Coach says Cambo can win again

If there was a Professional Golfer’s Dictionary, Michael Campbell’s face could be found against the words ‘peak’ and equally against ‘trough’, ‘hot’ as well as ‘cold’.

The affable Kiwi has reached the lofty heights of the game several times, only to plummet to the depths of despair shortly after.

Michael Campbell Michael Campbell

Campbell showed great intestinal fortitude in holding off Tiger Woods to win the US Open of 2005 at Pinehurst and the HSBC World Matchplay Championship at Wentworth a few months later, but has virtually dropped off the face of the earth ever since.

Should we be surprised?

Not in the slightest.

He’s been down this path before.

Campbell turned professional after a hot amateur career in 1993 and was victorious almost immediately at the Canon Challenge on the Australian Tour.

As an amateur the previous year, he had played in a white-hot New Zealand team that won the Eisenhower Trophy in Canada and he annexed the NSW and Australian Amateur titles, conquering compatriot and Eisenhower teammate Phil Tataurangi along the way.

In the period from 1993 to 1995, Campbell won three tournaments on the European Challenge Tour and announced himself officially to the world by taking a two-shot lead into the final round of the 1995 Open Championship at St Andrews, only to finish in a tie for third, just a shot out of the playoff between eventual winner John Daly and Italian Costantino Rocca.

Then, with the world seemingly at his feet, Campbell’s form and health failed him and he plunged into the depths of his first major form slump.

Still, Campbell was able to overcome first his injury problems, then his form and confidence and enjoyed a brilliant period from 2000 through to 2005; winning eight times, including his famous US Open triumph.

Based in Brighton, England at the time and focussed on the European Tour as he is today, Campbell took full advantage of the first international qualifying tournament for the US Open at Walton Heath in London, qualified and the rest is history.

Campbell returned to New Zealand to a hero’s welcome and was bestowed with accolades, including the 2005 Maori Sportsperson of the Year, a ‘companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit’ and European Tour Golfer of the Year.

Over the first half of the decade from 2000, Campbell was a feature in the upper echelons of the world golf rankings and tour money Lists but once again, his game left him as he admits to having taken his foot off the pedal and pursued other interests.

His last top 10 finish was in 2008 and he barely earned enough to pay his caddy fees in 2009 and 2010, such was the poor state of his game.

If we can take anything from history however, 2011/2012 may be the start of another upsurge in his form.

Having watched on as friends and peers such as Padraig Harrington went on to win Majors during his slump, the hunger seems to be back for Campbell.

He’s rededicated himself to his fitness and is starting to show signs that his game is following suit.

A chance meeting with Gold Coast-based golf coach Gary Edwin during the Australian summer events in 2010 returned some immediate dividends.

“He was hitting balls on the range besides us (Peter Senior, whom Edwin coaches) on the Thursday at the JBWere Masters at Victoria Golf Club and he asked me for my opinion,” Edwin said.

“So I told him what I thought, he was too wide, he was backing off from ball and flapping it over, not making very good contact.”

“I talked to him about what I thought was wrong with it, to try a bit of this and a bit of that.”

“He told me he’d done a bit of what I was saying before and he’d gotten away from it, so that was a good starter.”

“I asked him what he was doing at the US Open in ’05 when he was swinging great and after he replied, I told him what he needed to do to get there and that’s how it started.”

Campbell went out the next two weeks and finished T28 and T12 at the Masters and Australian Open in Sydney, the latter of which was a good achievement according to Edwin as Campbell was also moving house that week and didn’t get much practice in.

Encouraged, Campbell has continued working with Edwin at his Gold Coast facility at The Glades and down in Sydney and although his results this season are not outstanding, the signs of improvement are still noticeable.

A glance through Campbell’s European Tour statistics this year tells us more about his progress than his results thus far.

After making only three cuts in Europe in all of 2010, Campbell had exceeded that mark in April this year and missed three others by a single shot.

Campbell also shot 66 in the British Open qualifier recently, only for the last player in the field to come in with a 65 to knock him out.

His scoring average mid-way through the year is more than three shots lower than 2010 and he has shot 70 or better on more occasions than in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined.

His driving accuracy stats are 12th best on Tour, and his best in seven years, and he’s hitting more greens in regulation now than in his stellar 2005 season.

The telling statistic at this point however is his putting average, which he had maintained under 30 putts per round even through the horrors of the past few years.

In 2011, however, Campbell is averaging closer to 31 putts for the first time in many seasons, almost three putts per round more than England’s David Howell, who leads that category.

This may be in direct correlation to his improved ball striking, as there are fewer one putt up and down opportunities when you hit more greens in regulation, but it would appear to be the one element of his game that is not keeping pace with the improvements he’s making elsewhere.

“We’ve been working on narrowing his takeaway, staying on the ‘wall’ as we call it (on top of the ball) and then coming down staying on top of the ball and holding the club in a different position through impact instead of flipping it over.”

“I’ve tried to resurrect major winners before and it’s very difficult but I’d have to say, Michael’s one of the most talented guys athletically I’ve ever worked with and I think he knows more about his golf swing than some others I’ve worked with too.”

“He doesn’t argue with me, he just agrees and gets on and does it.

“I’m expecting him to keep getting better.”

Campbell would be motivated by the fact that fellow ’40 somethings’ and long-time contemporaries Ernie Els, Paul Lawrie, Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke have all been tournament winners on the European Tour this season, while Anders Hansen and Miguel Angel Jiminez are also high on the Race to Dubai money list.

At only 42 years of age, if he can address his putting and keep this trajectory of all round improvement going as Edwin expects he will, there is still plenty of time left for yet another peak for Michael Campbell.

If his form is to mirror the peaks and troughs he has experienced in his career to date, the next peak is due to start about now.