Gary Carpenter attributes his recent string of golf tournament victories to his strong dislike of the alternative -- losing.
"I hate to lose," he said last Wednesday between sips on a soft drink in the clubhouse at Crofton Country Club, where he is the three-time defending junior titlist. "I can't stand losing. That's what gets me up and out of bed every morning: the chance to go out and win."
No doubt the 17-year-old Arundel High School senior was up with greenskeepers this morning getting some swings in before the opening round of the Maxfli PGA Junior National Championships that begin today -- Hurricane Andrew permitting -- and run through Friday at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Carpenter, who will represent the mid-Atlantic region at junior nationals, earned a berth in the prestigious event by winning a qualifier last month at Kenwood County Club in Potomac. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Crofton resident believes he is playing some of the most consistent golf in his young career.
"My goal every tournament is to go out and shoot even par," said Carpenter. "If I get a couple of extra birdies and break par, great. If not, I just try to keep it right around even par. I think that even par at any tournament can win it."
Such was the case back in June when Carpenter won the Big I Insurance qualifier at Argyle Country Club in Olney with a 1-under-par 70.
Nor was he far from even when he shot a 1-over-par 72 and won the Pro Junior Tournament Aug. 1 at the University of Maryland. The following week, Carpenter got "a couple extra birdies" and put together rounds of 75-69-73-217 at Bowie Country Club and won the 70th annual Junior Open championship of the Washington Metropolitan Golf Association.
"I've had the confidence there all year. It's just been a matter of putting everything together for a couple of days straight," said Carpenter. "I've really worked on my short game this year, and that's really improved my scores."
Bill Sporre, the club professional at Crofton CC, has been working with Carpenter for four years and believes his polished short game and "course management" skills are what have helped him jump to the top of the leader boards.
"He's not just hopping along, he's improving by leaps and bounds," Sporre said. "He has wonderful skills and he's a very, very strong competitor. When he goes into a tournament, he's not thinking, 'I'll settle for second or third.' He's going out there to win, and anything short of that isn't good enough."
Carpenter, the defending MPSSAA county and region champion, fell short in his bid for low medalist honors at the last state tournament, but his ordinary rounds of 78 and 74 at the University of Maryland course were low enough to lead the Arundel golf team to its first 4A state title.
After blaming his putter for his mundane performance last year at states, Carpenter has spent long hours on and around the practice greens to insure that he doesn't have to use that excuse in his senior campaign.
"When I was younger I was a good putter," said Carpenter, last year's Anne Arundel County Sun Golfer of the Year. "Then, I started to work on my long game a lot and the putting started to lack. Now, this year, I've come back to working on my putting and chipping and it's helped a lot.
"Even though my long game hasn't been as good as I want it to be, the scores have still been there because of the short game."
Carpenter admits that the absence of his short temper also has helped him shave a few strokes from his score card.
"I was an extreme hothead my freshman and sophomore years," Carpenter conceded. "I started listening to the people who told me, 'Your scores will get a lot better if you calm down and forget about it.'
"In golf, you're going to hit some bad ones and you're going to hit some good ones, so you have to keep yourself on an even keel. You can't get too high or too low."
Carpenter's resilience was ever-present when he embarked on the ESPN-sponsored Junior Tour last spring. His third-place finish at Woodlands CC in Houston, coupled with an early season second at Marco Island, Fla., and an 18th-place finish in ++ Phoenix, Ariz., qualified him as one of the tour's top 25 players and earned him a spot on the ESPN High School All-American Team.
He was put to the test again last month at the three-day American Junior Golfers Association PING Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. His rounds of 75, 74 and 76 at the par-72 Burning Ridge Golf Club earned him ninth place and qualified him to play in the Rolex Classic.
"I try to play in a lot of national tournaments because if you do anything in them, college coaches get the word," said Carpenter, who already has drawn the attention of Virginia Commonwealth University, Western Kentucky and the University of Charleston (W.Va.). "I just want to play well and make a good showing at nationals. If I can do that, I'll be happy.
"But," he added with a grin, "I'd love to go down and win it."