Campbell Proud: The women’s golf team

May 18, 2015 | 2 Comments

The Campbell University women’s golf will tee off in its second straight NCAA Championship on Friday, May 22, at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida. Making the NCAA Championship is like a college basketball team making the Final Four or a college baseball team making the College World Series.

“That’s how big this is,” Campbell Athletics Director Bob Roller said during a recent breakfast honoring the five players who finished sixth at the Raleigh regional to advance for the NCAA Championship.

Of the 24 teams that qualified for nationals, Campbell is the smallest school, with an enrollment of about 6,100 students.  Campbell’s team will also be one of just four from a non-Power 5 conference at nationals. Of those four, Campbell is one of only two that competed at the Championship last year, too. (The other is Tulane. See sidebar, "A small school that accomplishes big things," for the full field.)

“We’re proud to represent Campbell University,” said captain Lisbeth “Lizi” Brooks ’15, who graduated May 11. “I think because we are from a small school that makes us even more proud.”

And what about making nationals two years in a row? “People can’t say it’s a fluke,” she said.

Four of the five players who finished 20th at nationals last year will make the return this year: Brooks, rising senior Tahnia Ravnjak, and rising juniors Louise Latorre and Nadine White. Recent graduate Brooke Bellomy ’15 completes the five-person team.

They are coached by John Crooks, who ranks second in the nation among active Division I head coaches with 76 career tournament victories. Since 1991, he has guided the women’s program to 12 conference titles and 18 NCAA post-season berths, including three NCAA Championships (1997, 2014, and 2015).

Below, Crooks talks to about his coaching philosophy, the five players who will compete at the NCAA Championship, and what he hopes they accomplish there.

All five players and his assistant coach, Ryan Ashburn, also share how they got started playing golf, how they ended up at Campbell, and what they have learned from Crooks. The following content is edited from interviews with the team.

Head Coach John Crooks: “Individually, each one is very good. Collectively, they’re better.”

What did it take for the program to qualify for its second straight NCAA Championship?

With this team we had four people returning who had been extremely successful. But we seemed to have approached a lot of tournaments this year as if we didn’t want to make mistakes and we wanted to be careful. We knew we were good, but we didn’t want to do stupid things. At the regionals, I told them, ‘Forget doing stupid things. You’re real good. Go do what you do.’

I also read something to them about the differences between ‘what if’ and ‘what is.’ In golf, people say ‘What if I hit it in the water? What if I hit it in the sand trap? What if I hit a bad shot?’ But ‘what is’ is ‘What is the best way to do this? What is the best way to accomplish this? What is the best club to use to knock the ball on the green?’ That changed the focus a bit on what they could do and were capable of doing versus being focused on an outcome.

“[John Crooks] has made Campbell golf a national and international brand. People ask, ‘How do we get such quality student-athlete golfers from around the nation and the world?’ The answer is Campbell is a destination for golfers who want to compete for championships and be among the nation’s best.”--Campbell Athletics Director Bob Roller

What’s your coaching philosophy?

My core principle is that we just have to get better today. I hate to make it sound that simple, but that is really what we do and what they do. I don’t have any grand scheme. I’m not smarter than anybody else, but I try to be consistent with my message.

And sometimes it’s just a matter of talking to them and letting them know: ‘You’re good. Everybody else knows it.’

How would you describe this year’s team?

These five young ladies are each very intelligent, extremely gifted athletically, and have strong support at home, and they get along. Each one is a good teammate, and they want to do the things that help their teammates and that speaks to their personalities. They push each other without saying a word. None of the five is boastful or is about me, me, me. Individually, each one is very good. Collectively, they’re better.

Just how good are they are?

It depends on the barometer you use to judge success. If you look at a team and say success is determined by a conference championship, we failed. We didn’t win a conference championship this year; we finished second. But if you determine the success of the team by: Were they a good team all year long? The answer is yes; they received an at-large bid.

What would be special about this team is that this team beat more ranked opponents than any team we’ve had. They have beaten teams ranked in the Top 10, 15 and 20. If you judge a team by how many good teams they beat, then this is the best team I’ve coached. It’s nice to be a coach and be in the situation where you’re talking about ways to determine your success or not.

What have been the keys to building a long-term successful program?

A great support group. Certainly it starts with my wife [Susan]. So many times I’ve had to talk to my wife about interpersonal situations or how different people were responding to different ways to how I was trying to help them make adjustments to get better results. She gets credit for keeping me guided. For so long I looked at situations and saw them as black and white. You can’t do that in coaching. There are hardly any black and white situations. Everything is a compromise or an adjustment.

What do you hope the team accomplishes this year at nationals?

I hope they have a good experience. I hope each one of them hits a shot they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. I hope they have the round of their life, but if they don’t, that’s OK. I hope they take away a positive experience.

There are hundreds of women’s golf programs in the country, and there are only 24 left standing. I know that if they play well, they’re going to make a major statement. I don’t know what that statement will be or how far up the ladder they can climb, but I know they can climb higher than 24 and they will have a chance to compete for a national championship. That is extremely rare for a student-athlete at any school in any sport.

The players

Brooke Bellomy ’15

Year: Graduated May 11 | Major: Sports management | Hometown: Ona, West Virginia | High School: Cabell Midland | Age started playing: 12 or 13 | Notable: Named to the 2015 Big South all-championship team and collected four top-20 individual showings over eight events during the 2014-15 season

Photo: Tim Cowie

How I was introduced to golf: “I always played basketball, but my dad was out playing [golf] one day and I went out in the yard and started hitting balls. It clicked.”

“Brooke is the most confident one on the team, and it’s that air of confidence that she brings.” – Head Coach John Crooks

“Brooke is a really fierce competitor that motivates everyone else, especially during qualifying. She’s a fighter.” – Teammate Lisbeth “Lizi” Brooks

Why I stuck with golf: “I like to compete, and it was different from other sports. I can’t really describe it. I just like playing it.”
How I ended up at Campbell: “I was playing in a North/South junior tournament in Pinehurst. Coach Crooks was there watching. The next day I get an email from him. He wanted me to come and visit. I liked it from the beginning.”
A favorite Campbell moment: “Regionals this year. We were on the range thinking we were going to be in a playoff [to determine the sixth team to advance to nationals]. But I looked down at my phone and saw we didn’t have a one-shot lead anymore but a four-shot lead. I thought, Wow. And then seeing everybody’s faces and being able to pour water on Coach and see him smiling and his wife crying because she was so happy for us -- that was a good moment.”
What I like about this team: “We laugh a lot. We hang out. We do everything together, and we really care for each other. That’s what you need. When we go to tournaments, we’re gone for four or five or sometimes six days. We’re spending so much extra time with each other. Who else would we want to spend time with?”
On Head Coach John Crooks: “He cares about his players. He’s always looking out for our best interest. You’ll be standing out in the middle of the fairway during a tournament, and he’ll ask, ‘How is everything going?’ If you’re at practice or walk into his office, he’ll ask you how things are going.”
Why I’m Campbell Proud: “The people here are genuinely nice. They have big hearts and love Campbell. Lizi and I had our graduation ceremony [May 11] because we were at regionals and couldn’t be at the main ceremony, but we both still had professors at our ceremony. What other university can you go to where professors will come support you like that?”

Lisbeth “Lizi” Brooks ’15

Year: Graduated May 11 | Major: Business administration | Hometown: Waunakee, Wisconsin | High School: Waunakee | Age started playing: 12 | Notable: One of only eight Campbell players to earn all-conference honors four times in the program's 26-year history

Photo: Tim Cowie

How I was introduced to golf: “There’s a long line of history of golf on my dad’s side, so I was interested in golf at a young age but didn’t really start playing until I was 12. I was interested in other things, like soccer and basketball and dance.

“Lizi has an incredible work ethic. There are not enough hours in the day for her to work.” – Head Coach John Crooks

“Lizi is known for being disciplined. She is always out there practicing. We follow her lead." –Teammate Brooke Bellomy

Why I stuck with golf: “I liked the process of seeing myself get better. How well you do is all dependent on how much effort you put into it.”
How I ended up at Campbell: “I went to a college combine, and that was the first time Coach saw me play. He came to a couple more tournaments, and then I met [Tim Crooks, former associate head coach], because his wife is from Wisconsin and she played in a Wisconsin tournament I also played in. I liked both of the coaches’ personalities, and they seemed genuine and very dedicated."
A favorite Campbell moment: “Regionals this year. Last year was special; I’m not going to downplay that. But the fact we made it two years in a row, people can’t say it was a fluke. We deserved to go.”
What I like about this team: “I don’t even consider us a team. I consider us best friends. You hear all these stories about how other teams, especially girl teams, have a lot of personality clashes. But Coach recruits the person before the player, so all the people that come in are generally good-hearted people. Everyone has a really good sense of humor, too, which helps make the environment easy going and enjoyable.”
On Head Coach John Crooks: “Not only is he a great coach for golf, he helps every player become a better person. If you have a personal problem, he’s there and has your back. I probably have learned more life lessons from him than golf lessons.”
Why I’m Campbell Proud: “The people make the place. I like how when you walk to class, you see many people you know. If you went to a big university, I don’t think that would happen. And in the business school, I’ve had teachers invite classes over to their homes for dinner. You’re not going to have that at a big university. You build a lot stronger relationships here.”

Louise Latorre

Year: Rising junior | Major: International business | Hometown: Pau, France | High School: Saint Cricq | Age started playing: Around 10 | Notable: A two-time Big South all-conference selection and won the 2014 Big South Conference individual title as a freshman

Photo: Chris Baird

How I was introduced to golf: “My whole family plays -- my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister. It was something we could do together.”

“If you’re upset or not having a great day, go talk to Lou because she laughs at everything and she’s a listener.” – Tahnia Ravnjak

“Louise is the one that solidifies all the talents. They know she is a rock. That came out last round of the regional championship where she led them with a low score. That came out at the conference championship where she won the individual championship [in 2014]. She flew under the radar, beat everybody and then sat back and let everyone else enjoy the team title.”—Head Coach John Crooks

Why I stuck with golf: “Golf is something that once you start, you kind of get addicted to it. I just love everything about it -- being outside, being in a quiet environment, and having fun with friends at the same time.”
How I ended up at Campbell: “I wanted to come to the U.S. for a long time, though I didn’t know where. I sent out my profile and see who wanted me. Campbell popped up, and Coach talked to me. I really liked him. I didn’t come for a visit, but I did my research on the Internet and liked what I saw.”
My first impressions of Campbell: “I just felt like I was coming on an adventure. I couldn’t really speak English, and I thought that was going to be a little problem. I came by myself. Coach picked me up at the airport at 10 o’clock at night. I came to my dorm, and I had no idea what was going to happen. I’m glad I came.”
A favorite Campbell moment: “Last year was really special. It was the first time. This year was even better. We were more motivated to do well at regionals and go to nationals. Because we did it last year, we knew we could do it again. I felt there was more at stake this year than last year.”
How I’d describe the team: Motivated.
On Head Coach John Crooks: “He always supports us. There’s not a day he’s not happy to be here and help us.”
Why I’m Campbell Proud: “That a small school can accomplish big things.”

Tahnia Ravnjak

Year: Rising senior | Major: Sports and exercise science | Hometown: Cordeaux Heights, Australia | High school: Holy Spirit | Age started playing golf: 6 | Notable: A three-time Big South all-conference selection and the 2013 Big South Freshman of the Year

Photo: Chris Baird

How I was introduced to golf: “My dad used to go to the range, and I asked him one day if I could go with him. I played a lot of other sports, too, so I didn’t start to take it seriously until I was about 13 or 14. That’s when I started playing in tournaments.”

“Tahnia brings positive energy. You can walk off the course and be disappointed in yourself, but when you see Tahnia she’ll make you feel better.” – Nadine White

“Tahnia is Miss Congeniality. She cares what she’s doing, and she cares what her teammates are doing. She’ll knit a head cover and cart it around and say, ‘What do you think of this, Coach?’ She’ll knit a hat for someone else.” – Head Coach John Crooks

Why I stuck with golf: “Once you hit that good shot you want to hit it again and again and then with every single shot. It’s an individual sport, and it’s all about the pressure you put on yourself. If I do something wrong, it’s all on me.”
How I ended up at Campbell: “Kylie Pratt played at Campbell and is from Australia. She was sort of like an agent and helped get our paperwork in order and get us ready for Campbell. I never came for an official visit, but from talking to Coach and to Kylie, Campbell was my first choice.”
My first impressions of Campbell: “I came from a big city, so coming to Campbell was a shock; but it’s a community, and it’s nice.”
A favorite Campbell moment: “Last year’s regional was a big moment. But regionals this year, we really wanted it because we knew how far we had come from last year. It was an awesome moment when we found out this year we made it. It’s school history, making it the second time in a row.”
How I’d describe the team: Family.
On Head Coach John Crooks: “One time he ripped a piece of paper out of a magazine and gave it to me. It was a photo of a pro golfer in mid-swing. He said, ‘See this. This is what I’ve been trying to get you to do. Stick this on your board.’ It’s still on my corkboard in my room. He’s always looking for ways to help us. It takes someone special to do that for the team.”
Why I’m Campbell Proud: “I get to be part of a small college community that supports everybody no matter what. That's especially true with the athletes. It’s awesome how everybody goes to everyone’s games and cheers on each other.”

Nadine White

Year: Rising junior | Major: Business | Hometown: Brisbane, Australia | High school: Cannon Hill Anglican College | Age started playing: 10 | Notable: A 2015 Big South all-conference honoree and has four Top 20 finishes in tournaments during the 2014-15 season
Photo: Tim Cowie

How I was introduced to golf: “I lived right across the road from a golf course and my dad played. It was easy to go up there and have fun on the weekends. It was time I could spend with my dad, and my grandparents would caddy for me.”

“Nadine is so funny. She makes us laugh and relax. She takes care of us. She takes care of me.” –Teammate Louise Latorre

“Nadine is the backbone of the team. She’s organized and knows what’s going on and has a strong opinion about things, which is good because sometimes people can’t make decisions and you need someone to say, ‘Let’s do this.’” –Teammate Tahnia Ravnjak

“Nadine is the smile on the team. She’s one that always gets the others to laugh.”—Head Coach John Crooks

Why I stuck with golf: “I played some other sports before, but golf was one I enjoyed doing. It wasn’t like a chore; I wanted to go and play.”
How I ended up at Campbell: “Kylie Pratt, also from Australia, came to Campbell, and she helped Tahnia and me both go to college and play golf. Tahnia was already here, and knowing she was here helped in my decision to pick Campbell.”
What I like about Campbell: “A school back home had 50,000 people. Coming to Campbell was a relief. The class sizes are smaller and the teachers know your name. Here you’re not a number.”
A favorite Campbell moment: “Making nationals last year. We had to wait six hours, and when we finally learned we did make nationals, it was a relief. We were so exhausted, too. The next day was when we realized what we had done.”
What I like about the team: “We all get along. When you’re at a tournament, you can tell which teams get along and are happy to be around each other compared to teams that are more individualistic. We all want the best for ourselves, but we’re all playing for the team and for Campbell.”
On Head Coach John Crooks: “He wants to see other people get better and grow; that makes you want to get better and work harder. And because of everything he does to help make us better, that makes us want to succeed not just for ourselves but for him.”
Why I’m Campbell Proud: “It’s a community, and these people here have become part of my family. You know that you always have someone here for you. Campbell is my home away from home.”

The coaches

Ryan Ashburn

Title: Assistant Coach | Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida | College: Stetson | Coaching career: Joined Campbell in August 2014 as an assistant coach | Age started playing: 12 | Notable: A two-time Atlantic Sun Conference All-Academic team member and earned Atlantic Sun All-Conference honors in 2011


How I was introduced to golf: "My parents both played recreationally. I got tired of sitting on the sidelines."

“Because of my age, there may be challenges the players face socially or off the golf course that I can’t relate to. Ryan understands her role as a coach as someone who is there to help them, and she does that enthusiastically and with that right mix of ‘We can do this and get the desired result’ without being pushy or bossy. They appreciate her. Certainly she has been invaluable to me.” –Head Coach John Crooks

Why I stuck with golf: "As much as I love team sports, golf is all on you. You decide how everything is going to play out. There are no rules or officials to decide an outcome for your game. I like that I’m able to control the situation."
Why I got into coaching: "My coach at Stetson, Floyd Kerr, taught me a lot on and off the course. He had a major impact on me, and I wondered if I could have an impact on others."
How I ended up at Campbell: "Floyd and John Crooks have been friends for 20 years, maybe more. I had been talking to Floyd and told him if he hears anything to let me know. He called at the end of July and said John has a position. I called and talked to John. Within 2½ weeks I was here."
What I knew about Campbell in college: "Our coach always said Campbell was the team to be beat. We knew they were a good team."
How I’d describe team: "They are a lot of fun, and they work extremely hard. They know when to turn it on and to turn it off -- when to have fun and when to be competitive. This is a great group of girls. I’ve learned more from them than they’ve learned from me."
My role as the assistant coach: "I told them, 'I’m not here to change anything. If you want help, you let me know. If I see something, I’ll be more than happy to help you.' When we’re on the golf course, I try to help them stay in the moment but to relax and to remember why they’re here."
A favorite Campbell moment: "It was exciting to watch them play those last three holes at regionals this year because they had worked so hard. I was with Brooke [Bellomy] on the last hole when she made birdie. Coach had told them the tournament was going to come down to the last three holes. To see them succeed for what they had worked so hard for was the greatest thing."
On Head Coach John Crooks: "He loves the game of golf and he loves to teach. There are some nights he doesn’t sleep because he’s worried about someone’s swing or something pops in his head that will help a player. If anyone struggles, he thinks, 'What can I do to help her become better?' He simplifies things, and the simple things add up to big things."
Why I’m Campbell Proud: "The people I’ve met here have been genuine and nice, and they’ve opened their arms to me and helped me with anything I need. When I travel, I’ve heard nothing but great things about Campbell. It has a good reputation. I’m proud to be able to say I work for Campbell University."

John Crooks

Title: Head Coach | College: University of Houston | Playing career: Won a USGA junior national championship and an NCAA championship at the University of Houston, where he was coached by Dave Williams, who won 16 national titles and was considered the “father of college golf” | Coaching career: Began coaching the Campbell men’s golf team in 1990 and the women in 1991; has led the women’s program to 12 conference titles and 18 NCAA post-season berths, including three NCAA Championships (1997, 2014, and 2015); ranks fourth all-time and second among active Division I head coaches with 76 career tournament victories; inducted into the National Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2006

Photo: Tim Cowie

How I was introduced to golf: “It was something my dad did and it was a chance to spend time with him. He was very patient and he was a good player. The first thing he taught me was to respect the game and the etiquette of the game. It’s something I really enjoyed doing.”

“I hope that no one takes for granted the sustained excellence that John's teams have shown at Campbell over the years. He keeps it simple and straight-forward for all of his teams -- work hard and have fun. One of the greatest compliment you can give to a head coach is that his players get better throughout the season and throughout their career. John's student-athletes get better under his coaching and, as a result, we have rafters full of Campbell golf championship banners hanging in Gore Arena."–Campbell Athletics Director Bob Roller

On what I learned from legendary Houston Coach Dave Williams: “He always had a large team and he believed that players should compete for their job every day. That’s pretty much what we do in practice—whether it’s challenging each other, playing games, competing on the golf course or having contests. That’s what we do.”
How I ended up coaching at Campbell: “My family came to Buies Creek in 1984. My wife, Susan, wanted to go to law school. I was in the insurance business, while Susan was in school. Once she got out and started practicing law and as my business progressed, I was able to have more free time to play golf. I had a very competitive golf game. From time to time, the members of the Campbell golf team would be at Keith Hills, and we would get together and play. In 1987, Wendell Carr, the athletics director at the time, told me if I spent some time helping guys on the team, he’d appreciate it. I was able to help them do some things they weren’t doing. In 1990, he asked me if I’d consider being the coach.”
Why I’ve stayed at Campbell for 25 years:“This is home. This is where my children and my grandchildren are. It’s where my wife is happy. This community was a great place to raise a family.”
Why I’m Campbell Proud: “I was Campbell Proud when my wife graduated No. 1 from the law school and when my daughter graduated with honors. I was Campbell Proud when 25 years ago the university gave me the opportunity to do something I absolutely love to do. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not appreciative of that opportunity.”

Banner photo by Tahnia Ravnjak

Looking back at the 2014 NCAA Championship

The Campbell women’s golf team felt “like little fish in a massive ocean” at the 2014 NCAA Championship, said Nadine White, a rising junior on the team.

Kaylin Yost ’14, the lone senior on last year’s squad, shot a one-under-par 69 in the first round, but the “rest of us were kind of shaky,” added this year's captain, Lisbeth “Lizi” Brooks '15. “It was a lot to take in.”

The players know what to expect now, she said, and “won’t be taken aback” when they open play in the 2015 NCAA Championship May 22. “I think we are going to be able to treat this year’s nationals like it’s just another tournament.”

That means they’re going into the tournament with confidence -- knowing they belong there -- and with a plan to just be themselves.

“You have to know you can compete, but if you’re serious 24/7, that’s not going to help,” said rising senior Tahnia Ravnjak. “If someone makes a birdie, we’re going to wave and jump up and down, and we’re going to do silly things to keep each other relaxed.

“I think being happy and playing within our system will be a good thing.”

Their hope for 2015? To better their finish at No. 20 in 2014 and make it to match play, Tavnjak said. Match play? Details below.

The 2015 NCAA Championship

When: May 22-27

Where: The Concession Golf Club, Bradenton, Florida

The format: All 24 teams will complete three rounds, or 54 holes, of stroke play Friday-Sunday. The Top 15 teams and the top nine individuals not on an advancing team move on to an additional round to determine the Top 8 teams. Those eight teams will then be placed into a bracket and compete in match play, with the No. 1 seed playing the No. 8 seed, the No. 2 seed playing the No. 7 seed, the No. 3 seed playing the No. 6 seed and the No. 4 seed playing the No. 5 seed.

The schedule:

  • Friday, May 22: First round of competition
  • Saturday, May 23: Second round of competition
  • Sunday, May 24: Third round of competition (Top 15 teams and Top 9 individuals not on advancing team move on)
  • Monday, May 25: Final round of competition (Top 8 teams determined for match play; individual champion determined)
  • Tuesday, May 26: Quarterfinal Team Matches, 7 a.m.; Semifinal Team Matches, 1:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 27: National Championship Team Match, 2:10 p.m.

Follow the action:

“Small school that accomplishes big things”

When we asked rising junior Louise Latorre why she’s Campbell Proud, she said because Campbell is “small school that accomplishes big things.” Just how small is Campbell, especially compared to the schools sending women’s golf teams to the NCAA Championship?

Campbell enrolls nearly 6,100 students, the smallest of any of the 24 that will be represented in the team event. The next smallest (Wake Forest) has about 7,500 students. No other school has fewer than 13,500.

A few highlights:

  • Largest: Texas A&M (58,800)
  • Largest private: Southern Cal (41,000)
  • Largest in the Carolinas: NC State (34,000)
  • Defending national champion: Duke (14,600)
  • Smallest: Campbell (6,100)

*Approximate enrollments.

The full field: 
(Golfstat ranking and enrollment approximations in parenthesis)

  • Alabama (No. 24; 36,100)
  • Arkansas (No. 8; 26,300)
  • Arizona (No. 5; 42,200)
  • Baylor (No. 18; 16,200)
  • California (No. 34; 37,500
  • Campbell (No. 46; 6,100)
  • Duke (No. 4; 14,600)
  • LSU (No. 6; 30,400)
  • NC State (No. 39; 34,000)
  • Northwestern (No. 14; 21,500)
  • Purdue (No. 31; 38,700)
  • Stanford (No. 13; 15,800)
  • South Carolina (No. 2; 31,900)
  • Southern Cal (No. 1; 41,000)
  • Tennessee (No. 12; 27,400)
  • Texas A&M (No. 9; 58,800)
  • Texas Tech (No. 27; 33,100)
  • Tulane (No. 23; 13,500)
  • UC Davis (No. 22; 35,400)
  • UCLA (No. 3; 42,100)
  • UNLV (No. 19; 28,500)
  • Virginia (No. 10; 21,200)
  • Wake Forest (No. 11; 7,500)
  • Washington (No. 7; 44,100)