Asmussen: Campbell follows dream

Asmussen: Campbell follows dream

On the first day of his summer vacation, Brian Campbell shot a 68 at the U.S. Open.

Turns out that was the former Illinois golfer’s last round as an amateur. The recent graduate told The News-Gazette on Wednesday that he is turning pro. His first event will be the Tour’s Nova Scotia Open next week in Halifax. The tournament will be televised on Golf Channel.

“I’ve made the decision in the last couple of days,” Campbell said. “I think it’s the right move for me. I’m ready to get started.”

Campbell finished tied for 27th at the Open at Chambers Bay. He was 5 over, the same score as major winners Justin Rose and Keegan Bradley.

“It was an incredible experience,” Campbell said.      

“Going into the week, I really didn’t try to have any expectations,” Campbell added. “I knew my game was in a good place. I fell into a groove during the week and was able to shoot some good scores.”

At one point during Friday’s second round, Campbell tied for the lead. Quick, somebody get a picture.

“I definitely looked at it,” Campbell said. “I walked right by it after I made that birdie. That was a special moment. I think we have a few pictures of it.”

Winning the U.S. Open is at the top of the list for Campbell and most other golfers.

“Winning the Masters is also something I would love to do,” Campbell said.

Had he been a pro going into the tournament, Campbell would have made $64,126. Oh, well.

“I missed out on a good chunk of money, but at the same time I gained really good experience,” Campbell said. “It’s fun to see how much I could have made. I’m looking forward to the future to get back there and do it again.”

After he finished in the top 30, Campbell had a stream of congratulatory calls and texts. He even heard from former Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell.

Playing for pay has always been in Campbell’s plans. Besides the Nova Scotia event, he has an invitation to play in the PGA’s John Deere Classic July 9-12 at Silvis. Campbell is trying to land more invitations for the remainder of the season.

There will be plenty of familiar faces for Campbell in pro golf. Former Illini Steve Stricker, D.A. Points, Luke Guthrie, Scott Langley and Joe Affrunti are tour regulars.

“It’s good to see that guys before me have done it, and it’s not an impossible feat,” Campbell said. “I know guys who are right now making it on tour. I just tell myself, ‘If they can do it, why can’t I?’ ”

Campbell’s performance at the Open adds to his confidence. It was his second time in the tournament, just missing the cut in 2013.

This time, he qualified for all four rounds.

“It was really, really cool,” Campbell said. “The coolest part about it was just how much the crowd got involved in everything. To hear them cheering your name is pretty special. It’s definitely more exciting when you’re playing better and you’re in contention.”

Campbell heard complaints about the course. But none are coming from him.

“I loved it,” Campbell said. “The visuals on the course were spectacular. I really enjoyed playing it. It was very tough, firm and fast. It played like a British Open almost.

“There was a lot of talk about the greens, but I didn’t think they were that bad. Sure, a couple of them were a little grungy, but you’ve got to go with it. I don’t really care to think about what the greens are like. I just go play my game.”

That’s an attitude he developed at Illinois, where Mike Small pushes his players to be ready for the worst.

“That’s 100 percent true,” Campbell said. “We’ve played in some of the toughest conditions. Cold weather, hot weather, windy weather, rainy weather. I’ve seen it all. It just makes you a tougher player mentally and physically.”

Small was hoping Campbell would play in the upcoming Walker Cup, a team competition that pits the U.S. amateurs against Great Britain. Because he is a pro, Campbell won’t be eligible.

“It would have been a great honor to play for the team, but it’s the right time for me to turn pro,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s home base will remain in California until he sets the rest of his schedule. He plans to visit Champaign-Urbana.

He admits to being a bit nervous about turning pro.

“But at the same time, I’m really excited,” Campbell said. “It’s the next chapter in my life.”

Campbell said he expects the Illinois program to “continue being a powerhouse.”

“What Coach has done with the program is just great,” Campbell said.

 Small watched the Open and rooted for Campbell, Points and Nick Hardy, who all made the cut.

“It’s what we train for,” Small said. “It’s what we practice for. It’s why we do what we do, so they can play in events like that and test themselves against the best.”

While Campbell turns pro, Small continues with his own playing career. He is entered in the PGA Professional National Championship next week in Philadelphia. It is a tournament he has won three times and finished second in twice.

Bob Asmussen is in his 26th year on The News-Gazette sports staff. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at