Virginia Water, England
Not many expect Michael Campbell to repeat as U.S. Open champion at Winged Foot. It has been 17 years since Curtis Strange did it, and he is the only player since Ben Hogan in 1951 to repeat as champion.
U.S. Opens don’t look kindly on defending champions. But try telling that to the New Zealander.
Campbell is fairly brash about his chances of joining an elite club of repeat winners that includes Strange, Hogan, Ralph Guldahl, Bobby Jones, John McDermott and Willie Anderson.
“The most important thing I’m trying to do is not defend my title,” Campbell said. “It’s to win it. In American football a defensive team has to protect their goal line, and to me being on the defensive is not how to play golf. I play golf by being pretty aggressive.
“So when I get to Winged Foot . . . I’m going to go out and try to win it. I want more majors.”
That might sound like pie-in-the-sky stuff, but then not many people would have selected Campbell to win last June at Pinehurst.
Campbell missed his first five cuts of the season last year, and looked nothing like a U.S. Open winner. His start this year is eerily similar.
“If you look at my results so far they haven’t been pleasing,” Campbell said.
“I missed five cuts and got beaten in the first round of the (WGC) Match Play. Last year I did exactly the same thing, and then came out and started playing well.
“At the end of last year we sat down with a plan, and now it is time to build up towards my defense of Pinehurst.”
Part of that plan was the longest break of his career. Campbell played only six times in a four-month span. Then he enjoyed a month’s vacation after the Masters.
“It’s been a quiet season for me so far,” Campbell said. “I did that on purpose. I had a very busy end of the year after winning the U.S. Open and the HSBC World Match Play Championship. Mentally and physically I was very tired so I decided to take a lot of time off. Now it is time to do some work.”
Campbell hooked up with coach Jonathan Yarwood before the Quinn Direct British Masters on the PGA European Tour, and the pair spent time on the range preparing for his buildup to Winged Foot.
“I’m pretty serious now and back to the hard grind, back in the gym,” he said.
Campbell started 2006 with a fourth-place finish at the Mercedes Championship, but he was knocked out in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship (losing to eventual winner Geoff Ogilvy), then missed successive cuts at Bay Hill, The Players Championship and the Masters.
Campbell wanted more PGA Tour starts, but because he fell one start shy of his 15-start minimum in 2003, he is allowed only 10 starts as a nonmember.
Campbell instead prepared for Winged Foot with four events in Europe. The early signs are that the Kiwi is running to form. Since returning from his month break, Campbell finished fifth in the British Masters and 12th in the Nissan Irish Open.