Pinehurst Lookback: Campbell Claims 2005 U.S. Open
By David Shefter, USGA
Two weeks before the 2005 U.S. Open, Michael Campbell faced a difficult decision.
Considering his lack of recent success in the U.S. Open – he had failed to qualify for the weekend in his previous four starts – and six missed cuts in 12 starts on the 2005 European Tour, the 36-year-old from New Zealand was considering skipping the 36-hole sectional qualifier.
If the USGA had not instituted two international qualifying sites – one in England and another in Japan – for that 2005 championship, Campbell likely would have eschewed the overseas flight to the U.S., given the long odds of sectional qualifying.
His caddie, his agent and his wife all encouraged Campbell to play in the inaugural international qualifier at Walton Heath Golf Club in suburban London on that early Monday in June.
Little did Campbell know just how important that decision would become.
Not only did he secure one of the nine available spots by holing a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole, Campbell went on to make history 13 days later as the first Kiwi to hoist the U.S. Open Trophy.
Campbell carded a 1-under-par 69 in the final round to hold off world No. 1 Tiger Woods by two strokes, while the rest of the leaders unraveled behind him.
Defending champion Retief Goosen, of South Africa, held a three-stroke lead after 54 holes and seemed poised to take home his third U.S. Open title in four years. But the man who one-putted 11 greens in the final round the year before in winning at Shinnecock Hills, uncharacteristically lost his poise en route to a final-round 81. Qualifier Jason Gore, who surprised everyone by earning a spot in the final Sunday pairing, also struggled on Sunday, shooting 84. Olin Browne, who started the day three strokes back with Gore, carded an 80.
Meanwhile, the man nobody was talking about, the man who nearly withdrew from his sectional qualifier, quietly emerged as the champion.
A bogey on the 72nd hole failed to keep Campbell from joining Sir Bob Charles (1963 British Open) as the only major champions from New Zealand.
When the final putt disappeared, Campbell extended both arms and looked to the heavens. Tears flowed as a tiny South Pacific nation thousands of miles away rejoiced.
For at least one day, rugby – New Zealand’s national team, known commonly as the “All Blacks,” is world renowned – took a backseat to golf.
“I’m finally on the front page now with the All Blacks,” said Campbell, whose parents watched the telecast late into the night back home at their local club in Wellington. His wife did the same at their home in Brighton, England. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve worked hard for it and I deserve it. It’s all mine now.”
So much had happened to Campbell in the decade since he had last contended for a major title in the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews, where he tied for third, one stroke out of the playoff between John Daly and Costantino Rocca. Campbell was one of the world’s top 10 players at the time, but a serious wrist injury would sideline his career and lead to no status on either the European or Australasia tours.
Campbell reemerged in 1999 to finish fourth on the European Tour’s Order of Merit and received a special exemption into the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he tied for 12th. He missed the cut in his next four U.S. Open appearances leading up to the 2005 championship at Pinehurst.
But Campbell had rededicated himself to the game as 2005 began, retooling his swing under the guidance of Sarasota, Fla.-based instructor Jonathan Yarwood. By late spring, Campbell had regained his form, tying for third at the Johnnie Walker Classic, finishing fourth at The Daily Telegraph Dunlop Masters and tying for eighth at the BMW Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event.
“I decided to employ him full-time this year, and it’s really paid dividends,” said Campbell at the time, of his work with Yarwood.
Nevertheless, all eyes were focused elsewhere during the first 36 holes of the championship. There was Goosen, the defending champion, at 2-under 138. There was Browne, who opened the championship with a 3-under 67 after nearly withdrawing from his sectional qualifier in Rockville, Md. Browne had shot 73 on Woodmont Country Club’s North Course, but went on to card a 59 on the shorter South Course to earn his trip to Pinehurst.
Gore, a Nationwide Tour player making his second U.S. Open start, shot a second-round 67 to share the 36-hole lead. A third-round 72 was good enough to earn aSunday pairing with Goosen.
“This is really an opportunity for me to play well,” said Gore, a member of the victorious 1997 USA Walker Cup Team who would win three Nationwide Tour events and the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic later that year. “It’s going to be fun. I just really have nothing to lose.”
Then there was Woods, the world No. 1 player, who was seeking a third U.S. Open title in five years. Woods had played well at Pinehurst in the 1999 U.S. Open, tying for third, two strokes behind winner Payne Stewart and one behind runner-up Phil Mickelson. This time around, Woods failed to better par in the first three rounds, but was within range, six behind Goosen as play began on Father’s Day.
While people might have expected Gore and Browne to fade, nobody thought Goosen would shoot an 81, which included a double bogey and nine bogeys, including five straight at one point.
“I got on the wrong side of the golf course and got bitten,” said Goosen. “I just bled all the way home. I couldn’t make a putt to save my life.”
By the time Goosen and Gore putted out on the 72nd hole, Campbell was already being feted outside the clubhouse.
“He is a legitimate champion,” said Browne. “He reminded people of that today.”
Campbell kept his composure over the final nine holes as Woods attempted to win a major championship coming from behind for the first time. Woods birdied 10, 11 and 15 to get within two strokes of Campbell, but gave two back with consecutive bogeys at 16 and 17, the latter a three-putt from 17 feet, before posting a birdie at the 18th.
Even as the roars swirled through the pines, Campbell remained steady, holing a clutch par putt at the 17th.
“I just had to keep focused,” said Campbell. “Look at what happened to Jean Van de Velde in 1999 [relinquishing a three-stroke lead on the 72nd hole at the British Open]. Sorry, Jean, I shouldn’t have mentioned you.”
There would be no 18th-hole meltdown. With a three-shot cushion, Campbell played the hole conservatively and made a bogey 5.
Woods’ caddie, native New Zealander Stevie Williams, was one of the first people to congratulate the champion after he stepped out of the scoring area.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of good players,” said Williams. “I think it will be the single moment that will turn golf around in New Zealand.”
While Campbell carried some momentum from the U.S. Open triumph – he tied for fifth at the British Open, shared sixth at the PGA Championship and won the World Match Play later in 2005 – his game has slipped precipitously ever since. He has only made one subsequent cut at the U.S. Open (2007) and just four overall in major championships. He also has failed to collect a victory. During the 2010 season on the European Tour, he missed 19 cuts.
“I remember thinking as a kid, ‘One day I’m going to hole a putt for a major championship,’” Campbell told BBC Sport last year. “I didn't really look beyond that. So when I won one, I didn’t reset my goals. Looking back now is horrible because it was such a simple thing to do. Instead, I got totally lost in other things happening off the golf course. It made me forget about the simple things.”
Campbell, 45, recently announced that he will not compete in the 2014 U.S. Open. His 10-year exemption from qualifying will end with the 2015 championship.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.