New Zealand's Golfing Luminaries On Show

2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell during a clinic at last week's New Zealand Open. (Photo: Photosport)
There are several names that could be considered iconic in New Zealand golf and three of them were present during last week’s New Zealand Open although, interestingly enough, none of them playing in the Championship.

Kiwi great Sir Bob Charles, who nearly 55 years ago won the 1963 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes, the 2005 US Open Champion, Michael Campbell, and the most successful caddie in the history of professional golf, Steve Williams, were all at Millbrook Resort in various roles as part of their support of the event.

Their presence added even further to the growing appeal of the event and their place in New Zealand golf ensured that there was plenty of opportunity for those golf fans who attended New Zealand golf’s most significant men's tournament to rub shoulders with such golfing luminaries.

Charles owns a house at Millbrook and played a role in the design of the initial 18 holes of the course’s now 27-hole layout and so the four-time New Zealand Open Champion has a real interest in any event played there.

The 81-year-old is still an amazing example of what awareness of health and fitness can do for the longevity of life. 

Even at his age, Charles reportedly shot a round of 67 in the pro-am at the LPGA’s New Zealand Women’s Open in Auckland a few months ago while playing with Brittany Lincicome.

81 year old Sir Bob Charles (left) with NZ Open Chairman John Hart last week. (Source: Photosport)

Campbell has been absent from tournament golf for several years as he has spent time developing a teaching academy on the shores of the Mediterranean in Spain, but he was in Queenstown to rekindle his interest and involvement in New Zealand golf.

Campbell also appeared on one or two of the days of the event as a guest commentator for the Sky Sports coverage, assisted with a junior academy and highlighted his desire to return to the playing arena this year ahead of a career on the Champions Tour.

By winning a major championship at Pinehurst 13 years ago, he will have access to the Champions Tour, (at least in the early stages of his over 50 career) and is hoping to play a few events on the European Tour later this year in preparation for his Champions Tour debut in early 2019.

Campbell, who won the New Zealand Open in 2000 when defeating compatriot Craig Perks in a playoff, also suggested he wanted to be part of the 100th anniversary of the championship when it is played in early March next year.

Williams has become part of the New Zealand Open in recent years as he has a love for the game in his country and has played a role in his own capacity in trying to add support for the event.

Williams was instrumental in getting Tiger Woods to play the NZ Open in 2002 and now, even in near retirement, is regularly invited to be part of proceedings in Queenstown.

Boasting close to 150 wins in his caddying career with a range of golfers including Woods, Greg Norman, Ray Floyd and more recently Adam Scott, Williams does not include a New Zealand Open title on his resume, a fact that still lingers for the 54-year old from Auckland.

This year he caddied for friend and New Zealand’s number one ranked golfer, Ryan Fox, who, disappointingly, missed the cut but it was Williams’s role in a caddie clinic on Wednesday that perhaps was his greatest contribution to the week.

The nature of the New Zealand Open, which includes a pro-am format over mainly the opening two rounds, means the event needs volunteer caddies, many of whom have never played that role previously.

On Wednesday of the tournament, Williams conducted a clinic (pictured below) to explain to the caddies in the tournament, some more experienced than others and some absolute rookies, some of the finer points of the role.

Steve Williams during his clinic (Source: PhotoSport)

This writer hosted the clinic, mainly because of my past involvement in the discipline and because of a long-time friendship with Williams, but it was Williams who was the star turn and he didn’t let anyone down.

Williams is a very direct, to-the-point but articulate and captivating character.

90 caddies turned up to listen to his advice which extended from the basics of carrying the bag to positioning thoughts on what to say and when to the raking of bunkers and where to leave the bunker rakes.

Many of those tips come as second nature to those who have done it for a while but is valuable information to those taking it on for the first occasion and there were even more experienced caddies who were keen to listen to a man who has seen it all in hope they might just pick up something to further their own caddying careers.

I had the opportunity also to quiz Williams on some of the great stories from his caddying career and he was only too happy to oblige and then it was question and answer time where many attending had the opportunity to get a valuable insight into a man whose knowledge of the game and the caddying role is without peer.

Nearly 150 wins and 14 of those in major championships makes Williams one of the most knowledgeable individuals in the game and those present knew they were learning from the best.


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