BILLINGS — Yes, Carrie Carpenter is great at golf, loves to play the game and especially enjoys her summer job at Pryor Creek Golf Club.
But if you really want to inject some energy into the conversation, get Carpenter to talk about mechanical engineering, aerospace and low-orbit satellites. She’ll drop topics like computer-assisted translation and radiation protection jackets and high density polyethylene so fast it’ll have your head spinning.
“I’m a big numbers gal,” Carpenter, entering her senior year at Billings West, said with a smile that never seems to leave her face. “I like math.”
Carpenter’s interest in math and engineering has taken her name to new heights. Along with schoolmates Cole Kitzenberg and Erica White, the trio was invited last spring to the Johnson Space Center to present their project as part of a NASA program that encourages high school students to develop useful modifications on real products and equipment. In turn, the students were able to sign experiment lockers that now reside in the International Space Station.
“So my name is in space, which is pretty cool,” Carpenter said, smiling again.
What Carpenter does on the golf course is pretty cool, as well.
Carpenter has been an all-state selection each of her three seasons by finishing in the top 15 at the Class AA state tournament. She was 14th at state as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore.
Last year seemed to be her year. She started quickly, winning or having the lowest score in her first five events (she lost a scorecard playoff in one of them), and carried her strong play into the state tournament where she led by four strokes after the first round at Butte Country Club.
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Things didn’t go so well the second day. Her game wasn’t as sharp, and Bozeman’s Annika Danenhauer took advantage to win the state title by one stroke.
Carpenter was on the driving range the next day.
“I mean, I was happy for Annika,” said Carpenter, who has spent her last two summers getting up at 4 a.m. to help cut cups and roll greens, among other tasks, at Pryor Creek. “She had taken second two years in a row. So, you just have to congratulate her and be happy for her and say, well, I have another year.
“That’s the nice thing about golf, you can always get better. There’s not usually a plateau. There’s always a place, whether it be in putting, chipping, ball-striking, there’s always somewhere that you can get better.”
Both Carpenter — the winner of the Montana State Junior Championship earlier this summer — and West coach Marcus Drange feel last year’s state experience helped her mental game. And both feel she’s equipped to handle expectations, internal and external, now that Danenhauer has graduated, leaving Carpenter as the top returning state placer in AA.
“It doesn’t really matter what I’ve done in the past, if somebody else shoots a better score than I do, that’s how you win it,” Carpenter said. “For me, it’s just going out and playing my game. If that happens to be the lowest one out there, I’ll be happy with it. If it’s not, I’ll learn from it.”
“She is never, ever satisfied,” said Drange, who is entering his fourth season as the West coach. “She’s going to go kick some butt. I have a good feeling about that.”
And if Carpenter, who had yet to pick a college destination, does cap her final season with a state championship, there’s a good chance she’ll be on the driving range the next day, launching golf balls into space.