He steps out of his BMW X5 and is dressed in jeans and a short-sleeved summery shirt in a bright fuchsia colour, latest-style sunglasses and a broad smile on his face. Relaxed, as if he had just woken up from a siesta... It is almost October and the thermometer, at five o’clock in the afternoon, is showing 28 degrees.
The Spanish lifestyle and excellent Costa del Sol climate almost throughout the year are two of the reasons why Michael Campbell (winner of the 2005 US Open) decided to move here with his family two years ago and leave behind – in every sense – cold Switzerland. The New Zealand star, at 45, has decided to widen his professional horizons, and has embarked on a new adventure that had been on his mind for a while: teaching… golf, of course.
For his first academy he chose one of the finest and most renowned golf resorts in Spain, Villa Padierna, home to the luxurious “six-star” hotel of the same name and three 18-hole courses: Flamingos, Alferini and Tramores. He is clearly excited about the future.
Why did you choose the Costa del Sol and Villa Padierna for your first golf academy?
First of all, the most important I found is that you can play golf all year round. We as a family moved from England to Australia, to Switzerland and then to here, about two and a half years ago.
I really love this place. The sun always shines here, pretty much most of the year so I think these are great conditions for a golf academy because you can practise the whole year, whereas in most of Europe you only have a window for about three or four months.
So the combination of this area itself – although Spanish it’s very international and this is quite appealing for me – and I like the lifestyle here. I like the whole thing about it. It’s really casual and everyone enjoys themselves here so it’s a combination of a lot of things really, not just one.
We own a house literally 20 minutes away from the hotel. We stayed there one night, myself and my wife, and we loved the area and we looked around for houses and we found a house right there, so it’s very convenient.
Apart from you being a US Open champion, what competitive advantages does this academy offer?
I think I’m pretty qualified to pass on my knowledge to other coaches and obviously also to individuals. I’ve been playing golf since I was eight, so after 37 years of playing this game I’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge. I’ve played against the best players in the world and beaten them on occasions. What really hit home to me was, after winning the US Open, I got a letter from Jack Nicklaus and he said to me, well done for winning the US Open but now you have a responsibility to pass on your knowledge to the younger generation. That was ten years ago and ever since then it’s been on my mind to do something to pass on what I’ve learnt, the experience of my golfing career so far.
Why did you choose teaching and not golf course design or TV commentary?
I’ve dabbled in both both. I’ve done TV commentary and I’d rather play than watch these guys play, quite frankly, because I’m very critical watching my mates play. And yes, I’ve enjoyed a couple of course designs around the world but I love playing and I really enjoy coaching too, especially over the last six months. I’ve been home for so long now, I’ve been injured, and I’ve really enjoyed just passing on a few lessons here and there, especially to the young kids. They’re my main focus right now.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start playing golf?
Just enjoy it first I think. It’s a sport you can play for a very long time, the longevity of it. Look at Jiménez, for example, he’s 50 and he nearly won at Augusta this year. So the thing about golf, if you compare it to tennis or football, once you’ve reached 30, 32 you’re done. But in golf you can keep on playing and be competitive, at a very high level.
And to a professional who aspires to be a Tour player?
A lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, you’ve got to have a lot of self-belief, and really learn from your bad mistakes. The knocks, you’re going to get them, it’s just the way that the game is. It’s such a fickle game where you think you can win every single tournament you play in but all of a sudden the next day it bites you back very, very quickly. So having respect for the game is very important. The most important thing for young kids to inspire them to become professional is to get out there and keep on practising and playing and competing, and eventually you learn how to win and it gets easier. But you’ve got to give the sport a lot of respect.
What in your opinion are the most frequent mistakes made by amateurs?
With a lot of amateurs what I see all the time is basically when they make mistakes, or if they have a bad hole, all they focus on is that bad hole, not the actual shot in front of them. The most important thing is to try to keep yourself in the present time.
What do you like most about the profession of golf instructor?
For me it’s just to get to know these wonderful players. We are just human beings who happen to play golf at a very high level but deep down inside they’re just human beings. I’ve got lots of mates on tour now, winning pretty much all around the world, playing majors, the friendships I’ve accumulated over the last 20 years as a player, it’s incredible. But also other people as well. Everyone plays golf, that’s the common ground. Prime ministers, presidents, rock stars, movie stars, and it’s nice to share that common ground. It makes the atmosphere quite relaxing and easy-going. I’ve built up a lot of friends around the world, and that’s kind of cool.
What do you think of the European victory in the Ryder Cup?
From the very beginning I knew they were the favourites to win. The US were missing three big players. Obviously Tiger I think has still got that intimidation factor, Dustin Johnson pulled out for personal reasons and (Jason) Dufner was injured, so there were three key players not playing. So definitely no surprise what the score was on the Sunday.
How long do you think McIlroy will last as world number one?
I think for a very long time. He’s got renewed confidence now after winning his first major back in 2011 and he’s won two this year. As long as he stays fit and strong he’ll be very hard to beat. The most important thing in this game is confidence, and right now he’s riding that cloud of confidence.
Do you think Tiger Woods will recover and once again become the \"extraterrestrial\" he was?
My personal opinion about Tiger is basically that his body shape’s changed a lot. He’s gotten too big I think. If you compare his body shape in 2000 to now it’s completely different. And his injuries... right now I think his body’s not in the right condition to be number one in the world. He’s always got the talent, no question at all, amazing talent. I’ve played with Tiger on many occasions and it’s incredible what he can do with a golf ball, but I think physically he needs to change his fitness regime and get back to where he was. I think he should be more slight. He’s just too big and strong now.
What do you miss most from the time when you were at the peak of your career?
Competing and beating the best in the world. That’s a nice feeling, and when you’ve got the best players in the world in the field and you’re doing that at the end of it… that’s the biggest thing I miss. Just competing. You can hit golf balls on the range as long as you want to but when you’re out there competing against the best players in the world and manage to beat them a few times it’s kind of a cool feeling.