Bob Asmussen: Campbell's on par with elite golfers
The names are part of the growing Illinois golf legacy: Steve Stricker, James Lepp, Scott Langley, Luke Guthrie and Thomas Pieters.
Now Brian Campbell is one of them. He is the latest of seven Illini to be named Big Ten Player of the Year. (Stricker won it twice).
“It’s an awesome honor, and I feel great about it,” Campbell said.
Before the announcement, Campbell hadn’t bothered to clear any space in his trophy case.
“I was surprised,” Campbell said. “It was a close race.”
He shouldn’t have been surprised. Not for an instant.
This wasn’t a case of “We like Illinois golf, give it another trophy.” Campbell earned the prize by winning one tournament and finishing in the top 10 in five events. His 54-hole score in winning the Macdonald Cup was the second best in Big Ten history. He was 13 under par. His current stroke average ranks 45th nationally.
Campbell would happily trade his latest prize for the one that goes to the Big Ten team champion. The Illini fell just short at French Lick, Ind., finishing second to Minnesota and ending a five-year title streak.
How did Campbell celebrate his big honor? By playing more golf, of course.
On Monday, he was in Springfield, playing in a U.S. Open qualifier. He shot 69, good enough to advance to sectionals.
“I was a little nervous in the end,” Campbell said. “I played really well and had a lot of birdie looks out there. I could have gone lower.”
Ahhh, golf talk. Like a fisherman, they always lament about the round that got away.
There are two more team goals remaining for Campbell and his Illini buddies. The first starts today in the NCAA regional at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove.
There are 14 teams playing, with the top five earning national berths.
Illinois is the No. 2 seed and is expected to advance to the NCAA Championships, scheduled for May 23-28 at Hutchinson, Kan.
“We obviously know how it’s done,” Campbell said.
Coach Mike Small prepared them well for the regional, taking his team to the course for a practice round.
“It’s a beast of a course, but it’s a lot of fun,” Campbell said.”That was Coach being smart. He figured there was a good chance we were going to go there for regionals.”
The goal is to win it all. That’s one of the reasons Campbell made the decision to play golf at Illinois. The Irvine, Calif., native could have stayed closer to home.
But he wanted something different. He found it in Champaign-Urbana. Not the first one to get lured in by the place.
“I like it out here,” Campbell said. “I don’t hate cold weather. I’m used to it.”
Normally, Campbell would have his own rooting section at the NCAA regional. But his mom and dad can’t make it this time. For good reason. His brother, Derek, is finishing his Cal baseball career. This is also graduation weekend at Berkeley, so the folks will have to follow the golf on the computer.
Cal is one of the golf teams Campbell will try to beat. His brother is on his side.
“No way he’s rooting for them,” Campbell said. “I’ll get mad at him if he does.”
The Campbell brothers are hoping for pro sports careers. Derek is expected to get drafted in baseball. And Brian plans to try one of the golf tours. With a PGA career the ultimate goal. Watching former teammate Guthrie succeed as a pro gives him hope.
“I practiced every day with him, and you just realize they are normal guys, and you can do that, too,” Campbell said. “He works the hardest out of anyone I ever knew. He’s got that mind-set that you need if you’re going to play well on Tour. I really developed my own game through him. He’s just an all-around great player and a great guy.”
Bob Asmussen writes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.