By Matt Brown in Queenstown
As he prepares to tee off in the 101st New Zealand Golf Open at the Hills and Millbrook near Queenstown, Michael Campbell has fired a broadside at the state of men's professional golf.
The 2005 US Open champion and one of only three Kiwis to lift the Brodie Breeze Trophy at the New Zealand Open believes the power game that dominates men's golf has come at the expense of finesse and creativity.
"I was very old school, shaping shots more whereas most guys didn't in my era and that was a huge advantage for me. Now it's transformed to just hit as hard as you can and hit as hard as you can again, and I feel it's taken out the creativity from the game of golf," Campbell told NZME.
"They just hit it as hard as they can. Is it evolution? Has the game evolved? Yes, it has. These guys are now fitter. If you compare the average weight and physique from today to say 20 years ago there's a big difference. So, it's evolved, for the good of the game? Maybe not I don't know. It seems like people are still holding onto the fact they love to see the ball go a long way."
Campbell won the New Zealand Open in 2000 with David Smail winning in 2001 and Michael Hendry most recently in 2017. However, after a far from ideal preparation the 51-year-old is realistic about his chances of contending.
"It's great to come home, the golf course is in great shape. My expectations this week are just taking it easy. I am lacking match fitness and haven't played in four months, but I am back to my fighting weight having trained hard for this event," Campbell said.
Campbell made a surprise return to the European Tour last year, seven years after retiring from competitive golf, but he struggled in a handful of starts. It impacted on his lack of activity in preparation for the New Zealand Open.
"I didn't have a schedule, there were no tournaments for me to play in because my status around the world isn't great and I couldn't pick and choose tournaments in could play in. Then you have Christmas time / New Years and suddenly the New Zealand Open so unfortunately the schedule wasn't in my favour."
He intends to focus on the European Seniors Tour in 2020 alongside a number of his friends.
"I have had a lot of conversations with friends of mine like Thomas Bjorn, Paul McGinley, Padraig Harrington, Retief Goosen, a lot of guys who feel in the same boat, we don't hit it long enough."
"These kids hit it so far with technology and all the information they receive from coaches. So, I gave it a go playing five events on the European Tour and I just thought the courses were too long for me, so I am focusing on the Seniors Tour."
There are 26 Kiwis in the 156 strong professional field for the $1.4 million New Zealand Open at the Hills and Millbrook.
Campbell is relishing the opportunity to mix it with some of the younger players.
"I love to see more Kiwis flying the flag on the European Tour of the PGA Tour, if I can help in anyway, absolutely. I remember when I was their age I was mentored by other players like Greg Norman, so I just think you need someone around them that provides them with the experience which I have," Campbell said.
Campbell tees off in his first-round tomorrow afternoon alongside fellow US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy.