Campbell had something extra for Open: kikikaha

In Maori or English, he had inner strength

Golf

June 21, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PINEHURST, N.C. - The champion of the 105th U.S. Open at the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club was not only the tournament's best player, but also one of the sport's more intriguing personalities.

Michael Campbell, the 36-year-old native New Zealander who beat Tiger Woods by two strokes Sunday and drew even in his four-day battle with the No. 2 course, has family roots that go back to his country's indigenous Maori culture as well as to Scotland, the game's ancestral home.

A Maori symbol for kikikaha - meaning inner strength, Campbell said - was printed on the back of his shirt, and a player for whom stardom was once predicted showed enough of it to make his countrymen proud.

One of them compared Campbell's achievement, the first major golf championship won by a New Zealander since Bob Charles captured the 1963 British Open, to that of the country's most famous citizen, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to climb Mount Everest.

"It's the single biggest sports moment in New Zealand history," said New Zealander Steve Williams, who caddies for Woods and gave Campbell an emotional hug as he walked off the 18th green.

It was certainly the biggest victory in Campbell's career, one that nearly ended seven years ago when a serious wrist injury led to his losing his playing cards on both the European and Australasian tours.

With the help of a large support group - in particular his wife, Julie - Campbell began his comeback. The more he won - six times on the European Tour since 1999, 10 times worldwide - the more he distanced himself from the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews.

It was there that he shot 76 in the final round and threw away the three-shot lead he had entering it to finish one stroke out of a playoff won by John Daly.

"It wasn't my time," he said of St. Andrews, where he will return for next month's British Open at the Old Course. "This time, it was."

Campbell won here by shooting a 1-under-par 69 in the final round and even-par 280 for the tournament. This time, it was two-time and defending champion Retief Goosen of South Africa who threw away a three-shot lead, shooting 11-over 81 in the final round.

Woods, who also shot a final-round 69, was disappointed with his defeat but happy for the player who won.

"He lost his game and had to rebuild it from scratch," said Woods, who had gotten to know Campbell through Williams. "From a person who was missing cut after cut to a person who's now the U.S. Open champion - that's a lot of work right there."

Just as Woods changed the face of golf with his 1997 Masters victory, Campbell's win might also help erase some of the stereotypes that Maoris face back home. Even he acknowledges being caught up in those stereotypes.

"We have an understanding that a lot of Maori people back home are trodden on. They're very much a race that sometimes gets very lazy - I'll admit to that, too," Campbell said. "But then you turn your whole career around very quickly."

That was one of the reasons Campbell said he couldn't contain himself after the victory. He didn't perform the haka, a traditional Maori dance, as he did at the Presidents Cup competition. He merely cried.

Campbell didn't break any scoring records for the Open, but he might have obliterated the unofficial record for leaving the course to find a portable restroom. By his estimation, he went to the bathroom at least five times during the final round.

"It was nerves, to be honest, definitely nerves," said Campbell, who credited playing partner Olin Browne, himself on his way to shooting an 80, for calming him by telling jokes. "I drank a lot of water out there, but it was definitely nerves."

Along with the nerves was something else.

The Maoris call it kikikaha.

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