US Open winners beware 'Curse of Pinehurst'

17:48, Jun 12 2014
Michael Campbell
CAREER PINNACLE: Michael Campbell reached dizzying heights in world golf in 2005 when he won the US Open at Pinehurst- but it's all been downhill for the Kiwi professional since.

When the US Open comes to Pinehurst, golfers are best advised to leave their A-game at home.

The tournament will be played at the North Carolina course for the third time this week, but the fate of the two previous winners provides a cautionary tale to anyone with aspirations of triumph. 

The 'Curse of Pinehurst' has claimed the life of one previous champion and the career of another, while a prominent showing can also lead to career capitulation.

Let's go back in time to 1999.

Payne Stewart was one of the most popular members of the PGA tour, with his flamboyant, old fashioned golfing attire a hit with spectators.

He claimed his third major when winning the US Open at Pinehurst - the first time it had been held at the course.

Five months later he was dead, perishing in a ghostly plane crash where the plane travelled for four hours with all five people on board already dead, after the cabin's pressurisation failed.

Fast forward to 2005 and Kiwi Michael Campbell shot to the top of the golfing world when he held off Tiger Woods to claim the title when it was played at Pinehurst for the second time.

Later in the year he won the HSBC World Matchplay Championship, ascending to number 13 in the world but he could not shake the Curse of Pinehurst.

His US Open win gave him a 10-year exemption to play in the tournament and he has been back every year since - making the cut just once.

He has not won a PGA Tour tournament since his triumph and his rank has dropped to 595 (at one point it was lower than 1300).

The curse continues for Campbell as the tournament returns to Pinehurst. He will not be there as he continues to battle an ankle injury, as well as deal with the break-up of his marriage.

Last month he said he was not "physically or mentally ready to play tournament golf".

Woods, as the runner-up to Campbell's success, has not been immune from the curse either.

He had a much publicised marriage separation and, like Campbell, has struggled with injuries for a number of years. He will also not be playing at Pinehurst.

Retief Goosen held a three shot lead over Jason Gore and Olin Brown going into the final round of Campbell's win.

All three capitulated. Goosen hit eight over par, Gore 10 over and Brown 14 over.

Goosen was a two-time US Open winner and the defending champion, but has not won another major since.

Neither did Gore or Brown, who plunged into obscurity, or any of the players who clung on for a top 10 finish - excluding Woods.

The runner-up to Stewart's 1999 success, Phil Mickelson, has also found himself in a spot of bother in recent times.  

Less than two weeks out from competing at Pinehurst it was announced he was being investigated for insider trading.

The US Open remained the only major title to have eluded him and he has finished bridesmaid five more times since his initial runner up finish to Stewart.

Kiwi golfer Steven Alker will be at Pinehurst this week after he qualified last week, before winning a Tour event in a record breaking 11-hole sudden death playoff over the weekend.

But if he wants his good form to continue long-term then he might want to put a lacklustre effort in this weekend to avoid the curse.

As will fellow Kiwi Lydia Ko, when she lines up in the women's US Open on the same course a week later.

She has played a practise round at Pinehurst but will play her first tournament at the cursed course next week.

Fans should rejoice if she has a week to forget.


Payne Stewart
BAD LUCK: Payne Stewart died in a plane crash five months after becoming the first US Open winner at Pinehurst in 1999.
Payne Stewart plane
GHOSTLY FLIGHT: The plane Payne Stewart died on flew for hours on its own after its occupants died.
Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren
UNSETTLING: Tiger Woods is kissed by now-estranged wife Elin Nordegren a few months after his 2005 US Open loss.
Payne Stewart
BAD LUCK: Former US Open champion Payne Stewart died in a plane crash five months after winning at Pinehurst.