PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Whoever was responsible for nicknaming the Campbell University athletic teams of Buies Creek, North Carolina, was a visionary.
Campbell’s Camels plodded their way over soggy PGA Golf Club to reach their long-awaited oasis of an unprecedented fifth national title in the 16th PGA Jones Cup.
Led by fifth-year senior Kyle Akins of Chesapeake, Virginia, who earned medalist honors at 1-under-par 143, and senior Ian Illig of Homer City, Pennsylvania, who closed with a 71, the Camels finished with a 36-hole total of 591. It was enough to hold off two-time defending champion New Mexico State (595).
Coastal Carolina University was third (597); followed by Florida Gulf Coast University (598), and University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and Sam Houston State University sharing fifth (605).
“It was a battle of perseverance,” said PGA Professional Ken Jones, in his 20th season as Campbell’s Professional Golf Management Director. “Going in and out of two rain delays, I knew it would be tough. In the end, we hung on.”
The “Drive for Five” was Jones’ season-long theme as he hosted weekend Tournament Series in Buies Creek to challenge his team. In the end, Camels had the right quintet to journey to Port St. Lucie and tack on the fifth crown to those earned in 2007, ’09, ’12 and ’14. No other PGA Professional Golf Management University has won four.
“Winning here is huge. It’s what we came down here to do,” said Illig. “We wanted to prove we were the best in the country. It’s our national championship, our Ryder Cup, yeah, it all fits. We talk about it a lot, and you definitely have to play well to make the team.”
Due to the intermittent rain soaking the Wanamaker Course, preferred lies were in force over 36 holes. It was a luxury, Jones said, unless your ball missed the fairway. “Then, you had mud on the ball and had to really work hard for par. Our guys played well, and so did New Mexico State. We just got it going on the back nine.”
Illig finished 2-under-par on the back nine, while Akins held his round together by scrambling on the difficult par-3 17th hole. He drilled home a 25-footer for par after missing the green to the right.
“It feels awesome, and to be here with a great group of guys,” said Akins of his championship debut. “I started out hot, made a few mental mistakes and then got myself together on the back nine.”
Rounding out Campbell’s quintet were sophomore Luke Polland of Minneapolis (77-149); and seniors Brian Jones of Chesterfield, Virginia (78-155); and Ben Schlesman of East Douglas, Massachusetts (80-155).
New Mexico State’s Aggies, who had rallied the past two years, but found a six-stroke deficit to start the day insurmountable. Senior Cole Lorenz of Billings, Montana, who had an opening-round 69 in his fourth consecutive Jones Cup appearance, struggled in with a 77.
“I’m proud of the guys,” said Aggies PGA Professional Golf Management Program Specialist Josh Salmon. “It’s tough to swallow. You don’t want the streak to end. It was tough conditions today and Campbell played well. It’s tough to not win, but you got to keep your heads high.”
All participating universities in the PGA Jones Cup are schools accredited by the PGA of America to offer the PGA Golf Management University Program for aspiring PGA Professionals. There are currently more than 1,800 students enrolled in the program nationwide.
The PGA Jones Cup
Begun in 2002 by Mississippi State University, the PGA Jones Cup is named for the first PGA Golf Management University Program Director at Mississippi State, Dr. S. Roland Jones, who served from 1985 until his passing in 1997. The event annually provides a platform for participants to display professionalism, integrity, character and camaraderie; all characteristics Dr. Jones instilled in PGA Golf Management students.