With it, a 10-foot eagle putt can be sunk at will: without it, a collapse is on the cards as soon as the ball is placed on the first tee. It's more important than any caddie and is as integral to a golfer's game as the clubs in his bag. Some players have it: others definitely do not. Confidence. In 2005, aged 36, New Zealand-born Michael Campbell held off a charging Tiger Woods at Pinehurst No 2 to win the US Open; it was a finale so dramatic that the New Zealand parliament went into recess so politicians could follow the closing stages. When he holed his putt on the 18th, he broke down in tears and, after being presented with his first major title, proclaimed the win would "completely change my whole career".
And so it did. He hasn't won a European Tour title since. Confidence is crucial in all sports, but in golf it is imperative players remain mentally strong. Campbell, despite the best efforts of his sports psychologist Josh Vanstiphout, has fallen to pieces. Immediately after his win in North Carolina, self-belief was soaring and he collected fifth and sixth-place finishes in the season's two remaining majors, the British Open and the PGA Championship, ending the year with just less than 2.5 million (Dh12.5m) in career earnings. He followed his most successful season with three top-10 finishes in 2006 and 2007 and a third-place finish at the 2008 British Masters.
But such results have been quickly forgotten. A terrible 2009 saw Campbell compete in 22 tournaments yet fail to finish higher than 62nd and end the year with career earnings of less than 20,000. Worryingly, 2010 has not started any better. In the season-opener in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, Campbell, now 40, admitted to being at such a low he was ready to give it all up. He had finished 126 from a field of 126 - 27 shots behind his playing partner Peter Hanson. "There are days when I think about doing something else," he said afterwards.
In Doha last week, Campbell finished two rounds in nine-over par 153 and, yesterday in Dubai he missed the cut again after shooting 11-over after two days' play. It is the seventh straight time he has missed the cut and the 19th time he has failed to progress past the second round in his previous 26 tournaments - three of which he was forced to withdraw from. Watch him on the range and he looks entirely at ease, yet when he approaches that first tee, the confidence disappears. He has played the past two days alongside Colin Montgomerie and Louis Oosthuizen and looks a shadow of the man who hoisted aloft one of golf's most coveted trophies. Rather than personality and poise, his body language conveys a condemned man.
On Thursday's final hole, the still-popular player was approached by a woman collecting autographs for charity. With his eyes focused firmly on the ground below, he walked briskly past without acknowledgement; like a footballer arriving at a game with iPod headphones in his ears. Yet there were no wires in sight: Campbell was apparently tuned in to some inner miserable monologue. It seems a lack of confidence is not only stealing Campbell's golf game, it's stealing his character.
This year marks the end of Michael Campbell's exemptions from the US Masters and the British Open - perquisites of his Pinehurst win. From 2011 onwards he will have to endure the qualifying process again, yet that is what he had to do in 2005 to reach the US Open in the first place. Perhaps it's the best thing for him; to start from scratch. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org