Campbell Wins US Open
New Zealand native & professional golfer Michael Campbell – once a contracted Oakley golfer now on a product deal – fended off Tiger Woods during the final round of the U.S. Open and claimed his first major Championship title.
Campbell almost quit the game seven years ago. He couldn’t hold a golf club with his left hand due to an injury caused by overuse. He was ready to hang it up.
But he didn’t.
And when he was struggling earlier this year, missing cut after cut, he wanted to write off the season.
But he didn’t.
On Father’s Day, June 19th 2005, Campbell became the first New Zealander to win the U.S. Open, the first Maori to stand center stage in the world of golf. "It’s the single greatest sporting moment in New Zealand history," said fellow Kiwi, Steve Williams, who caddies for Tiger Woods. "For a Maori to be on a sporting stage like this … it’s incredible."
Totally unexpected and totally unbelievable. "It’s been a journey, my career," Campbell said. "It’s just unbelievable. That’s all I can say."
When the final putt fell, Cambo (as he is referred to by his friends) buried his head in his hands. He pulled his cap down and covered his eyes. "I was thinking about the people back home in New Zealand, and my wife Julie in England with my two boys Thomas and Jordan."
Campbell started the day as sort of an unknown among the games greats. There was Retief Goosen going for his third U.S. Open; Tiger Woods looking for the second leg of the Grand Slam; Vijay Singh looking for the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
Cambo threaded his way through Pinehurst # 2, finding fairways & greens while others found the rough – making putts while the rest of the pack struggled for a bogey. Cambo was also able to find incredible focus, the kind that would have made Payne Stewart proud.
Let the record show that Cambo closed with a 69, the same score thrown out by Woods, only Campbell started the day two shots better. Cambo began the day four shots behind Goosen and wasn’t even a thought on most people’s minds.
Then Cambo birdied the first hole. Goosen had bogeyed the third hole and dropped his third shot in four holes, and then the game was on. After nine holes Cambo was in his Zone. "There was little old me just hanging in there between some great players, the world’s best players," he said. "And I snuck in there without anyone noticing." He knew his nerves were working when he had to make two quick sprints to the port-a-potties during the round. "It was nerves, to be honest, definitely nerves," he said. "I drank a lot of water, but it was nerves." While some of the biggest names in the game were struggling, Campbell was finding nothing but fairway. And a way to hang onto the lead.
Perhaps the biggest irony is Cambo almost didn’t enter the tournament. Originally, he would have had to travel over from England just to qualify. But this year, for the first time, the USGA ran a qualifier for nine spots in England and Cambo earned his way in and then took it all the way to the ultimate victory.
Cambo said his career has flip-flopped on several occasions. And by his own account he’s resurrected it two or three times now. In 1994 Cambo entered a Tommy Armour tour event in St. Louis and won. "It cost me like $1,000 to enter, I had to get a loan out," he laughed. That win was worth $40K. A year later, Cambo tied for third in the 1995 British Open, he took advantage of all the opportunities and wound up with a wrist injury by 1998. "I was shooting 80s all the time, close to the 90s," he said. "I just could not play the game. I could not focus on what I was doing. I remember throwing my golf club or bag across the hotel room one time. I thought this is it. It’s all over. I was about to get an ax and chop them up in pieces."
In 2003, Cambo tried to play the PGA TOUR, but it was too tough with a wife and two small boys and no home base in America. Cambo called it "complete chaos," so he went back to play the European Tour full time. It turned his career around. So did missing the first five cuts of this season. It seems kind of silly to mention now, but that led Cambo to hire his coach Jonathan Yarwood full time – a huge turning point.
Cambo hadn’t made a cut in a U.S. Open in four years, which added to him flying under the radar during Sunday’s last round. After Saturday’s third round, Cambo said "I know what it takes to win a major, and I’m confident."
No one thought much about it. Next time, we will.