. Team­mate Turk Pet­tit fin­ished 18 th . . . . Nim­mer is one of 16 play­ers in­vited to par­tic­i­pate in a De­cem­ber prac­tice ses­sion for the 2019 U.S. Walker Cup team . . . . Adam Hunt (Columbia, boys’ 13-14), Kar­lee Var­das (Lexington, girls’ 13-18) and Daniel Aza­l­lion (Hil­ton Head Is­land, boys’ 15-18) won ti­tles in the SCJGA’S Play­ers Cham­pi­onship in Hartsville . . . . In the fall sign­ing pe­riod, USC’S women’s team added three play­ers: Smith Knaf­fle (Mur­rells In­let), Pauline Roussin-bouchard (Car­queiranne, France) and Mathilde Claisse (Poissy, France) . . . . Clem­son’s men added Dray­ton Ste­wart (Charleston) and Carter Pend­ley (Dal­ton, Ga.).

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