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Fresh off co-medalist honors at the Ivy Intercollegiate at famed Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, Krista Junkkari is enjoying a strong start to her senior campaign with the Carolina women’s golf team. Currently second in school history in career scoring average, the Finnish native is leading a resurgence of the Tar Heel program under second-year head coach Aimee Neff.

Junkkari’s golf journey started in Elimäki, Finland, when she first picked up a club at nine years old. She tagged along with her brother to the course with his godparents and developed her first love for the game. She was having so much fun she hit balls until her hands ached with blisters.

At 10, Junkkari connected with her first swing instructor, Tommi Henttu, and has worked with him ever since. She began playing in junior tournaments and achieved plenty of local success then made the Finnish National Team at just 16.

“I started getting a lot better and got to travel, go to camps and tournaments,” says Junkkari, who leads the Tar Heels through three starts this season with a stroke average of 70.38 per round.

During her time at Elimäki High School and with the Finnish National Team, Junkkari made it a goal to play collegiately in the United States.

“I wanted more opportunities to play international tournaments,” she says. “At that time, I hadn’t played much outside of Finland yet so I wanted to give myself a chance to get into a school.”

Carolina began to show interest in Junkkari following a ninth-place finish at the 2018 Amateur Open Championship. When she visited UNC, Junkkari’s mind was immediately set on where she would be attending school. “I knew this was my place. I come from a small town in Finland and Chapel Hill felt like home.”

Junkkari set Carolina’s school single-season scoring average record (73.00) last year, a junior season highlighted by a record-breaking performance at the Cougar Classic in Charleston. Junkkari set UNC’s 18- and 36-hole scoring records with a 7-under 65 in the first round and a 5-under 67 in the second. A strong ball-striking performance led to numerous birdie opportunities that Junkkari capitalized on en route to a 12-under-par and second-place finish.

In August of this year, Junkkari represented Finland at the World Amateur Team Championship near Paris where she competed with teammates Katri Bakker and Miami’s Anna Backman. “It was an awesome experience. Not only did I go for the first time and get to compete at the highest possible level amateur-wise outside of college golf, but I also got to team up with two of my really good friends.”

In three starts this season, Junkkari has tied for first at the Ivy Intercollegiate and recorded a fifth-place finish at the Texas A&M “Mo”Morial.

Following graduation in May 2023 with degrees in psychology and exercise science, Junkkari has her sights on playing professional golf.

“The dream is to play on the LPGA Tour.”

Junkkari has been encouraged watching Finnish golfer and LPGA Tour winner Matilda Castren (Florida State) have success in professional golf.

“Matilda has been one step ahead of me and been in the same spots as me. She congratulated me after my second-place finish last season.”

As for the goals for the remainder of her senior season, Junkkari says she “really wants to make the NCAA Championships as a team and get the chance to compete on that level.”

Individually, she recently accomplished one of her goals of winning her first collegiate title and would also like to earn All-ACC and All-America honors.

“KJ is open to growth, wants to learn and works really hard,” says Neff. “This is a lethal combination for a player. She has been a consistent leader and lets her actions lead by example. It is a comfort knowing that she knows how to compete and always fights. I never have to be concerned about her giving up. She always fights to the finish.”

When describing Junkkari’s game, Neff shares why she has so much confidence in Junkkari.

“She is a very consistent ball striker who can shoot low scores. She has continued to improve with her wedges and her short game. KJ is a very steady player and if she makes some putts, she is going to go low because as long as she is in play off the tee, she can take advantage of having short irons and wedges into greens. You can make a living if you are very consistent at what you do and have the desire to get better and work at it.”

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