CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (Dec. 19, 2018) – For the first time in three starts at the Dixie Amateur, Carey Bina isn’t Ubering (or hoofing it) around town. The Villanova, Pa., native is driving his own car and taking up temporary residence in South Florida. Through 36 holes, he’s taking up residence atop the Dixie leaderboard, too.
Bina, 23, just moved to Florida last week so that he could continue to work on his game through the winter months. Once things settle down after the holidays, he imagines he might work for Uber or perhaps a restaurant to leave his days open and his schedule flexible to continue competing. And with good reason, if his Dixie performance is any indication.
Bina went bogey-free for his 6-under 66 in the opening round at Heron Bay to take an early lead. As the field moved over to Eagle Trace Golf Club on Wednesday, scores went up across the board. Bina’s did too, but an even-par 72 still left him on top at 6 under.
“The course is more narrow,” Bina said of Eagle Trace. “The whole front nine, there’s water on the left. The back nine, water on the right. The front nine, I got a little tentative on some of the holes. That’s where a couple of my dropped shots came in.”
Bina entered the Dixie Amateur in 2015 and in 2017, but struggled to find success because he struggled on the greens. Recognizing that, Bina took care to work on his speed in preparation for this tournament and on Wednesday at Eagle Trace, thought hard about where he wanted to place his ball on his approach shots. He made an 8-footer for par on the opening hole of the tournament that set the tone in terms of both confidence and touch.
The shot of the tournament so far, though, came at the par-5 10th on Wednesday, where Bina hit a 3-wood to within a foot from 265 yards out to set up an eagle. It’s a large reason he still has a two-shot cushion in the event. Jonathan Keppler of Marietta, Ga., is on his tail after rounds of 68-72 put him at 4 under, and two more players – Jonathon Cachon of Sunrise, Fla., and Jamie Wilson of Mount Pleasant, S.C. — are tied for third at 3 under.
Bina’s story of entering the Dixie in the first place fits very well into the narrative that has driven his golf career to this point. Its themes include hard work, doing it his own way and figuring things out as he goes along.
The move to Florida was one built on the realization that Bina needed to find more playing opportunities in the winter season. The Dixie start is built on a desire to improve his ranking.
“I knew everyone around me who I would be playing against is (competing in the winter), and I love competing but I knew that I need to be in that space more than I was,” Bina said thoughtfully. “It’s easy to get lost in all the schoolwork, and the responsibilities I have acquired outside of golf.”
Bina graduated from Elon University last year, where he served as president of the school’s club golf team. The team, like many universities, competes on the National College Club Golf Association circuit, which follows a model of two regional tournaments and a national championship each semester.
“As much as my younger self wanted to play on a collegiate team, I was still able to get certain aspects of the team environment that I wanted and desired,” Bina said. “I thought that I learned things I probably wouldn’t have learned if I were playing on a school’s collegiate team.”
Bina had started his college career at Wake Forest in the fall of 2013 – though he didn’t play on the varsity team there, either – but left the school after three semesters. After taking a semester off in the spring of 2015 – a break during which he pursued golf on his own terms – Bina continued with his studies in a method that fit his interests. His degree is in math with a minor in Spanish.
“I didn’t get the degree that I got to get a certain job or follow a specific career path,” he said. “When I got to school, I knew I wanted to get deeper into the world of mathematics, I wanted to continue with the language I was learning and I wanted to play music.”
Make no bones about it, Bina’s goal is to find his way to the PGA Tour, and he “will play as long as it takes to reach those goals in golf.” The closest taste he has gotten so far came in the summer of 2017, when he advanced through U.S. Open local qualifying.
It was Bina’s sixth try at U.S. Open qualifying, and despite a rough finishing stretch, he advanced to the 36-hole sectional qualifier at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J. After the morning round, Bina was in the top 10.
“It became, at that point, a very tangible reality that as much as I said, ‘I know I can play in the U.S. Open, I feel I have the capacity to win the U.S. Open,’ it became tangible at that point,” Bina said. “It didn’t feel like it was a round of golf, it felt like I knew I had a certain number of holes and I knew what was required, how many birdies were required of me.”
Bina ultimately fell short, but the knowledge gained was invaluable. Combine it with a single-minded work ethic, and it explains why Bina is on top this week.