Michael Campbell has captured 15 titles around the world and captivated a global audience in 2005 by fending off Tiger Woods in his prime to land the US Open Championship at Pinehurst.
Accumulating silverware has rarely been a problem for the 43 year old New Zealander in a wonderful career spanning two decades. However, it is precious metal of a different colour which has been occupying Campbell’s attention over the past three weeks.
The eight-time European Tour champion was an honoured guest at the International Golf Federation Golf Day at Sunningdale in England, to mark the start of a new Olympic four year cycle which will see golf restored to the roster of Olympic sports in 2016.
And the familiar Maori features lit up when he discussed the possibility of claiming that elusive gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in four years’ time. “How good must it feel to have that gold medal dangling around your neck?” he asked rhetorically as he provided some welcome tips and advice for the IGF’s invited guests.
“I’ve been lucky enough to lift the US Open trophy and to experience that unbelievable feeling of winning a Major Championship, but I can already sense in the locker rooms around the world that a lot of people are going to be desperate to claim the first gold medal in golf in over a hundred years. It’s going to be fantastic.”
Campbell, only the second New Zealander after Bob Charles to win a Major, spread bonhomie at Sunningdale with Olympic officials and R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson, who is also the IGF President, European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady and Antony Scanlon, the Australian who was appointed Executive Director of the IGF to oversee the delivery of golf in the 2016 Games.
The IGF’s role is to promote golf as an Olympic sport and, with the sanction of the International Olympic Committee, to act as the Federation for golf in the Olympic Games going forward into future Olympiads.
Campbell added: “For the past three weeks I’ve had square eyes from watching the London Olympics and, without doubt, it’s been one of the greatest sporting spectacles I’ve witnessed. We’ve seen the incredible passion for every conceivable sport during the Games – from the competitors to the spectators – and the energy and enthusiasm for the Olympics has had an effect on so many people.
“If this passion can be transmitted to golf in 2016 then it has to be great for our sport. The London slogan was ‘Inspire a Generation’ and I am sure that the Games will have a lasting legacy in the UK. That’s what we have to aspire to in the build-up to Rio and beyond. Right now, countries that currently don’t have a great golfing heritage will be thinking about how they are going to improve and get on the plane to Brazil.
“We want to inspire kids to play golf and to spread the word and the Olympics can do that. This has the capacity to bring golf to a new audience in 2016 and to leave behind a lasting legacy for Brazil and the game in general.”
Campbell will be 47 when the Opening Ceremony heralds the start of Rio 2016 but he would love to compete. He said: “Look at what the tennis gold meant to Andy Murray. I speak to other golfers at tournaments and I can sense the enthusiasm for Rio. "Whoever wins the men’s and women’s gold medals will go into the history books. After the spectacle we’ve just witnessed in London, I for one can’t wait!”