28 Feb 2019

Michael Campbell excited about return to professional golf

9:22 am on 28 February 2019

After a six year hiatus, Michael Campbell will tee off in his first professional golf tournament at the 100th New Zealand Open in Queenstown later today.

Michael Campbell at the 100th New Zealand Open, The Hills, Arrowtown, New Zealand.

Michael Campbell at the 100th New Zealand Open. Photo: Photosport

The 2005 US Open champion is coming out of self-enforced retirement this week, just days after his 50th birthday, as he pursues the next step in his career - the seniors tour.

"I'm pretty nervous, I must say.

"It's the first time I've had a scorecard in my back pocket for six years. It's going to be pretty interesting on the first tee, but from the very beginning I've got no expectations - I'm here to celebrate a wonderful 100 years of the New Zealand Open, that's a pretty cool thing and I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Titahi Bay born and bred, Campbell has been living in the south of Spain running an academy since 'retiring' due to injury.

Campbell announced in 2017 he would re-enter the competitive golf scene once he reached the age requirement (50) for the senior tours in Europe and the US.

He has 14 starts guaranteed on the Champions Tour (US), exemption into all the majors on the senior tour, as well as the European Tour and European Seniors Tour.

"I'm not here to play 30 events a year, I did that for years. I want to play 15 events, do well, win a couple of tournaments, say thank you and then move on for next year. I've done the grind, I've done the hard work, I'm not 25 years old, I'm 50, so I want to just enjoy life," he said.

Despite claiming the NZ Open title in 2000, Campbell isn't expecting a quick return to the winner's circle in Queenstown - just so long as he enjoys the experience.

"I feel that if I keep fit and my body is healthy, I feel I can actually do well out there again. It's amazing how things can come back quickly.

"I want to do well, of course, but I don't know what to expect. We had many discussions about the senior tour and I still move the same as 20 years ago, but it's more a mental thing for me now," he said.

"It's healthy to get nervous on the first tee. I'll be nervous on the first tee, no question."

'I miss competing'

Campbell has experienced the highest of highs in his career, beating Tiger Woods in the prime of his career, at the major considered the hardest in golf.

However, the 50-year-old also had well documented lows. Following his US Open victory and World Match Play title that same year, Campbell never won another professional event.

He was consistently missing cuts on the PGA and European Tours due to form slumps and injury - the latter forcing him into his early retirement.

Now though, he's ready to re-enter the competitive circuit and is hopeful he can add to the 15 titles he has next to his name.

Campbell told The Round Golf Podcast's Richard Kaufman that the thing he misses most is competing.

"I love competing. I don't miss the travelling, I've loved staying at home the last five years, it's been fantastic.

"Now I'm ready to start my next chapter in my life. Retief Goosen, Ernie's (Els) close by, Darren Clarke just turned 50, Paul McGinley, Paul Laurie [all playing on, or will play on, the Seniors Tour] so it will be nice to rekindle those relationships again. I haven't seen them for a long time so it'll be good to see those guys again."

He said he has no expectations for how he goes on the tour.

"That's one thing I'm looking forward to seeing what happens, I may hate it, I have no idea," he said.

US Open - 'A game within a game'

Campbell qualified for the US Open in 2005 at a one-day event in the UK on the Monday before the major started.

Michael Campbell

Michael Campbell during the parade for his US Open victory in Wellington. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Against all odds, he held off Tiger Woods, who just two months earlier had claimed his 10th major at the Masters in Augusta Georgia, just a four hour drive from Pinehurst in North Carolina.

Campbell shot a final round one-under 69, the best round of the day alongside Woods, to finish even for the tournament and two shots clear of the world number one.

He puts the win down to a novel way he tried to keep himself calm while competing against the best.

To differentiate balls on the course, players usually draw dots or lines on them with a marker, Campbell instead wrote the numbers of his favourite cars.

"I love my Porsches and I said to myself 'A top 10 Michael, buy yourself a Porsche,' so on my golf ball I had a 997 which was the new Porsche of that year.

"Then after two rounds I'm like top 15 so I thought maybe I'll get a Carrera 4s and then in the final round I had a chance to win the major so I thought maybe I'd get a GTS.

"To me it worked mentally because it diverted my attention from the big picture which was the US Open and just focussing on the smaller stuff which was the car," he said.

The day after his win, Campbell flew back to Brighton in the UK and purchased his Porsche.

Campbell said the 120,000 people who turned out for his parade in Wellington following the win is still one of his fondest memories of the experience.

"The guy who organised it, he said that they'd done this (parade) before and the only one ... with more numbers was The Beatles so that was pretty cool."

Now Campbell is back in the country where his golf career started, hoping to kick-start the next phase of it.

The New Zealand Open begins in Queenstown today at the Hills and Millbrook Courses, Campbell tees off at 12.38pm.