Local golfer Zoe Campos wrote three goals on her mirror when she was 8 years old. No goal was bigger than becoming the top golfer in the world when she turned professional.
Now at 20 years old, Campos will be one step closer to that goal as she heads for the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach in July.
The UCLA golfer has been working to reach the Open for years but finally clinched a trip to Pebble Beach on her seventh try. Campos just happened to qualify on her home course at Valencia Country Club, where she shot an even par to finish second out of 72 competitors.
“Monday was a bit rough,” Campos told The Signal in a phone interview. “I didn’t feel super great and my swing was a little off. During the run, I was calm the whole time and told myself, ‘Be patient, 36 holes is a lot.’ I just grinded throughout the day. I don’t think I made any amazing shots but I made some important putts. I’ve been working hard all year and I’m just super proud to have finally made it.”
The Bruin then followed up one clutch performance with another and led Team USA to a comeback win in the Arnold Palmer Cup. Campos struggled on the day but erased a four-stroke deficit on the final four holes. She then hit for bogey to tie her Team International counterpart, which clinched the Cup for the USA.
“On the last hole, our coach told us all I needed to do was to tie the match,” Campos said. “I wanted to win but I did the best I could do with that hole. It was a really good feeling getting to clinch the cup for us.”
The path to the U.S. Open was not easy and also not quite Campos’ original plan. The Bruin was aiming to play in the Women’s Amateur at Augusta but didn’t receive an invitation. Had she played on the legendary greens, Campos would not have played in either of her two tournament wins with UCLA this season. The sophomore then wasn’t able to get to the NCAA national championships but was able to play back at Valencia and qualify for the Open.
Campos had her eyes on winning an NCAA title, and although she hardly ever hits in it, she had found a diamond in the rough.
“It hurt because one of my goals was to win nationals,” Campos said. “After I didn’t make it, I realized I had another opportunity to make an even bigger event. I played well enough to get into the Open, and from there on, I’ve been thinking about how everything happens for a reason.”
The UCLA golfer has been playing since she was 8 years old and after just a few months of playing, she was in need of a trainer and swing coach.
Ken Lewis doesn’t typically take on younger clients but agreed to meet with Campos and her father, with the expectation of pointing her in the direction of a youth golf coach. After seeing the then-8-year-old take two swings, Lewis agreed to take Campos under his wing.
Although the young golfer was shy, and rarely said hello to Lewis, he always knew she was listening as she’d correct and work on everything he asked of her.
“Ever since I started, I have had the same coach, Ken Lewis,” Campos said. “He’s the one I trust the most and he’s helped my game so much. I wouldn’t want to change that, so we’ve just continued to work together.”
Campos has taken huge strides under Lewis’ guidance and has racked up the accolades leading up to making the U.S. Open.
The golfer won a CIF state championship as a West Ranch Wildcat in her one season of high school play. Campos was then home-schooled but the competition never stopped. She has won the Faldo Cup, the Silverado Showdown, the University of Hawaii Spring Break Classic, the Stacey Lewis Invitational, the American Junior Golf Association three times and the Alison Lee Invitational twice.
“She’s one of the most gifted short-game players I’ve ever seen,” Lewis said in a phone interview. “Her fundamentals and ability to repetitively focus on her movements is outstanding and it had to be for her to get where she is.”
Campos admires no golfer more than Alison Lee and has followed in her footsteps closely as a star at UCLA. The Bruin came full circle at the Chevron Championship in April when she was able to play against Lee. The two weren’t in the same group and both cut from contention, but Campos was able to best her role model by two strokes.
As a freshman, Campos ended her season with one top-10 finish and three in the top 20.
The Bruin’s second year in Westwood overshadowed the first by far. Campos picked up two big wins toward the end of her sophomore season, winning the Silverado Showdown (-5) and the Spring Break Classic (-12). Campos only finished outside of the top seven twice.
“In the beginning and middle of the season, I was just trying to prepare myself because I knew I was capable of winning and playing well,” Campos said. “Mentally I’ve grown a lot. This year I kept telling myself I can do it. It was just a matter of time before I realized I will play well.”
“Mentally on the course I’ve been better. My putting has definitely improved. My freshman year, I lost a lot of strokes from putting. I wasn’t playing as well. This year I just felt a lot better on the greens. I focused on the correct speed other than just trying to make it.”
Bruins coach Alicia Um Holmes first met Campos back in 2017 during the young golfer’s visit to UCLA.
“She’s an amazing golfer and super talented,” Um Homles said in a phone interview. “She’s really bloomed in her sophomore year after figuring stuff out about her golf game. I don’t remember when but she said she’s never been this motivated with golf before. She’s our No. 1 player and our most motivated player.”
Um Holmes has been an assistant and associate head coach at UCLA and will now get a few more years with her top golfer, as a head coach. The Bruins’ coach wasn’t surprised one bit to see her star qualify for the open.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Um Holmes said. “I was watching her play and she hits it just as good as the pros. She just has to tighten up her short game but it wasn’t a surprise. I was expecting her to qualify, especially because it was at Valencia, her home course. She can play with the pros.”
It didn’t take long for Campos to commit to her dream school, as she announced her commitment as a freshman in high school.
“It’s amazing. I love UCLA,” Campos said. “It’s been my dream school ever since I started playing golf. To represent UCLA was always a big dream of mine and that has come true. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
There will likely be some nerves at Pebble Beach but Campos’ cool personality has translated well to her golf game.
“I’m usually a very mellow person on the course,” Campos said. “I don’t get super hyped or very emotional. I just like to stay steady. Emotions can get the best of you sometimes, so it’s best to stay steady. Golf is so mentally hard and you never know when it can hit you.”
Campos will enter the U.S. Women’s Open as an All-Pac-12 first teamer and a Women’s Golf Coaches Association All-American. She’ll aim to simply play her best game possible and take in the experience of playing alongside some of the best players in the world.
“I just want to look at what kind of players the pros are, but I also want to play well and show how good I am,” Campos said. “I don’t really have any expectations, at least not for the result. I just expect myself to go out there and play my game. I don’t think there’s anything better than playing a major, especially in the U.S. Open.”
Lewis is excited to see his protege take one of the biggest stages of her career so far in July. The two will continue to work together virtually, as Lewis resides in New Jersey. However, they’ll take the course together for some practice rounds at Pebble Beach before Campos officially tees off.
“I’d love to tell a story about how the struggle turned out amazing but talent is talent,” Lewis said. “You just look at her and say go with it, and she’ll do it better than you ever did in two days. Teaching Zoe has always been an absolute pleasure.”
Campos is grateful for everything Lewis has done for her, citing him and her parents, Noel and Yvonne Campos, as vital to her successful golf journey.
“My parents and my swing coach have always supported me,” Campos said. “They’ve been such a big help. I wouldn’t have made it without them. Their belief in me has been super important to my game. They believe that I can play out there with the pros.”
Campos takes the green on July 6 for her first U.S. Women’s Open appearance.