Hometown hero running hot

Ben Campbell with the spoils of victory at last November’s Hong Kong Open. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Ben Campbell with the spoils of victory at last November’s Hong Kong Open. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
After a wretched run of injuries over the past 10 years, Queenstown golfer Ben Campbell’s probably in the form of his life, raising expectations ahead of next week’s locally-hosted New Zealand Open. He tells Philip Chandler how two Queenstowners have been pivotal to his career, and explains why golf’s "a weird sport".

Queenstown hosting the annual NZ Open golf tourney is thrilling enough, but having a hometown winner would surely ice the cake.

And for this year’s Open, starting at Arrowtown’s Millbrook next Thursday, local Ben Campbell’s never been better placed to deliver that icing.

The 32-year-old will tee off on his home course just three months after his breakthrough win at the Hong Kong Open — and after tying for second at the last NZ Open, also at Millbrook.

His win would also be special because not only is he well-liked, but he’s wrestled with so many injuries it’s probably a miracle he’s still playing.

Growing up in Masterton, Campbell didn’t imagine he’d be golfing for a living.

He played "a heap of sports" at school, including hockey and tennis, but says he gradually just got better and better at golf.

He’d tagged along with his golfing parents when he was five or six, but only took it up seriously at 13 or 14 when he started winning a few events — "and it just sort of snowballed from there".

He says the then-Masterton Golf Club pro Jamie McIsaac was "a massive help, always organising games, and he made it pretty fun which was definitely a big part of it".

Now heading Queenstown’s Frankton Golf Centre, McIsaac says the young Campbell was "really determined to get better at a very hard game, he was just a sponge".

He was also among a group of juniors who "all wanted to beat each other".

Observing him since, McIsaac says his former pupil’s "very competitive, very confident in his abilities and mentally I reckon he’s really strong, he doesn’t let things get to him that much".

Campbell subsequently became a very successful amateur golfer, reaching No 6 in the world before turning pro in 2012.

Around that time he played in a foursome including Queenstown businessman Mike Davies at the NZ Open at Arrowtown’s The Hills.

Davies later told Mountain Scene: "I ended up with Ben in my wine cave, and after a few good bottles of red at 2 o’clock in the morning I decided to sponsor him.

"I could see the potential — he’s so dedicated to what he does and he’s the most likeable character I’ve ever met."

Campbell says Davies’ family support — repaid by wearing jerseys promoting Milford Track Guided Walk — led him to moving to Queenstown in 2016.

"They’ve been massive, those times where you didn’t think you’d ever golf again when I was injured, they’ve always been there.

"I definitely wouldn’t have done what I’ve done without the help of them."

Davies says "it’s been a great relationship — he’s part of the family".

"He’s got a great work ethic as well.

"His best golf days might be on the seniors tour like Steve Alker."

Davies add he’s "probably one of the great hunters and fishers in NZ — he’s a great outdoors person".

Campbell says his Queenstown move was also influenced by the number of world-class courses in a small area, and he’s grateful to their support — "to have access to so many of them makes training so much easier".

He admits golf’s "a weird sport".

"The No 1 player in the world only probably wins three or four times a year.

"It’s a challenging sport, and I think that’s why people get addicted — the challenge sort of gets you out of bed."

Since his stunning Hong Kong win, just four months after considering quitting due to injury, he’s travelled extensively — latterly to Mexico and Las Vegas as a LIV Golf reserve who wasn’t called on to play before playing the Malaysian Open last week and Oman’s International Series this week before flying home for the NZ Open.

Then straight after he’s off for another five weeks.

Campbell says "it’s great to see the NZ Open just going from strength to strength".

"It’s an amazing event — there’s not too many where players stick around the week after and have a holiday."

It’s also an event he’s determined to win after two second placings.

As to whether he’ll feel pressure as the hometown favourite, "you just have to stay really patient and just play one shot at a time", he says.

"I know the course really well so that can be a massive help."