April 14, 2009–Think his playoff loss at the Masters has changed Mr. Chad Campbell, a former UNLV All-American? Think again if you do. It took all of five minutes for the down-to-earth Campbell to return the call of GolfLasVegasNow.com. And that was one day removed from his stellar tournament when he not only pushed Angel Cabrera and Kenny Perry to a playoff, but also became the first player in the history of The Masters to birdie the first five holes of the tournament. With his finish, Campbell jumped from 84th to 21st on the PGA Tour money list ($963,835), 76th to 41st in the World Ranking, and 75th to 24th in the FedEx Cup standings. And he is leading the points for a spot on the US Ryder Cup team.
Everything’s bigger in Texas. And that goes for the expectations that have been placed on the broad shoulders of Campbell. Campbell, who played at UNLV from 1994-1996, was singled out in a Sports Illustrated poll a few years ago as the next big thing in golf, recognition that was voted on by his peers. That’s pretty lofty expectations to be heaped on anyone but Campbell’s numbers show he’s worthy of such high praise. He has won four times on the PGA Tour (including The Tour Championship in 2003) and accumulated more than $17.5 million in earnings. He has played in Ryder Cups and played well in the majors. The only thing apparently left is to win in a major.
The showing at the 2009 Masters has the former Rebel front and center in the golf world again. Campbell won $660,000 for his efforts but lost in a three-way playoff. While the loss was a little tough to swallow, his play all week left Campbell ecstatic about his game. “Obviously I haven’t been playing very well this year until this week but I’ve been working hard on my game,” he said from his home in Texas, but we still consider him a Las Vegas pro due to his time at UNLV. “I knew it would pay off sooner or later. I definitely got rewarded this week.”
His former coach, UNLV's Dwaine Knight, said it was Campbell’s demeanor that helped him keep his cool. “It’s a tough situation any time you’re on the leaderboard,” Knight said. “But in a major … I thought he played a tremendous back nine. He’s always been a tremendous ball striker and he showed that this week. He’s a fierce competitor and gives his best every time out. And, he’s able to live with the results. That’s a great way to be and that’s why he’s been a successful Tour player.”
Campbell sat in the scorer’s area and watched Cabrera, the eventual winner, and Kenny Perry come down the 18th hole. “I really didn’t know what to think (about there being a playoff),” Campbell said. “I had a great look at birdie on the 18th and thought I hit a good putt. I really felt I needed to make that putt and I must have just pushed it a little.” He did get another chance on the 18th hole in the playoff, but couldn't convert. “I really hit a poor iron shot,” he said. “That and one other one, and it was the same club on the 8th hole, were the only two bad irons shots I hit all week.”
Campbell then watched as his six-foot par putt just missed on the right side and his tournament ended. “It was just a great week,” he said. “I’m feeling good about the way I’m playing and I’m excited about the rest of the year.” Campbell has always been quick to credit Knight and his time at UNLV for his success. This day was no different. “I always owe Coach pretty much everything because he taught me so much about the game of golf,” Campbell said. “I’ll do anything I can to help out the program.”
One of the things Knight taught Campbell was just a little swing change can make a big difference. “When he came to UNLV he had a very strong grip,” Knight said. “I tried to get him to hit a cut shot. I just changed his grip a little and he said ‘Coach, I think I’m going to miss the ball.’ We were at the DI (Desert Inn) and there was a right to left wind. I told him to go ahead and swing. He hit a little cut into the wind and his eyes lit up. He’s now turned into a great ball striker and he’s just getting better.”
Campbell will now take some time off and rejuvenate before returning to action in a few weeks. “I’ll probably take the next three weeks off,” he said. “I might play New Orleans but I will definitely play The Players and then all three in Texas. I have a lot of good friends here and these are some of my favorite events (Valero Texas Open, HP Byron Nelson Championship and the Crowne Plaza Invitational Colonial).”
But for now, it’s time to bask in the spotlight of The Masters. “I had a lot of people out here rooting for me and it was just a great experience. I’ll learn from this week and move forward. Next time I’m in that situation, whether it’s a regular tournament or a major, I’ll get the job done.” Las Vegas–and Knight–will be watching.