Illini’s Campbell looking to carry previous success into 2014-15

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Illini’s Campbell looking to carry previous success into 2014-15

Brian Campbell is ranked the No. 3 golfer in the country.

Brian Campbell is ranked the No. 3 golfer in the country.

Brian Campbell is ranked the No. 3 golfer in the country.

Brian Campbell is ranked the No. 3 golfer in the country.

By Lauren Mroz

Led by senior Brian Campbell, the Illinois men’s golf team moved to the No. 1 spot of Golfweek’s rankings after a dominant win over 15 teams at the Wolf Run Invitational held on Sept. 20-21.

Following his first place performance, Campbell also jumped from 28th to third in the individual rankings.

“It’s cool to see that,” Campbell said, “But really, rankings don’t mean anything because (we still) have to bring it every week.

“After we’re done with one tournament, it doesn’t matter the next week because we keep playing. I’m proud of all of that, but we know those are just numbers and that we have to keep playing hard and keep a positive attitude.”

With Campbell entering his final season at Illinois, head coach Mike Small has high hopes for the senior’s transition from a collegiate career into what Small hopes will be a professional one.

“Overall, he can be as good as he wants to be,” Small said, “But Brian will be the first one to tell you that we don’t put expectations on things.

“I don’t have any expectations for Brian except that he brings it every day and brings his confidence and work ethic every day. If he does that, he can win a lot of big, major events and have a chance to play professional golf someday.”

Campbell played soccer and baseball until high school and didn’t get too involved with his competitive golf career until his freshman year at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. After realizing his greater potential in golf, he dropped the other sports to focus on golf.

Campbell is quick to admit he did not come into college expecting to reach his current success level. Since his freshman year, he has lowered his yearly stroke average by three strokes and is on track to lower it even more this season.

He credits his former teammates with preparing him for competitive play, both at the college and professional level.

“From the guys around me who have been there, like guys who have graduated and gone on to play pro, I’ve learned a lot and have continued to get better and (learn) about game management on the course,” Campbell said.

He also credited Small with having a major impact in his career.

“I came into my freshman year not really playing too great and not knowing anything about the game of golf, and he just gave me the tools and the knowledge to help me develop my game and understand what my game is,” Campbell said.

Last season, Campbell added various accolades and school records to his resume, including being named a PING second-team All-American, PING All-Midwest Region, Big Ten Player of the Year and a unanimous selection onto the All-Big Ten First Team. He also shot a season stroke average of 71.08, which placed him ahead of former school record holder, Luke Guthrie, who is currently on the PGA Tour.

Last October, Campbell finished the 54-hole Macdonald Cup 13-under-par, breaking the school record and placing the second-best 54-hole score in Big Ten history.

Overall, Campbell had seven top-10 finishes and 10 top-25 finishes during his junior season, while finishing 16 rounds under par and six rounds at par.

Campbell said he doesn’t plan to change his approach during his final season. This summer, he was one stroke away from qualifying for the U.S. Open, which he believes has instilled a level of confidence in his ability to compete with professionals in addition to giving him experience.

In his first tournament this season, Campbell tied for eighth at the Olympia Fields Country Club Fighting Illini Classic. After his win at the Wolf Run Invitational last week, he was named Big Ten Co-Golfer of the Week. It was Campbell’s third Golfer of the Week honor.

“I obviously see that, and I’m proud of myself,” he said. “But I try not to let myself get too involved in it.

“I’m just thankful for the opportunity that I’ve been given. I know that I’ve got to keep playing and keep focused (and) bring it day after day and week in and week out.”

Lauren can be reached at lmroz2@dailyillini.com and on Twitter @MrozLauren.