History will show that Michael Campbell became a major championship winner on Sunday evening with a harmless bogey on the 18th hole of Pinehurst No. 2, but he was formally welcomed into the exclusive club of Grand Slam tournament victors a few minutes later in the men's room of the Pinehurst clubhouse. Campbell had retreated to the locker room moments after the final putt to make an emotional phone call to his wife, Julie, who was at home in England with their two young sons. After hanging up, Campbell ducked into a deserted bathroom to gather himself for the trophy presentation. He reached the sink, splashed water on his face for a while, and upon straightening up he got a jolt at the sight of the man standing next to him. This dude, wearing Nike running shoes and a cap jauntily pushed back on his forehead, was gargling mouthwash with gusto. After spitting it out, Tiger Woods turned to Campbell and said, "Hey, Michael, how ya doin'?"
In return Campbell could mutter only a soft "Hey." What is the protocol, anyway, for addressing the world's best golfer after you have just dusted him in the final round of the U.S. Open?
Woods shook Campbell's hand, gave him a hug and said, "Congrats, man. That was some great golf today. You deserved to win."
At this, Campbell finally let down his guard. "I have one question for you," he said. "How do you do this so often?"
"Luck," Woods said, and with a smile he breezed out the door.
Modesty aside, it takes a lot more than good fortune to survive the meat grinder that is the U.S. Open. Capitalizing on a shocking collapse by the third-round leader and defending champion, Retief Goosen, Campbell, the only player to finish the tournament at par, conquered one of the most exacting setups in the Open's carnage-filled history with brilliant shot making and clutch putting. During a memorable back nine on Sunday, he absorbed Woods's best shot without a flinch, making Tiger a runner-up in a major for only the second time in his career.
When it was all over, Campbell, winner of nine tournaments in Australia, Asia and Europe, seemed as surprised as anyone at what he had done. He kept checking and rechecking the names on the trophy--paying special attention to his idol, Ben Hogan, a four-time Open winner--and expressing disbelief that he had joined the pantheon. The new U.S. Open champ kept referring to himself as "little old me": a kid from Wellington, New Zealand, who had made one of golf's most unlikely journeys before finally arriving at age 36.
Twelve years ago Campbell was a tantalizing prospect, winning the 1993 rookie of the year award on the Australasian tour. At 26 he was the Next Big Thing, finishing third at the '95 British Open. By 29 he was seriously contemplating retirement--a nagging wrist injury and accompanying swing miseries had sent his career into a downward spiral. During the '98 season he shot a round in the 80s in three consecutive tournaments, leading him to ponder a career "selling golf balls," as he puts it.
Campbell's competitive rebirth began a few months later, after his son Thomas was born. "It changed my whole attitude completely because I needed to provide for my family," he says. Slowly he pieced his game back together, applying the natural athleticism that as a boy had made him a standout in rugby, tennis and basketball. In 2000 Julie gave him a second son, Jordan. Dad responded by breaking through with three victories on the European tour, on which he is still based, and earning a spot on the Presidents Cup international team. On the eve of the competition he performed a traditional Maori Haka dance to fire up his teammates.
Campbell is intensely proud of his ancestry, which blends New Zealand's indigenous people with those from the country that gave birth to golf. His great-great-great-grandfather Sir Logan Campbell was a Scotsman who helped found Auckland in 1845. Michael's Maori roots have imbued him with what he calls a "very religious, very spiritual" nature. While crisscrossing the golf world, he often wears a greenstone pendant that he says helps him travel safely over water. For the final round at Pinehurst he donned a shirt emblazoned with Maori letters that translated roughly as "be strong."