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Interview with 2005 US Open Champion Michael Campbell

By: Golf Shake | Mon 09 Jun 2014

Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements

The last time the US Open was played at Pinehurst the entire field finished over par - apart from one man. Michael Campbell, of New Zealand, was only in the field after coming through a 36-hole qualifier in England, and he very nearly did not even bother to make the trip to qualifying.

Sadly, Campbell will not be there this time. His marriage has recently come to an end and he doesn't feel that he in the right place mentally. On top of that, his form has been pretty dreadful, and he is still recovering from an ankle injury. Campbell has not played since missing the cut in January in the Abu Dhabi Championship.

The 45-year-old was one of only 53 players who took part at Walton Heath in the inaugural international qualifying event in 2005, and it eventually came down to the final hole.

“Luckily enough it was only a 45-minute drive from my house and my wife convinced me to go,” Campbell said. “I had played four weeks in a row, I was tired and it was the Monday after the Wales Open.

“I played together with Steve Webster in the final round and we were talking about whether to play or not, but we decided to turn up and give it a go. Webster and I were both three under playing the last and both hit good tee shots. Then he hit his approach to about 10 feet, I had about eight feet and I had to move my marker because it was right in his line.

“I moved it and obviously watched what he did. He aimed right edge and it stayed there. I aimed inside right and it lipped in and every time I see him I say ’Thanks for the read’, otherwise I would have missed the putt, missed qualifying and not gone to Pinehurst.”

Campbell had not played Pinehurst before and was struggling so badly on the greens that he tried a belly putter for the first time ever in practice, an experiment he quickly abandoned when his coach arrived. The pair went to a different course and spent three hours on the putting green, and Campbell rediscovered his touch.

Campbell was four shots behind double US Open winner Retief Goosen going into the final round. The two men are close friends and had lunch together before starting the final round.

Goosen got off to a shocking start and took 41 shots to play the first nine. Campbell, meanwhile, birdied the first and picked up more shots at the 10th and 12th, just as Tiger Woods was mounting his inevitable charge.

“The thing I was very proud of was that for the last nine holes it was just Tiger and me really,” Campbell recalled. “I was always just slightly ahead. Every time he made birdie, I made a biride. He was a couple of groups ahead of me so I knew what was happening through the crowd reaction.

“I walked away from that very proud because I had the best player that’s ever played this game breathing down my neck and managed to fight him off and win my first major.

“It’s fight or flight in that sort of situation and I ran towards the trouble. I said in my mind, 'This is my time to shine, my time to win.' I decided that on the 10th tee. I had ownership already of the US Open trophy and the title already in my mind, and I kept telling myself to concentrate on every single shot.”

New Zealand’s parliament was suspended as Campbell held off Woods to become his country’s first major champion since Bob Charles in 1963, and there was a ticker-tape parade on his return to Wellington two months later.

Victory in the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth crowned an amazing season, but that was Campbell's last victory. By 2010, he made just one halfway cut in 19 European Tour events and was ranked outside the world’s top 1,300.

Countless golfers have won majors and then decided that swing changes were required if they were to win more. Campbell fell into the same trap.

“The first thing which I did which was wrong was to change everything,” said Campbell, who recorded his first top 10s for four years in 2012 and is ranked 576th. “I don’t know why. I’d just won one of the hardest tournaments in the world and I wanted to change everything.

“I said to myself it was to get to the next level, but I’d actually reached it already. That was the biggest mistake. I remember watching my swing from the US Open and I said to my coach I wanted to change it. He said ’What?’

“I found the pressure and expectation on me was too much for me to handle. No-one prepares you mentally for the effects of winning a major. I didn’t reset my goals either. When Padraig [Harrington] won his first Open, I said, ’One thing you have to do is make sure you reset your goals straight away’, and he won the next year and then claimed the US PGA Championship for good measure.

“I have no regrets. I wouldn’t change a thing - except changing everything!”

Campbell will be at home watching events unfold. Perhaps the memories of what he achieved will inspire him and he will once again get back to winning ways. He is one of the good guys and deserves a break.

Derek Clements is a sports journalist with a particular passion for golf with over 12 years of experience covering golf and other sports including Chief Sub-Editor on the sports desk of The Sunday Times. To contact Derek email direct via [email protected]

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