Junkkari ready for best season as a senior
Fresh co-medalists at the Ivy Intercollegiate at New Jersey’s famed Baltusrol Golf Club, Krista Junkari is enjoying a strong start to her senior campaign with the Carolina women’s golf team. The Finn native is currently second in school history in career scoring average and is leading a revival of the Tar Heel program under the sophomore head coach Aimee Neff.
Junkkari’s golf journey began in Elimäki, Finland, when she first picked up a club at the age of nine. She accompanied her brother to his godparents’ course and developed her first love for the game. She was having so much fun that she hit balls until her hands hurt from blisters.
Junkkari met her first swing teacher, Tommi Henttu, when she was 10 and has been working with him ever since. She started playing in junior tournaments and achieved many local successes before making the Finnish national team at just 16 years old.
“I got a lot better and had to travel, go to camps and tournaments,” said Junkkari, who is leading the Tar Heels this season with a 70.38 batting average per round through three starts.
During her time at Elimäki High School and with the Finnish national team, Junkkari made it her goal to play college in the United States.
“I wanted to have more opportunities to compete in international tournaments,” she says. “At that time I hadn’t played much outside of Finland, so I wanted to give myself a chance to go to school.”
Carolina showed interest in Junkkari after placing ninth at the 2018 Amateur Open Championship. When she attended UNC, Junkkari immediately thought of where she would attend 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 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 7-under 65 in the first round and 5-under 67 in the second round. Strong ball-stroke performance resulted in numerous birdie opportunities, which Junkkari took advantage of en route to a 12-under par and second place.
In August of that year, Junkkari represented Finland at the World Amateur Team Championship near Paris, where she competed with her Miami teammates Katri Bakker and Anna Backman. “It was a great experience. Not only was it my first time going and I was able to compete at the highest possible level as an amateur outside of college golf, but I also teamed up with two of my really good friends.”
In three starts this season, Junkkari placed first at the Ivy Intercollegiate and placed fifth at the Texas A&M “Mo” Morial.
After graduating in Psychology and Sport Science in May 2023, Junkkari has her goal to play professional golf.
“The dream is to play on the LPGA Tour.”
Junkkari is encouraged to watch Finnish golfer and LPGA Tour winner Matilda Castren (State of Florida) succeed in professional golf.
“Matilda was a step ahead of me and was in the same places as me. She congratulated me on my second place last season.”
As for goals for the rest of her senior season, Junkkari says she “really wants to get to the NCAA championships as a team and have a chance to compete at that level.”
As an individual, she recently achieved one of her goals, winning her first college title, and also wants to earn All-ACC and All-America honors.
“KJ is open to growth, wants to learn and works really hard,” says Neff. “It’s a deadly combination for a player. She’s been a consistent leader and sets an example with her actions. It’s a comfort to know she knows how to compete and always fights. I never have to worry make her give up. She always fights to the end.”
Describing Junkkari’s game, Neff explains why she has so much faith in Junkkari.
“She’s a very consistent ball forward who can get low scores. She’s continued to improve with her wedges and short game. KJ is a very stable player and if she makes a few putts she’ll stay low for as long as she is in play from the tee, she can use short irons and wedges in greens.You can make a living if you are very consistent in what you do and have a desire to get better and work at it.