Shaun Micheel’s victory at the 2003 PGA Championship completed the most unlikely quartet of Major winners in recent memory. While Mike Weir and Jim Furyk were well established and fancied to break through at some point, Ben Curtis and Micheel were pretty much unheard of.
For Curtis, the Open Championship at Sandwich was his first Major appearance, for Micheel he had just two US Opens to fall back on.
Otherwise there were two victories; one in Singapore on the Asian Tour and the other on the Nike Tour (now the Web.com). He was ranked 169th in the world.
After day one he was three back, he led after the second and third rounds and, after mixing two birdies with two bogeys from the 14th, he played the most precise approach to the 72nd hole, a 7-iron from 175 yards to a couple of inches.
The win might have been from nowhere but, against the best field in any Major and on a course where he was the only player not to have a round over par, it was certainly well deserved.
What did you think of Oak Hill when you first saw it?
I was ‘in’ the PGA a month before Oak Hill and then missed a couple of cuts so then I was on my way out. I then had a good finish at Hartford to solidify my position.
I didn’t know anything about the course other than the type of course it was having watched the ‘95 Ryder Cup so when I got there I was pleasantly surprised.
I’m kind of a traditionalist so I’m not a fan of the wide-open TPC desert-style courses and Oak Hill looked really good to my eye.
You were involved at the top of the leaderboard after the first round, how did you cope with the nerves?
That was difficult. This was my third Major so it was tough. I would get up and watch the TV coverage and see some of the hole locations.
I was playing so well that I was also confident. It wasn’t until the Sunday that I became more nervous. My wife was with me so we had breakfast but I didn’t eat too much.
I think it would have been a lot different had I been by myself. I was excited so maybe I wasn’t as anxious as I could have been.
How much did it help to play with Billy Andrade during the third round?
It was the Tiger era and it helped to be playing with Billy Andrade and Chad Campbell on the weekend. The pairing always helps; there are guys who you like to play with and guys who you don’t want to play with.
Billy had won numerous tournaments but had never really been in that sort of position so we had some nice conversations. Chad and I did too for a lot of it.
Most of the guys get on pretty well out there and it is something you have to handle. Obviously two well-known players recently admitted that they don’t but that exists whatever you do.
The only time you are together is on the tee box and putting green, otherwise you can walk as slow or as fast as you want to.
Is it true you are sometimes mistaken for Chad Campbell?
I think both of us have had it and it even happens to this day! I don’t know if it’s the hat. I’m hoping he gets more Shaun Micheels that I get Chad Campbells!
Everybody has got a twin, maybe he’s mine.
How aware were you of what was going on in the last round?
I didn’t look too much at the leaderboards until the last day. I’m not afraid to look at them and at a certain point you have to look at them. Everybody has a certain plan of attack but you may have to throw that out the window.
I knew that Tim Clark was playing well and you wonder if somebody is making a big charge. But you know that nobody is going to shoot five or six under.
I had a look towards the end of the front nine after bogeying seven and eight.
Some people say they never look at them but I’m not sure you are getting the full truth.
Sometimes you have to take a chance and, if you want to win, you have to do that. If you are playing for the money then you can stick to the game plan.
What were you thinking over the approach to the 18th?
I was in that first cut of rough and that tee ball could have gone in the rough. I will maybe be remembered for that shot and the win but I was proud of how well I had played and all the great up and downs I had made.
On the Tuesday I had the same shot and I hit the same club and we discussed that. There was not a breath of wind and I had a yardage where I wasn’t going to go long. It was almost so simple, I had a full out 7-iron and I appreciated that.
I had never seen a sports psychologist. You can visualise the shot but you don’t want to overthink these things and I think I did that pretty well back then. I could do with being more like that these days.
I have a DVD which I watch quite often and there is a camera shooting from me to Chad and you can read my lips asking the cameraman twice ‘how close is that ball?’ and he never told me. Did you know quite how close your approach was?
I didn’t know. I have a DVD which I watch quite often and there is a camera shooting from me to Chad and you can read my lips asking the cameraman twice ‘how close is that ball?’ and he never told me.
It could have been four feet short or four feet long. It was a reaction that said it could have gone in but it could still have been a few feet away. You can only cheer so loudly and we knew it hadn’t gone in.
When I walked up there and saw I had a two-inch putt I felt pretty good about it.
Did you have a history of clutch shots previously?
I have never thought of myself like that. I would have to go back to the Q School in December 1993 and my father was caddying for me at the Nicklaus course in Palm Springs. After six days it came down to the last few holes and I made about a 40-footer on the 17th hole.
There weren’t any scoreboards so I got to the 90th and the hole was front left. My dad wanted me to play right but I hit a 6-iron in to about six feet and, as I walked around, somebody yelled that I needed a par to get my tour card. So I lagged it up there.
On your first year on tour, you said you were a ‘wreck’ and that you struggled to be comfortable playing in front of so many people?
When you first get out here there is a huge spotlight on you and you are playing against the best players in the world like Nick Price and Greg Norman. But you soon realise that these guys also hit bad shots so you begin to not worry about what people will say if you hit it in the crowd.
It took me a little while to learn that some of the best hit some of the worst shots and, at the end of the day, you are doing your best.
I have topped one from the middle of the fairway with Phil Mickelson and you wonder how these things happen, but they do.
You have said that you were often playing for your mum who died in 2010. How impressed were you by what Justin Rose did at the US Open?
I think a lot of Justin, I played a little bit with him last year at Kiawah and he really impressed me. I played with him in Dubai in 1999 when he was in the middle of his missed cuts and I can’t believe the amount of pressure he was going through then.
Your parents are the ones who probably got you started in the game. When my father was flying (he worked for FedEx) my mum would take me to tournaments so I have all these memories of getting lost in places like Texas.
You are never completely over it but it’s nice to know that there is someone you can play for in the back of your mind.
How is your game now?
I have played seven tournaments this year. I have played six Web.com events and I haven’t been to Europe, which I’d like to do in August.
I think I’m going to have to resign my membership of the Web.com. There are certain things that I need to do to keep my membership active and I’m struggling to do that.
I’m working hard on it but there is no replacement for competition.
I’m not saying that the Web.com tournament directors don’t want to give me an invite, players like Rich Beem are also on the same list, but it is extremely political. Some people don’t even write back to you and the lack of professionalism is overwhelming. The tour needs to look into who is running these events and sit them down in the classroom to give them a lesson in respect.
I don’t want to play the Web.com Tour, I’m so jaded by some of the things that have happened this year. But this isn’t some sort of ‘woe is me’ outburst, all of these things can be rectified by some good play.
I have enjoyed being home, it’s the longest I’ve been home since high school and I have enjoyed going to the swim meets and soccer games. My son is nine and all he wants to do is move to Spain and play for Real Madrid.
As much as I hate not being on tour, I love seeing some of these things. My wife maybe thinks it’s time to get back out there.