PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. – John Crooks has coached a lot of teams in his 20-plus years leading the Campbell women’s golf program.
His squads have made 15 NCAA regional appearances, captured 11 conference titles and won 65 tournaments. But Campbell’s performance at the 2012 Golfweek Program Challenge garnered high praise from the hall-of-fame coach.
“That may have been the best performance I’ve ever seen from one of my ladies teams,” Crooks said Sept. 11 after his Camels shot a school-record 8-over 860 to win by 40 shots in their opening tournament of the fall season.
The win not only moved Crooks into a tie for fourth place on the NCAA Division I women’s golf victory list, but also helped Campbell secure its second consecutive Program Challenge crown, an award that goes to the school with the lowest men’s and women’s combined total at the event. The Campbell men finished eighth on the men’s leaderboard at 14-over 878. At last year’s inaugural Golfweek Program Challenge, Campbell’s title came down to a sudden-death playoff.
“This just happened to be one of those weeks that it clicked for Campbell,” Crooks said of the women. “Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that we’d win by 40, but I’ll take it.”
It was an impressive all-around effort from the Campbell women, which placed all five golfers in the top 8, had no player shoot worse than 4-over 75 in three rounds and boasted the individual medalist.
On the men’s side, Central Arkansas won the title with a 2-under 862. The Bears narrowly edged Jacksonville State, which finished the 54-hole event at even par. The team had trailed by four shots entering the final round, but rallied on Tuesday with a 4-under 284 at True Blue Golf Club.
“After Round 1, to say it was frustrating is an understatement,” head coach Ryke Dismuke said. “We didn’t take advantage of the golf course at all. We just hung around and didn’t let it get to us too much. That what allowed us to do what we did today.”
Central Arkansas’ charge was led by senior Austin Moix, who finished second individually, two shots behind James Madison’s Trey Smith. Moix shot a final-round 4-under 68 that included three back-nine birdies.
Campbell’s Brooke Bellomy, who was fourth on the team in stroke average (76.89) and didn’t finish better than T-4 last season as a freshman, started her sophomore campaign with her first collegiate victory. She carded a school-record 2-under 211, one shot better than Alejandra Shaw’s previous mark, in 2007.
“It feels great,” said Bellomy, who trailed Troy’s Sofia Bjorkman and Central Arkansas’ Julia Roth by one shot heading into Tuesday’s final round at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club.
“This morning, I was down by one shot and coach and I talked about taking it one shot at a time, don’t force anything and if something goes wrong, try to save bogey if possible and turn it around with a birdie.”
Bellomy offset two bogeys with five birdies en route to a final-round 3-under 68 – a career best that she equaled in the first round, when she made four birdies. She closed the tournament with a birdie on the par-4 18th hole, hitting a 9-iron over the green and then chipping in from the rough to draw huge applause from the crowd, which included her parents.
“If it didn’t hit the hole, I think it would’ve went by a little ways, but thank goodness it hit the hole,” said Bellomy, who won the West Virginia Women’s Amateur this summer after finishing second the previous two years.
Like any golfer chasing that first individual victory, Bellomy battled nerves. She said she felt them as she hit her final approach shot at No. 18. She also felt them during the closing stretch of the second round, in which she finished with four straight bogeys.
“I think she got to a place where she was a little uncomfortable,” Crooks said. “After 14 holes, she realized she has a big lead in a golf tournament. She got smaller and narrowed up a little bit.”
Said Bellomy: “I was playing good, and then the wheels just fell off at the end.”
But she went straight to the range after a 4-over 75 on Monday and widened her stance. It’s the same fix that Crooks said gave her better balance, improved her power and most importantly has given her a new-found confidence with her swing.
“About a week and a half ago, she found something, and it’s just a simple thought, but it works for her and now she knows where her ball is going,” Crooks said. “Tie that in with being a good putter and obviously good things happen.”
And if their performance in Pawleys Island was any indication, good things could continue to happen for Bellomy and the Campbell women.