Michael Campbell: Not quite an unknown
BY Anthony Powter | US PGA Tour | 2005 US Open | Final Round | 21 Jun 2005
It’s not uncommon for television commentators to ask rhetorical questions like “who is this guy?” in the final round of a major championship, especially in a US Open.
It was being asked recently of Michael Campbell, New Zealand’s favourite son, as he played his way to a simply stunning victory at the 105th US Open Championship. The day before in the third round, it was asked about Aussie Mark Hensby as he played his way into contention at Pinehurst No. 2.
Whilst Campbell is reported to have described his game as “streaky”, even putting aside his US Open crown, he has achieved considerable success on the world golfing stage, particularly on the European and Australasian Tours. Campbell has resurrected his career on more than one occasion from injury to finding a Tour base.
Tour victories include 1993 Canon Challenge, 1995 Alfred Dunhill Masters, 1999 Johnnie Walker Classic, 2000 New Zealand Open, 2000 Heineken Classic, 2000 Ericsson Masters, 2000 German Masters, 2001 Heineken Classic, 2002 Smurfit European Open and the 2003 Irish Open. There were also three Challenge Tour victories in 1994 and the 1992 Australian Amateur Championship.
There was a tied 12th spot at the 2000 US Open in his first appearance and the considerable media attention he received at The Open Championship in 1995 at St Andrews, when at just 26 and at his first British Open he led the field by two strokes after three rounds, finally finishing equal third behind John Daly after a closing 76.
These results do not reflect a streaky player, but rather a seasoned campaigner. Not bad for someone who battled a debilitating left wrist injury during 1998, in a period where he was virtually unable to lift a fork with his left hand and where he was considering selling golf equipment to make a living. During this time Campbell lost playing privileges on both the Australasian and European Tours.
He was able to play back onto the circuit when the European and Australasian Tour extended him several sponsor’s exemptions and he was soon back in the winners’ circle. Ever since, he has been a strong supporter of both Tours and is a regular who makes the journey back to Australia and New Zealand to support their Tour. The Australasian Tour officials will no doubt be expecting more galleries and interest this summer with the reigning US Open Champion playing.
What is freaky, as opposed to streaky, is the passage of time over the last three weeks for Campbell. Less than two weeks ago he was playing in a US Open qualifier in Surrey, England, the country where he is now based with his wife and two young boys.
Had it not been for the USGA electing to run a qualifier for nine spots in England, he would have had to travel to Europe just to try to qualify, not something he later said he was prepared to do. Realistically he would not have played in the US Open and he must be thankful that it was the first time the USGA has conducted qualifying overseas. Back at Walton Heath in England, Campbell stood over a six footer for a birdie three, thinking it might be enough to secure one of the qualifying positions, he was right and was on his way to Pinehurst No. 2.
The rest is history and proof that even the smallest window of opportunity can lead to success. That in itself is a reflection of sport, and in particular the game of golf. Campbell also became the first sectional qualifier to win the US Open since Steve Jones in 1996.
For Michael Campbell and the proud nation of the New Zealand, the events over the last week are stunning. He is only the second New Zealander, and the first maori, to win a Major Championship (Bob Charles won The Open in 1963); the gravity of his success is only starting to sink in a country where every boy aspires to be an “All Black” rugby player. There were some suggestions Campbell aspired to the same but some motherly influence pushed him towards golf.
Campbell grew up in Titahi Bay and was introduced to the game like many other great players by his father when he was 8. Originally a leftie, he would caddie for his father who played off single figures at Titahi Bay Golf Club. Campbell himself joined the club at 10 and had a handicap of 11 by age 12. There was the odd club championship in 1986 and 1990 as well as a course record 62 when he was 16 in 1985.
He played some amateur golf in Australia and won the NSW Amateur Championship in 1992, a far distance to the dizzy heights of grinding out the last 4 holes in the US Open Championship with Tiger breathing down your neck.
Campbell to his credit kept his composure even as the roars went up through the pine tress. The nerves were kicking in during the closing stages of the final round – mine certainly were – and he was not the only one who had to make a number of quick sprints to the porta-loos.
“It was nerves, to be honest, definitely nerves,” he said. “I drank a lot of water, but it was nerves. I think I went probably about five times today so I was very nervous.” There probably was also the odd Kiwi doing the same back home as well.
All, including Campbell himself, would have felt better once the 20 footer for a two at the 17th fell to give a nice margin up the final hole, which he played safely to secure one of the sweetest victories of all.
You cannot help but think St Andrews, 10 years ago was a rewarding experience for Campbell. It toughened and baptised him in the pressures of professional golf at the highest level, the majors. There are only four in a season and every professional golfer aspires to hold a major trophy.
“I think for the first time I actually made the front page of the newspapers back home with the All Blacks. They’ve been champions and heroes of mine, and to knock them off their pedestal for this one weeks means a lot to me.”
That Campbell certainly did, much to the joy of many in Australia, Ireland, Scotland and England.
Photo – Anthony Powter