Campbell doesn't back down, takes lead in both divisions at Golfweek Program Challenge

John Crooks (left) shown with Tahnia Ravnjak at the 2014 NCAA Championship

Campbell doesn't back down, takes lead in both divisions at Golfweek Program Challenge

College

Campbell doesn't back down, takes lead in both divisions at Golfweek Program Challenge

Scores: Men | Women

• • •

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. – John Crooks didn’t need to do much to get his men’s team motivated.

That’s already taken care of internally.

“I don’t have to say a word. You can see it as soon as they show up with each other,” said Crooks, Campbell’s head men’s and women’s golf coach. “As long as they get breakfast, (it’s) then they start competing.”

It showed on Monday.

The Camels men’s squad blitzed True Blue Golf Club for the second straight day, firing a 14-under 274 (for a 33-under two-day total) to nearly triple its overnight seven-shot lead to 19 over Gardner-Webb heading into Tuesday’s final round at the Golfweek Program Challenge.

Unsurprisingly Campbell also holds the lead in the individual race, as Max Theodorakis fired a 9-under 63 to take a two-shot cushion at 11 under over teammate Jesper Svensson and Jacksonville State’s Thomas Burchmann.

All seven players on the Campbell men’s roster are in the field this week, with Brett McLamb and Josh Hetherington competing as individuals.

The same setup goes on the women’s side and Campbell also boasts the dual lead there. The Camels made a late run in the second round at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club to fire a 7-under 277 and take a two-shot lead over Old Dominion at 8 under.

Campbell’s Isabell Ekstrom holds the individual lead by one at 8 under.

The Golfweek Program Challenge has a unique element, as on top of a men’s team champion and a women’s team champion it offers a combined winner based on the program with the best combined men’s and women’s team scores.

Campbell has captured that combined title in five of six showings between 2011 and 2016. With one round to play in the 14-program field, the Camels hold a commanding 26-shot lead over Old Dominion in that category.

This is the season opener for both squads, and a quick turnaround once players returned to school meant the teams underwent qualifying but couldn’t do much other preparation.

For Crooks, the successful early play is as simple as the programs have a lot of good players at the moment.

“There’s no special sauce here, there’s nothing special we did,” Crooks said. “They brought with them what they came to school with.”

But strategy has still played in, especially on the men’s side.

The Campbell men practiced more short-irons and wedges heading into the Golfweek Program Challenge, as True Blue offers a number of shorter approaches if players can find the fairway.

And while qualifying was used to set the rosters here, Crooks did use a coach’s pick to put Svensson in the starting five despite his finishing sixth in the pre-tournament qualifier.

The Swede had been struggling with a left miss, but Crooks trusted his player’s previous credentials – among them 2016-17 Big South Conference Golfer of the Year.

That decision has turned out beautifully, as the senior opened in 65 to take the 18-hole lead and is still in a tie for second after the second round despite a bogey-double-bogey close.

Theodorakis had nearly the opposite finish on Monday.

The junior birdied four of his first seven holes and lasered a 7-iron to 3 feet at the par-5 ninth for an eagle to go out in 6-under 31. He added a birdie at the 10th to make it 7 under for the day.

A bogey followed at the 11th, but he birdied the 15th. He then drained a 50-footer for birdie at No. 16 and chipped in for another at the next to punctuate the performance.

“That was kind of nice to capitalize on already a good day,” Theodorakis said.

If the teams need any more motivation Tuesday than trying to close out a season-opening win, it may come in the fact that this tournament is also a qualifier of sorts.

As it stands, Crooks plans for the top three finishers on each team at this event to earn automatic spots in the starting lineups at their respective next tournaments (with the other two slots on each squad decided via coach’s picks).

Crooks has been pleased with the attitude of his players, and while there’s still 18 holes before a win is awarded, they have the look that they will get it done.

“They’re carrying themselves like champions,” Crooks said.

Sounds familiar for Campbell around these parts.

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