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Campbell's unique inspiration for Merion

(Photo: Bruce Young)
Michael Campbell has found an unlikely source of knowledge about the Merion Golf Club ahead of next week's 113th US Open Championship in Pennsylvania.

The 2005 champion, who has never played at the infamous layout, was recently invited to a Kiss concert by lead guitarist, and his good mate, Tommy Thayer. The hard rock veteran gave him the full rundown of the course and how
he needed to play to make the cut at the US Open for the first time since 2007.

"[Tommy] is an absolute golf tragic and he was telling me that that the last time that Merion hosted the US Open was when David Graham won in the 1980s so it was a long time ago," said Campbell from his home in Marbella, Spain.

"He told me that it was a really tricky golf course and that you need to hit the ball straight and have a good short game. He was giving me some good tips. The strength of my game is my iron play and he said that is what you need to play Merion well. It is similar to Pinehurst in that regard."

Campbell is excited to be back at the US Open. It's a tournament that he has a special history with since his career defining win at Pinehurst No.2 in 2005.

"It is always a special feeling coming back to the US Open knowing that my name is on the trophy and that I have a played a role in the history of this championship. That gives me a different perspective coming to this event. It gives me confidence and it brings back some wonderful memories. I am very proud to come back as a former champion and to be in that company. It is a reminder to where it all started for me."

The 44-year-old will have the chance to reminisce at the start of the week as for the first time the USGA will stage a Champions Dinner on the Tuesday ahead of the tournament where all the past champions from the event who are still alive will be celebrated.

"To be in a room with all the previous US Open champions and hear their stories of how they won this tournament will be really cool. In the case of Tiger [Woods] or Jack [Nicklaus] they will talk about their multiple victories. To be in the company of the greats of the game will be pretty humbling."

Campbell said the standout memory from his win that captured all of New Zealand was holding off the charge of the World No.1 when he was in "full flow".

"Tiger had just won the Masters, he was playing great coming into the US Open and I managed to pip him by two shots. To hold off arguably the best player of all time to win my first major championship was a great achievement."

It seems like a long time ago and it has been. In the past eight years Campbell has experienced the lows of the game and seen his world ranking drop outside the top 900 in world. He is back to 284 and on the up again.

In 2012 he showed renewed belief when he finished third at the Portugal Masters only two shots back from Irish winner Shane Lowry. He followed that with a tie for eighth at the Hong Kong Open. All of a sudden the Cambo of old was back.

He started the year well with two top 20 finishes at the Qatar Masters and Abu Dhabi Championship but faded with five missed cuts in a row.

"It has been quite a mixed year for me. The end of 2012 was really good and I was back playing well in Europe and in contention to win golf tournaments which was a nice feeling. I started well in 2013 and carried on that momentum. I hit a bit of a lull for a few months and now I am starting to play well again. It has been a typical Michael Campbell year really. Up and down like a yo-yo just like the rest of my career. I have had my low periods but I have had plenty of highs as well."

Sitting in the late evening sun in the warmth of Southern Spain, Campbell is comfortable with life.

"We are very happy and feel like we are plugged into the Spanish way of life. My Spanish is coming on [laughs] I can count pretty well and I am learning all the days of the week. The kids love it here and we are really content as a family."

He has endured some hard times that would have seen many other professionals hang up the clubs for good but Cambo has never given up. He has shown that when he is in contention for big tournaments he still has the ability to compete with the world's best.

"That mindset never leaves you. The desire to compete and to win doesn't go away and I wasn't surprised that when I was back in contention I felt very calm and comfortable. I had been there before and I knew how to deal with it so that is a good sign for the next time I am in that position."

He is reaching the twilight of his golf career but Campbell remains firm in the belief that he will win again.

"Forty four in golfing terms is not that old. I have been inspired by some of the achievements of my good friends like Ernie [Els] last year at the Open winning his fourth major. I feel like I have plenty of golf left in me."

He was buoyed by the news that he is not alone in flying the Kiwi flag in 2013 after Hamilton professional Steve Alker qualified for his first US Open Championship.

"It will be great to catch up over a practice round together. We are good friends and have known each other for a long time back since we were amateur and 15 or 16 years old so we go back a long way."

Campbell has not been home for two years but doesn't get home sick because his biggest passion outside of golf keeps him in touch.

"I have lived half of my life overseas and wherever my family are is home for me. Every week I drop the kids at school, go out for a run and then I sit down and watch two or three hours of rugby and I am in heaven. I have lived a lot of my life overseas but the way I am always connect with New Zealand is through watching rugby. Every time I watch the Hurricanes or the All Blacks I feel like I am home."

New Zealand golf fans would love to see Cambo "feeling at home" once again on the world stage. He captured the nation eight years ago and to see him back in contention in a major would be one of golf's greatest comeback stories.

h3. Michael Campbell's best results at the US Open

T32 "“ 1996
T12 - 2000
1st "“ 2005
T58 - 2007

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