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Shaun Micheel

Shaun Micheel: They didn’t want a story like mine – but it’s what they got

The remarkable story of how the rank outsider, 169th in the world at the start of the week, lifted the PGA Championship in 2003
 

“Add that one to PGA Championship lore!” 

Legendary commentator Jim Nantz, like the millions watching at Oak Hill and from home, had just witnessed one of the finest shots in the competition’s history.

From the first cut on the left-hand side of the fairway at 18, Shaun Micheel, the World No 169 with no PGA Tour titles to his name, was standing over his ball, seven-iron in hand, with a one-shot lead over Chad Campbell.

“Be right!” he yelled at his ball. It bounced once, twice, and looked destined to drop when it stopped agonisingly short.  

It didn’t matter, Micheel knew that was enough. He punched the air as the gallery roared its approval. The coverage cut to Micheel’s parents, Buck and Donna, watching on a screen and barely able to contain their glee.

Their son had just held off not only his closest rival in Campbell but 95 more of the world’s top 100.

“It was the best shot I’ve seen under that pressure,” runner-up and good friend Campbell, who went into the week ranked 58th, said afterwards. “Just phenomenal.”

Then, with a smile: “It’s nice having just a kick-in for the win.”

Shaun Micheel

Micheel, like many of the field, will have turned up in Rochester, a vibrant city on New York state’s Canadian border, feeling like it was anyone’s title.

Just weeks before, Ben Curtis, ranked 396th, had rocked up at Royal St George’s and left a few days later clutching the Claret Jug. 

Opening rounds of 69 and 68 meant Micheel led by two going into the weekend, despite the fact he “couldn’t buy a putt”, and talk of him joining the sextet of players to win on their PGA debut began to surface.  

As did the Curtis comparisons.

“Absolutely,” Micheel, making his 164th PGA Tour start, replied when asked if the newly-crowned Champion Golfer was an inspiration. “Someone is going to have to win. I’ve played in enough golf tournaments now as a professional that I feel like I’m ready to do something. It’s about time.” 

Twenty-four hours and “a disappointing finish” later, the Floridian found himself tied with Campbell with 18 to play. But he was keeping the mood light.

“It’s funny,” he said. “Everybody thinks I’m Chad Campbell. It’s unbelievable. I’ve had several people come up to me and say ‘great playing’ at such and such a tournament. I just said, ‘OK’, but it didn’t really dawn on me. It’s amazing how everybody thinks Chad and I look alike.”


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In the early days, Micheel was always relatively relaxed about what was going on in his career – even mid tournament. It’s something to which he credited an incident from his mini tour days.

“Another PGA Tour player, Doug Barren, and I were going out to play a practice round and we saw this car go off an embankment,” he explained. “It must have been 30 feet above the surface of the water. [We] stood there in shock and were really not sure what to do. No one else was doing anything. Nobody could really get down to where they were, so Doug and I were left trying to help those people out. 

“Not knowing how deep the water was, I didn’t want to test my swimming skills with clothes on, so I stripped down to my orange fish boxers and valiantly went out and pulled them out.

“[It was] an elderly couple, she meant to hit the brake but hit the gas and, like we all can do, panicked. We managed to pull them out.

“I never heard from them after that. I read some of the articles from the paper and stuff, but I went on my merry way with the tournament.” 

“It was unfortunate, I was playing really well, but I lost the tournament because I kept hitting it in the water the last few holes. That was ironic.

“But it was something that I think any of us would do if put in that position. I think about that a lot.” 

Back to Oak Hill and there was to be no disappointing finish on Sunday. That seven-iron and the subsequent tap-in meant a level-par 70 and a two-shot victory.

“I really can’t believe that has happened to me. I was just trying to make the cut. That was my main goal, and I would have been happy with that,” Micheel told reporters while clinging tightly to the Wanamaker.

“I don’t know what else to say. I’m just thrilled. It was a very difficult day emotionally for me. I’m looking at a lot of squares on my card, and I know that I turned out to be the champion and I shot the lowest score, but inside I’m wishing that I could have played a little bit better.

“I wanted Chad and I to play some quality golf, for the fans, and everybody kept yelling at me to hit it in the fairway. Well, I was trying to, but I just couldn’t do it. 

“But it’s always a good way to finish, and I’m going to think about those things.”

But his outlook on both golf and life took a turn. In a recent interview with the Rochester Business Journal, Micheel explained how much of a burden his major win had become.   

“I understand that people have their favourites,” he said. “They wanted to see Tiger win, or one of the other big, established names. 

“They didn’t want a story like mine, but that’s what they got. And I guess over time I became an apologist for my win. I’ve struggled with that. I still am to some degree.”

2003 PGA Championship

Micheel ended the season well, with just one missed cut in his next seven, while 2004 yielded one top 10, several missed cuts, and a million in the bank.

“I became obsessed with practising,” Micheel added. “I overdid it. I wound up practising more than I was playing, letting the scores I shot on the golf course affect my life off it. 

“If I played well, I was happy to go out and be among people. And if I didn’t play well, I didn’t want to be seen in public.”

But that all changed in 2005 when, after months of suffering with poor form and mood swings, Micheel was diagnosed with hypogonadism and subsequently treated for low testosterone. Levels of which, he told Golf magazine two years later, had dropped to “that of a man in his mid-70s”.   

The treatment worked, and 2006 was his second most successful season, both in terms of prize money and major performance, where he recorded his only other top 20. It was a distant second behind a rampaging and record-breaking Tiger Woods at Medinah, but a second nonetheless.

Micheel, now 54 and focused on coaching, still plays here and there on the PGA Tour Champions, but remains on three career wins – the Opens of Singapore and Greensboro on the Asian and Nike Tours respectively, as well as the PGA Championship. 

More importantly, he is content.

“Nearly all of us rate our careers on numbers of wins, so in that regard I suppose a lot of my career has been a disappointment,” Micheel told Sirius XM. 

“But there’s been a lot of great things off the golf course – pulling those two people from the river, and my wife Stephanie and I have been part of the Make-a-Wish Foundation for 14 years, and that’s been one of the greatest experiences I could have.”

Micheel will return to Oak Hill in May for the PGA Championship – a competition for which he has lifetime exemption – and while he hasn’t made a cut since 2011, these days it’s more about family. In particular, his 19-year-old son, Dade.  

“He doesn’t remember his first visit to Oak Hill because he was in his mother’s womb,” Micheel explained. “Stephanie was seven months pregnant, lugging him around the course, when I won that PGA. So this opportunity to share a practice round with him is going to be a really special father-and-son moment.”

Players who won the PGA Championship on debut

Jim Barnes (1916)
Tom Creavy (1931)
Bob Hamilton (1944)
Doug Ford (1955)
Bob Tway (1986)
John Daly (1991)
Shaun Micheel (2003)
Keegan Bradley (2011)
Collin Morikawa (2020)

Shaun Micheel’s record

Wins: 3 (1998 Singapore Open, 1999 Nike Greensboro Open, 2003 PGA Championship)

Best results in majors: 1st (2003 PGA), T22 (2004 Masters, 2010 US Open), T35 (2007 Open)

Best results in WGCs: R16 (2007 Match Play), T23 (2003 Invitational), T44 (2003 Championship)

Best results in senior majors: T16 (2019 Tradition), T43 (2022 Senior PGA), T45 (2020 Senior Players), T53 (2021 Senior Open)

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