The miracle of Michael Campbell’s 2005 US Open winJune, 2014
Michael Campbell reflects with Mark Townsend on his surprise win in the US Open at Pinehurst – a championship he had to pre-qualify for
Michael Campbell has played in 15 US Opens, and in 11 of them he has failed to make the weekend.
It is not too dissimilar to the flurry of missed cuts that represent the rest of his Major record. But when he’s good, he’s very good.
In 1995 he very nearly won the Open Championship at St Andrews; he was the playing partner of Costantino Rocca when the Italian holed ‘that putt’ at the 18th. Campbell finished one shot outside the play-off.
As Tiger Woods claimed another Masters title, Campbell’s 2005 season began with five straight missed cuts.
The New Zealander hadn’t even qualified for the US Open, but a closing 65 at the Welsh Open saw him head down the M4 to Walton Heath along with 53 other hopefuls in good spirits. Nine places were up for grabs.
Campbell finished fifth and two weeks later, he won one of the game’s biggest prizes at none other than Pinehurst, the cradle of American golf. This is how he remembers it…
The start to 2005
“The first two months were a big struggle so I decided to spend three weeks with my coach Jonathan Yarwood and David Leadbetter and grind it out.
“I found a certain key in my swing, something simple like setting my hands quicker on the backswing, that I latched on to and we went with that. I started making cuts and building momentum. I was fit and strong and it all exploded in June.
“I felt like I was swinging it well so I could visualise shots better.”
US Open qualifying
“I was playing with Steve Webster in Wales in the final round and we both played well and finished in the top 15.
“We knew we were playing together at Walton Heath so convinced each other to play. I had played a few weeks in a row and was tired, but my wife said it was only a 45-minute drive so it couldn’t be better.
“I was up at 6am, had breakfast and was first off with Steve. We had the same score playing the last hole; Steve was 10 feet away, I had eight feet and was on his line so I moved it to the side.
“He aimed right edge and it stayed there and lipped out, so I hit mine inside right and it went in. He missed by one and I got in. We talk about it all the time. He always jokes that I owe him a lot.”
“I had no expectation. I was quietly confident but maybe hopeful of a top 20. My putting was average so on the Monday I played a practice round with Paul McGinley and for the first time in my life was using a belly putter.
“Then I saw Jonathan on the Tuesday and he said to get rid of that and to get away from the circus. We went to Pine Needles where we were staying and practised on the putting green for three hours. And sorted it all out.”
At home it was pretty crazy, they stopped Parliament while we played the last few holes Into contention
“I shot 71-69-71 and was four behind Retief Goosen who had two US Opens and was the defending champion.
“I actually had lunch with him on the Sunday and we talked about the day. He was my closest mate on Tour. When you get on the 1st tee it all changes but the lunch was all fine.
“After the 7th hole I was leading and thought this was a great chance to seize the moment. I had a chance in 1995 when leading at St Andrews after three rounds but wasn’t experienced enough to win a Major. At Pinehurst I thought this was my time.”
“I stuck with the game plan which I did well all week and saw it as a challenge and not a threat. The greens make it hard there. I was patient at forgetting where the pin was and aimed for the fat part of the green.
“I was very surprised at the other scores but I knew it was possible and the pressure is so different on Major Sundays. The only real threat was Tiger, who was two groups ahead and making all these birdies which you could tell from the crowds.
“I couldn’t worry about him and could only control my own destiny. I think I had 12 putts in the last nine holes.
“Every single hole I liked – I was at ease with the course. There wasn’t a hole that I didn’t like.
“And I got Olin Browne as my playing partner. He told me a joke on the 15th tee as he could see I was getting pretty nervous and there was a hold up. The mind was racing and he told me some joke about a crocodile, I couldn’t take it in but he did it for a great reason.
The par-3 17th
“I birdied it three times. If I designed a golf course there would be a hole with the exact same dimensions as that one. I holed a bunker shot on the Saturday – the only way to get it close was to hole it.
“Then I birdied it on Sunday and really had to calm myself down as I had another hole to go.
“The adrenaline is rushing through you and funny things start rushing through your mind and I managed to do that quite nicely.
“I knew bogey was enough at the last so I pitched out and made the five.”
“Steve Williams came up to me and said everyone at home would be very proud. We’re very good friends and that was cool as he was working with Tiger. He speaks his mind and sometimes he comes across wrongly but I see a different side to that.
“At home it was pretty crazy, they stopped Parliament while we played the last few holes. It was huge for the country – a friend said people would stop in the streets watching TVs and took the day off work and went straight to the bar drinking.
“The best thing is getting recognition from your peers, their respect and they look at you in a different way. I grew up visualising winning a Major and I did that. To have my name on the same trophy as all the greats of golf and that is very special.
“I still have the balls from the week, and the clubs and the bag. I’ve not watched the video for a while…”