Mental strength fuels Campbell's comeback

WAYNE MARTIN
Last updated 13:58 31/01/2013

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OPINION: Whatever the criticism directed at Michael Campbell over the past few years, he's always maintained an abiding sense of self belief.

Those of us who'd threatened to write him off as a has-been on the international golf circuit are now suddenly, and rather sheepishly, having to reconsider. On recent evidence at least, the 2005 US Open champion is staging a comeback.

The resilient Cambo is again making notable strides up the world golf rankings and looking right at home on the European Tour. After injury problems and a loss of form saw him fall outside the top 900 during his slump, he's now climbed to 264 in the world as the New Zealand No 2 - 24 places behind No 1 Danny Lee.

It's one of the feelgood stories doing the rounds in New Zealand sport, largely because through all the doubts and despair naturally associated with form slumps and missed cuts, Campbell's dogged resolve has never wavered. Well, it might have, maybe just a little, but you'd hardly have known.

While his ties for 17th and 16th-place finishes at his last two European Tour events don't necessarily signal a player ready to turn heads in this year's majors, it's still a remarkable turnaround for a player who in 2011 missed 19 of 27 cuts, and from September 2011 to March 2012 missed 12 straight cuts on the European Tour.

There's never been any doubt that Campbell has the talent. He announced his arrival on the international stage when he led the field after three rounds of the 1995 British Open at St Andrews, eventually tying for third. He finished fourth on the European Tour order of Merit that year, and also won the Dunhill Masters in Malaysia.

A wrist injury, ironically suffered at the New Zealand Open, saw him out of action until March 1996, affecting both his form and confidence. Four years later, he'd risen to No 14 in the world on the back of several impressive victories, including the New Zealand Open title.

Then at Pinehurst in 2005, he held off world No 1 Tiger Woods to become only the second Kiwi, after Bob Charles' 1963 British Open triumph, to win a major.

Talent? No question. But battling back as he did in 1996 is one thing. Attempting to salvage a stagnant career 17 years on, and with many having already scripted the 43-year-old's career obituary, is another matter.

It's been a harrowing experience for the "Maori boy from Titahi Bay", as Campbell described himself to the stunned American media back in 2005, and hopefully the worst is behind him.

You never know with golf, though. It can be the cruellest of professions, but also the most rewarding - virtually in the same breath.

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Campbell has visited both ends of the spectrum, with probably more surprises in store.

He's proven his mental strength - and where golf's concerned, that can often be the decisive factor.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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