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
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’.”
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.