PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. – An informal football game broke out in the parking lot Sunday at True Blue Golf Club. It was a good way for five of the six Campbell players in the field to get the energy out before piling in a weathered grey Chevy Impala to head back to their rental for the night.
It’s a tight fit in the battered four-door with the crack over the passenger-side window, so efficient packing was key.
“She’s packed pretty full at the moment,” said Josh Hetherington, the driver, “and I’m surprised we even made it without any hiccups.”
There’s no team leaderboard at the Golfweek True Blue Amateur, but Campbell could easily field a team score if allowed to. Only College of Charleston and George Mason have more men in the 91-player amateur field this week (with Queens University of Charlotte also fielding six).
Scores: Golfweek True Blue Amateur
The Camels didn’t even play a practice round at True Blue, but they’ve all seen it before in college events. The three-hour drive from Buies Creek, North Carolina, was punctuated only with a stop at McDonald’s. Clubs were crammed in the car with five bodies.
It’s pretty close to normal in the Campbell camp, minus coach John Crooks’s presence.
“And we have to pay for everything ourselves,” junior Pontus Nyholm added.
Nyholm was the star of the day on Sunday, picking his spots and lasering his wedges to an 8-under 64 that gave him the solo lead over Jake Carter, a Ladson, South Carolina, native who plays on the Charleston Southern roster.
“I was playing kind of aggressive with the fairways being so wet, no roll, you kind of have to hit driver to get close,” Nyholm said of a soggy True Blue that has endured upwards of 10 inches of rain in the past few days.
Nyholm hung around campus for a few weeks after the spring season was canceled because of COVID, but ultimately flew home to Sweden for the bulk of the summer. He played three events on the Swedish Golf Tour. As a member of the Swedish National Team, he was able to gain entry as a wild card.
Courtesy of his position in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (Nyholm currently checks in at No. 51), he would have gained entry into the U.S. Amateur last month. He led the registration deadline pass thinking he wouldn’t be able to travel to the U.S. to play only to see travel restrictions later lifted.
He still feels lucky to have been able to play the professional events in Sweden.
— Campbell M Golf (@GoCamelsMGolf) July 14, 2020
Nyholm spent the day trying to get it to 100 meters, the sweet spot for a little 50-degree wedge shot that set up several birdies. Nyholm had seven of those on Sunday, plus an eagle at the par-5 ninth.
His 64 was seven better than the next best Campbell score. Edwin Blomander and Henrik Lilja had rounds of 71.
“We should know a little bit more than other players,” said Hetherington, referencing the sheer number of times Campbell has competed in the Golfweek Program Challenge, usually played at True Blue in early September.
The Campbell men have been playing just among themselves for the past two weeks, so this competition is refreshing. His unofficial fall lineup may be the best of all, though. Campbell is one of many schools that won’t compete as a team in the fall, but players plan to tee it up in a couple more amateur events.
Interestingly, Blomander and Lilja made headlines earlier in the month when they logged holes-in-one in the same round at Keith Hills Golf Club, Campbell’s home course.
“It was my first hole in one so I almost gave up on it,” said Lilja, who had never even seen a hole-in-one live before that day.
Hey @GolfweekRingler – what are the chances of 2 holes in one in the same group in the same round? Happened today in @GoCamelsMGolf practice round today at @KeithHills27 for Edwin Blomander @EdwinBlomander and Henrik Lilja! #RollHumps pic.twitter.com/6azGS5zgRl
— Campbell M Golf (@GoCamelsMGolf) August 30, 2020
Hetherington planned to play some amateur events over the summer, but when host families became hard to come by and COVID precautions were put in place, he withdrew. Instead, he went south to Isleworth Country Club outside Orlando and tagged along with fellow Australians Ryan Ruffels and Curtis Luck, both Korn Ferry Tour players.
“I nearly got more experience watching those guys play than even playing myself,” said Hetherington, who said many days were spent working out in the morning, playing in the afternoon then going fishing.
Hetherington caddied for Ruffels for a month-long stretch over the summer, and got in some informal competition himself. Several PGA Tour players call Isleworth home, and Hetherington won’t forget a round with Graeme McDowell.
“He was a really nice guy and he just spoke to me like any normal person,” Hetherington said. “So I’m a big fan of his now just for that.”
Having seen that next level – players that amateurs often put on a pedestal – it’s hard now for Hetherington not to think about how he and his teammates compare – especially on a day when one fired a 64.
Golf can be a cruel sport when you’re alone, but luckily that’s something the Campbell crew doesn’t have to navigate.
“Us boys are from all over the world – three countries, even four – to be together and eating together and staying together makes it a lot better experience,” Hetherington said. “It’s basically like this is the team we would travel with, we just don’t have a coach. In a way, I probably enjoy it better. We get to do what we want and then come to the course together and warm up.”