BEN CAMP­BELL TAK­ING ON THE WORLD

Ben Camp­bell is sit­ting on a peak of a snow­capped moun­tain in com­plete wilder­ness on the West Coast. Af­ter be­ing he­li­coptered into iso­la­tion the day be­fore, the 26-yearold pro­fes­sional has the com­pany of one of his best mates as they camp and ex­plore for

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS PETER THORN­TON

We catch up with Ben Camp­bell who has been play­ing some great golf over the last 18 months.

It is a world away from where has been the past four weeks – the bustling streets of Bangladesh, China, Thai­land and Korea ply­ing his trade on the Asian Tour – and he takes a mo­ment to soak it all in.

“It was pretty in­cred­i­ble,” said Camp­bell, who likes to fill his down­time with time in the great out­doors. “When you have been in some crazy places, with so many peo­ple all around you, and then you are out in the mid­dle of nowhere with just your mates. It is nice to get away. It was just so quiet. We go to some pretty amaz­ing places – whether you are on the ice and have the cram­pons and ice axes out, trudg­ing up a moun­tain, around a glacier, you get to some amaz­ing spots.”

The contemplation from Camp­bell on a re­mote moun­tain­side, look­ing down the ex­panse of the West Coast be­low, is a fit­ting metaphor for where he has been in 2018.

The Master­ton pro­fes­sional, who has lived for the past two years in Queen­stown, has been a rev­e­la­tion this year. He se­cured his first four round win as a pro­fes­sional at the New Zealand PGA Championship in his home prov­ince, he fin­ished run­ner-up at the Thai­land Open in May and more re­cently led for most of the tour­na­ment at Nata­dola only to fin­ish tied third at the Fiji Open. Camp­bell has missed the cut once all year in Asia and reeled off a num­ber of top-20 finishes.

Camp­bell said in the past year and a half he has fig­ured out what he needs to do, to play well as a pro­fes­sional. In­stead of try­ing to search for what every­one else does, it has been about fig­ur­ing out what works for him.

“I love be­ing at home. I love my hunt­ing and hikes, so I have done more of that. With the sac­ri­fice of spend­ing a bit more on flights, if it meant I was home a bit more then it was worth it.”

Camp­bell said that when he first turned pro he was skint so he would try to live on tour as cheaply as pos­si­ble, but he has put more emphasis on en­joy­ing his life.

“Know­ing this is what I need to do; I need to be at home and have a week of solid train­ing be­fore I play, so I can play well. I al­ways seem to play well fresh or first tour­na­ment up – Bangladesh was a clas­sic ex­am­ple of that. For me, I don’t feel I need that com­fort of play­ing for five or six weeks, I can still play well first up.”

Camp­bell has been more ef­fi­cient with his time – us­ing the Pro-am as his prac­tice round to con­serve en­ergy in the hot and hu­mid con­di­tions – and he leans on his cad­die Alan Debenedit­tis who has five years of ex­pe­ri­ence in Asia to guide him around.

Re­cently af­ter his top-three fin­ish in the Fiji In­ter­na­tional along­side four-time ma­jor cham­pion Ernie Els, Camp­bell climbed to a ca­reer high 272 on the Of­fi­cial World Golf Rank­ings. He knows there is work to do, but there are plenty of pos­i­tives to draw on.

But like most of his ca­reer, just as Camp­bell is gain­ing some mo­men­tum, he is hit by in­jury. Through­out 2015 and 2016, he strug­gled with a mys­tery chest ail­ment which took an age to di­ag­nose and just as long to set­tle down.

This month he un­der­went hip surgery to fix a la­bel tear and will be out of ac­tion for the next three months, rul­ing him out of the Ja­pan Tour Fi­nal Stage of Qual­i­fy­ing and also the Web.Com Tour Q School in De­cem­ber. Camp­bell has been strug­gling with hip pain in the past few months. It hasn’t af­fected his golf too much, but it would flare up when he was trav­el­ling on a plane.

“I just thought my hip flex­ors were a bit tight. I had an MRI scan re­cently and it showed the la­bel tear so it has been a frus­trat­ing time. You kind of just get go­ing and then you’re dealt an­other blow. It is one of those things.”

His Doc­tor said the in­jury was in­evitable as it was all about how his hip bone has formed.

“It is ac­tu­ally some­thing I have al­ways strug­gled with in my swing – be­ing able to get my hips open through im­pact – and prob­a­bly why I haven’t liked do­ing that is be­cause it has been bone on bone, and caused some pain. Hope­fully this op­er­a­tion will help my golf swing.”

So for now Camp­bell’s as­cent is on hold. But he is stay­ing up­beat and pos­i­tive. He has had to over­come a sig­nif­i­cant amount of ad­ver­sity al­ready in his young pro­fes­sional ca­reer.

When Camp­bell, who was ranked the No 6 am­a­teur in the world, seemed to have the world at his feet when he turned pro­fes­sional in 2012, but it hasn’t panned out that way. Yet.

“It has been pretty tough at times with the in­jury, but I al­ways said when some­one asked me when will be the day you hang up the clubs for good? I have al­ways had that be­lief that I can get right up the top of golf in the world rank­ings. The day where I feel I can’t get bet­ter or I wake up and I don’t want to go out and train then that will be the day when I want to give it up. I still feel like I have a lot of im­prove­ment in me. The time will go fast and

I will be back swing­ing by midDe­cem­ber hope­fully.

“The Asian Tour is a great step­ping stone and I will get all of the big events there next year and some of them are co-sanc­tioned on the Euro­pean Tour. If I play well at the start of the year, I still have a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

It is un­for­tu­nate, but it also al­lows Camp­bell the chance to re­flect on a spe­cial 18 months. In 2017 he came within a stroke of win­ning the NZ PGA Championship and lost in a play­off in the NZ Open to Mike Hendry. Ear­lier in the tour­na­ment, he turned heads at Mill­brook when he fired a 10-un­der par course record to claim the round one lead.

He was the player to beat in Fiji be­fore he shot a five over par 77 in strong winds in the third round and slipped back, only to fire a 66 in the fi­nal round in what was a great dis­play of char­ac­ter. So what has he learned from the hard times?

“The short game for me is so un­der­rated. When you are chip­ping and putting well it is a to­tally dif­fer­ent game and you can go at flags that peo­ple don’t want to go at. That is how you get a low score and win golf tour­na­ments. I have shot a few really low scores over the past cou­ple of years so I know what it feels like. I am com­fort­able when I am eight un­der and I am not try­ing to hit the stop but­ton or try­ing to get into the club­house.

“It is a mind-set thing. You have got to be­lieve and take it on. If it doesn’t hap­pen then it doesn’t hap­pen and there will be an­other week. Ob­vi­ously Fiji was a bum­mer but I learnt a lot and the only thing I felt let me down was my chip­ping on the front nine. The more you can feel com­fort­able try­ing to win then you will get the job done more of­ten.”

While Camp­bell has been fir­ing down in this part of the world, his good mate Ryan Fox who he played a lot of am­a­teur golf with, is mak­ing a name for him­self in Europe and play­ing in the ma­jors. Camp­bell be­lieves he has the abil­ity to get onto a ma­jor tour and keep ad­vanc­ing on the Of­fi­cial World Golf Rank­ings. He has no short­age of in­spi­ra­tion from play­ers he knows well.

“Yes def­i­nitely. There are a lot of guys play­ing well on the world stage, Mike [Hendry] in Ja­pan, Tim [Wilkin­son] and Danny [Lee] in the States, there are a lot of good pros out there from NZ. I was lucky. I played a lot with guys like [Ar­gen­tine pro, PGA Tour Rookie of the Year 2016] Emil­iano Grillo and [2017 Race to Dubai Cham­pion] Tommy Fleet­wood in my am­a­teur days and I would al­ways com­pete well with them.

“If I can have a cou­ple of solid years out on tour, and build mo­men­tum, I be­lieve I can get there too. You can look at it two ways; you can ei­ther sit back and think ‘How come I am not there?’ or you can think ‘When I get go­ing good, if they can do it, there is no rea­son why I can’t do the same’.”

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Ben Camp­bell putts dur­ing the Fiji In­ter­na­tional Golf Tour­na­ment on Au­gust 3, 2018 in Nata­dola, Fiji.

Ben Camp­bell's twoshot win at the 2018 New Zealand PGA Championship in Palmer­ston North.

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