PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Shaun Micheel walked off the 18th green at Oak Hill as a major champion, a surprise winner considering he had never won on the PGA Tour, was playing in the PGA Championship for the first time at age 34 and thought it would be a good week if he made the cut.
That was 20 years ago. He needs no reminder of how much time has passed.
One indelible moment for Micheel, along with the 7-iron he hit to 2 inches on the final hole, was hugging his pregnant wife, Stephanie, and then bending over to kiss her belly.
Dade was born three months later. He now is 19, a freshman in college.
“I think about the four rounds that I played and the incredible golf that I played,” Micheel said. And then he turned to look at his son and his voice choked slightly with emotion. “But I think about this little guy right here. That’s what has special meaning to me this week.”
They played Oak Hill on Saturday, Micheel sharing memories of how he won.
The 7-iron is in his golf room — same grips as when he hit that magical shot in 2003 — and Micheel said his son brings over friends on occasion to look at it.
“I kind of keep it hidden because I don’t want anybody to see it and take it away,” Micheel said. “But I have been asked for it. I was like, ‘Well, if I was Tiger Woods and had 15 majors and I had all these extra clubs I could loan out, I would.’ But that’s not really going to go anywhere.”
He is not Tiger Woods.
Micheel was No. 169 in the world, the highest ranking of any PGA champion since the Official World Golf Ranking began in 1986. With a one-shot lead over Chad Campbell, he hit a 7-iron out of the first cut of rough and the ball kept rolling toward the hole until stopping inches away. It remains as good as any full shot by a major champion on the final hole.
That wrapped up one of the more unusual years in the majors. It remains the only year since the Masters began in 1934 that featured champions who won their only major — Mike Weir at the Masters, Jim Furyk at the U.S. Open, Ben Curtis at the British Open.
Micheel is the only one from that group who never won another PGA Tour event. His place in the game is a major champion, and Micheel makes no apologies for that.
“I look at my name on the trophy, I’m proud of it,” Micheel said. “I really am.”
But he can’t help but wonder how much it affected him the rest of his career. Not only did he never win again, his only runner-up finish on tour was at Medinah in the 2006 PGA Championship. He finished five shots behind Woods.
So many players over the years have talked about winning a major and then trying to develop a swing worthy of a major champion, forgetting that what they had was good enough.
“I’ve tried to justify the name on the trophy. When you win and then your expectations change and you become driven by perfection, that was my undoing,” he said.
Micheel is not the only out-of-nowhere winner at a major.
His victory at Oak Hill came a month after Curtis at No. 396 in the world won at Royal St. George’s in his first major. Jack Fleck took down Ben Hogan in the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club. Orville Moody won his only PGA Tour title at the 1969 U.S. Open, the last U.S. Open champion to go through two stages of qualifying.
Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen won the PGA Championship five times. Woods has his name on the trophy four times. Vijay Singh, Nick Price, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are on the Wanamaker Trophy twice.
“Every player wants to feel like they belong on the trophy,” Micheel said. “I think that the guys that are on that trophy, they played for their place in the game, their legacy. I suppose I played to keep my job. I think that’s really unfortunate. I played like every shot was life and death and every round and every year that either I was exempt or not.”
Micheel returned to Oak Hill in 2013, and then in 2019 for the Senior PGA Championship. His goal now at age 54 is to make the cut, same as it was the first time he came to Oak Hill, with far less expectations.
He still is held in high regard by the members at Oak Hill. Every club loves its champions.
“They welcome me back and kind of treat me like I’ve won 18 majors,” Micheel said. “I know my place in the game, but it’s fun to be back here.”
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