Open Champ Limited in US Play


Now heres a dilemma that is more than a little perplexing: the defending U.S. Open champion wants to get into more U.S. tournaments. But because of events of three years ago, he finds he cant.
Michael Campbell is a native of New Zealand, with a family of a wife and two young boys, who now lives six months of the year outside London. He plays the majority of his golf on the European Tour, but would like to possibly join the U.S. tour in 2007. He did join in 03, if you recall, and the results were disastrous.
Michael Campbell
U.S. fans won't get to see as much of Michael Campbell as he would like them to in 2006.
Campbell schlepped wife Julie, a 2-year-old son and 4-year-old son, to America to live out of hotels while he tried to play golf. It was an utter failure from the get-go: he missed the cut at Nissan, got by one match at the Accenture before losing, withdrew at Bay Hill and was DQd at The Players. And that was the good news ' he would miss the cut in the next six tournaments before he had had enough.
It was complete chaos, said Cambo, and headed back to London and a little normalcy for the wife and kids.
Campbell played in 11 U.S. events that year and missed the cut in every one that wasnt a major or a WGC event. He didnt think much of it when the Ponte Vedra powers-that-be looked disapprovingly on him for not playing the full 15 events as is the agreement for taking tour membership. The PGA Tour declared Campbell would be reduced to three exemptions per year (in addition to the majors and WGC events) for the next five years.
Then, in 2005, Campbell shocked the golfing world by winning the U.S. Open. He decided that maybe he should try to play a little more in America. But wait ' theres that thing with the tour. The tour decides to reduce his punishment from five years to three. He asks if maybe there cant be an exemption this year since he won this countrys big tournament. And he gets his answer ' no. By all means, no.
Campbell has already played in the Mercedes, which he got into by virtue of having won the Open last year. He is going to play at Bay Hill. And his final shot will be at The Players. After that ' its over, except for the majors and WGCs.
Now, Michael could rejoin the U.S. tour and play 15 events this year. But that means three additional events, three additional weeks away from his family. He doesnt want to do that. He came very close to winning Europes money ranking last year and thinks maybe this year he can do it. He would like to play 12 times in the States, adding the Memorial and Westchester to his schedule. But the tour has decreed its 10.
So many events in America have requested his presence, he said in discussing his situation at the Johnnie Walker event in Australia last week. Byron Nelson, Jack's tournament (Memorial), Colonial, Doral, Honda, Barclays - the list goes on and on, he said. But, to each inquiry, he was compelled to say that his supply of acceptances had already been exhausted.
Each year, these problems with international players seem to arise. In the beginning, there was a big to-do with Seve Ballesteros, then Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo. Greg Norman has had several squabbles. Last year it was Ernie Els and Retief Goosen and Adam Scott.
The tour backed down a little on Els. Before that, they had insisted on internationals playing 20 tour events in order to get the number of releases needed to play elsewhere. Ernie got the number reduced down to a more equitable 15. But this year, there are the same old problems that seem never to end.
Sometimes I feel like my wings are being clipped a little bit, said Campbell. Obviously what I did three years ago, not competing in my 15 events on the U.S. tour, has really suffered my 2006 schedule, really. It's a shame.
On the other hand, Campbell concedes that he knows why he is suffering now for 2003. I know that rules are there for a reason, he says. I know that for a fact. Rules and regulations are there to protect the game. I can't change that.
Still, Campbell has been overwhelmed by the people of the U.S. since his victory at Pinehurst. The exposure I've had in America is wonderful and the people in America are wonderful, he said. The support I've had from America is great. The players there are great. The golf courses, it's the major stage of golf and I would love to play two more extra tournaments there.

Campbell says he has spoken with the PGA Tour about his situation. I said to them: What happens if Jack Nicklaus writes a letter and says, Michael, please come to play my tournament. I would love to play his tournament. I'd love to play the Memorial I say, well, I can't because of my status. It's a shame it's come to this.
He mentioned his problem to Tim Finchem at the NEC, and Finchem told him that the two should talk further in a month. But Finchem hasnt as yet followed up, and Cambo is left twisting in the wind.
Goosen is quite vocal about the Campbell issue.
At the end of the day, it's Finchem's loss, said Goosen. Cambo's, as well. But it's Finchem's loss not allowing Cambo to make an exemption to play in more events, and everybody else to go with it. They (the American sponsors) would like to have the U.S. Open champion play there.
Should the PGA Tour back down? Its a tough question ' make allowances for one player, regardless of whom it is, regardless of the circumstance, and then that exemption becomes a precedent. And the next time it will be that much harder to justify your decisions.
On the other hand, it is a pity that Campbell has to forfeit his exposure in the States. But 2003, regardless of how difficult it was, was a huge black mark. He wishes now, as do so many others in the U.S., that it had never happened. But thanks to his own psyche and his familys welfare, happen it did. And the consequences are huge.
Email your thoughts to George White