Former PGA Championship Winner Shaun Micheel Reminisces On His Triumph As He Returns To Oak Hill
One of the biggest underdogs on golf’s list of major winners still gets a kick out of seeing his old plaque and the broken ground around it.
The pilgrimage to Oak Hill, Rochester, is one Shaun Micheel has made sporadically in the past 20 years and it always raises a smile. There are trickier thoughts, too, but it is mainly a happy buzz, because that is where he rose quite dramatically from the obscurity of 169th in the rankings to win the US PGA Championship.
That he did so by hitting the ‘shot heard around the world’, as a few excitable souls have described it, will always keep the embers glowing on a fine moment in time.
‘I get there every so often but it always feels like it happened yesterday,’ he tells Mail Sport. ‘I was actually there at the start of this month.
‘Every time I try to recreate the shot that guys seem to remember. You know, there’s a little sign that shows where I played from. It is always surrounded by divots and I love that it stuck with people and they try to take it on. Can’t believe it was 20 years ago — that was some year.’
Shaun Micheel is set to return to Oak Hill this weekend, the site of his famous 2003 PGA Championship triumph
Despite never having won on the PGA Tour, he rose to fame with ‘shot heard around the world’ at the tournament, which became one of golf’s most famous shots ever
We are talking about a season that was so unusual in its designation of major champions that it became the subject of a book, and a shot that ranks among the greatest acts of closure in golf history.
Protecting a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole, this part-time pilot and full-time journeyman from Florida swung a seven iron from the rough and put his ball to two inches.
Then aged 34, he had never won on the PGA Tour and he would never win again, which is a regret that still scratches at him. But with the tournament and Micheel both returning to Oak Hill this week, he has been going through a few of the details of his brief period in the light.
‘I’ll never forget how sick I felt on that Sunday morning of the final round,’ he says, and it is necessary to note at this stage that it was his 164th start on the PGA Tour.
He had never once in all those tournaments converted a lead into a trophy, so naturally it was a thought that featured prominently in his mind as he and Chad Campbell prepared for their last loop, tied on four under par.
‘There was a lot going on in my head,’ he says. ‘I had blown a three-shot lead on Sunday at the BC Open. Not that I led a lot of times going into a Sunday, but I was often in contention without getting it done and I was just kind of tired of losing.
‘I had played well for three days so on Saturday night I felt good. But on Sunday? That was different.’ He tends to describe his trip to the course that day as a ‘walk to my execution’.
He continues: ‘My wife, Stephanie, was with me and she was six months pregnant at the time. I was so nervous I dropped her off at family dining and for two hours I just didn’t want to talk. Then I got to my locker and I had a note stuck in it.’
It was from Loren Roberts, an eight-time winner on Tour and one of his leaderboard rivals. ‘It said, “Shaun, you’re as good as anybody else out here. Go play your game and win”.’ That meant a huge amount to me.’
Pepped up, Micheel would hold steady through his round until the decisive moment in his life, when he stood over his second shot at the 18th with a lead of one over Campbell.
Both men had 174 yards to the flag and Micheel was in the first cut of rough. The wonders of his seven iron and the subsequent tap-in for a two-stroke victory were worth more than $1million.
‘It’s just a dream,’ he says. ‘When I tried that shot recently, it took a five iron but I still got it to 15 feet!
‘Looking back to then, I have this fun memory. We got to about 10.30pm and Stephanie and I were starving. The club said they’d put a car on for us to get home. Next thing, this big limo turns up and we direct it to a Wendy’s drive through. We celebrated the PGA Championship with Wendy’s cheese burgers in bed.’
That year was an astonishing one in golf. In what was a brief interruption to the years of Tiger Woods’s dominance, another unknown in Ben Curtis won the Open, Mike Weir took the Masters, and Jim Furyk won his only major at the US Open.
For Micheel, now 54 and hopeful of making the cut at Oak Hill this week, such sporting highs never came along again. He was second to Woods in the same major in 2006, but at various points in the time since he has felt unfulfilled for having not delivered another tournament win.
While Micheel’s has only won one major title, he came second to Tiger Woods (pictured) at the event in 2006
Micheel’s said: ‘You don’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder, but the truth is these things are hard to win’
The 54-year-old is now hoping that he can make the cut in next weeks PGA Championship
‘I wanted to show that I belonged on the trophy,’ he says. ‘You don’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder, but the truth is these things are hard to win and the harder I tried the harder it got. You are always trying to get the lightning back in the bottle.’
Gradually, he has made peace with being one of the 146 men to have won a single major.
‘I look at Tiger and how he was able to win 82 times on Tour — people have to appreciate how incredible that is,’ Micheel adds. ‘For me, I’ve had to become satisfied and accepting.
‘Maybe I should have just had a mic-drop moment and walked away right then, because it’s just hard to upstage four days of incredible golf, sharing it with my wife, and that seven iron.’