PITTSFORD – The 7-iron is tucked away in a nondescript box somewhere inside Shaun Micheel’s “golf and guitar” room back home in Memphis.
He’s been asked for it several times, but understandably has been loath to let it go.
It is, after all, the club Micheel used to become a major champion. It was back on Aug. 17, 2003 when Micheel – at the time the 169th-ranked player in the world – started the final round of the 85th PGA Championship tied for the lead. He ended it on that Sunday with one of the great shots in a major championship.
From 175 yards away out of the first cut of rough, Micheel hit his 7-iron approach shot to within 2 inches of the cup on the par-4 18th hole at Oak Hill Country Club. He tapped in for birdie, and in doing so became one of the unlikeliest major champions in golf history.
Micheel’s victory remains his only win on the PGA Tour in 378 career starts. He’s one of only seven players since 1950 to have their only Tour win come in a major, and one of only three to have made at least 100 career starts with that distinction.
Perhaps that’s why Micheel sounds like a man treating this week’s visit to the site of his greatest professional accomplishment more like a walk down memory lane than a realistic chance to shock the world again.
Micheel’s wife, Stephanie, is with him this week, as are the couple’s two children, his father and his in-laws. The family planned to take a photo at the plaque on the 18th hole that commemorates his shot.
“My 9-year-old and 6-year-old, they’re not really sure why I want to get all these pictures made, but it’s for me,” he said. “So I’m anxious to kind of show them kind of where I had one piece of history, I guess.”
In that moment, Micheel was on the top of the professional golfing world. He finished atop a field stacked with the world’s best players, and did so by shooting 4-under 276 on a brutally difficult course.
Since then, he’s fallen to one of the lowest rungs on the professional ladder, as a non-exempt player on the Web.com Tour.
“I guess had you told me that when I hoisted that trophy on Sunday night and I went back to my hotel, if somebody had whispered in my ear that you’re going to become a non-exempt player on the Tour and you’re going to be a non-exempt player on the Web.com Tour, I would have told you you were crazy,” Micheel said. “Or thought I was dead or retired. It’s been frustrating.”
Micheel’s fall from grace started in 2005. He withdrew from the Honda Classic, because as he says, “I just didn’t want to be out there. I was just tired. I didn’t know what in the world was wrong with me.”
Micheel even went so far as to be tested for bipolar disorder before learning that he had low testosterone levels. In 2008, he underwent shoulder surgery, which he tried to rush back from.
“I just don’t swing like I used to,” he said. “My form just doesn’t function the way that I need it to. Nobody gives you any free rides out here. You have to earn everything that you get. So I came back too early. I do regret that.”
Micheel also is the first to admit his mental approach to the game has not always been as sharp as it needed to be. He had a solid year in 2010 with three top-five finishes, but played with a heavy heart, as his mother, Donna, was suffering from lung cancer. She died on Oct. 21 of that year.
“In the last couple years I just don’t think I’ve worked hard enough for it,” he said. “I started 2011, I just didn’t have anything. I didn’t have the drive. I just felt like I had played so hard for her that I just didn’t have anybody to play for. I was sick of playing for myself, because that’s what I had been doing for 20 years. … I’m just beat up, is how I would say it.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Woods, the world’s No. 1 player and owner of 14 major championships. The two have seemingly nothing in common, except that their names are on the Wanamaker Trophy.
“He’s going to go down in history as a major championship winner. That just puts you automatically into another category,” Woods said. “These are the biggest events with the most pressure, the best fields on the most difficult courses. On top of that, hell, he hit one of the greatest shots you’ve ever seen on 18 to finish it off.”
Fans here haven’t let Micheel forget it.
“It’s always nice when you’re supported, especially the way things have gone in the last couple years. People haven’t forgotten me, and it’s very much appreciated,” he said. “I enjoy sharing my story and sharing my emotions about that particular day. I played well. I think that last shot kind of solidified the fact that I could do it, and I know I haven’t done it since, and there’s been, I guess, maybe part of me that wishes I would have bowed out a few years ago. But I relive that moment a lot, I really do.”
Micheel dropped a ball at the plaque during a practice round Sunday, and knew he couldn’t get a 7-iron to the green. He planned on hitting a 6-iron, but was convinced by a couple spectators to hit the 7-iron.
It came up 10 yards short of the green.
“I didn’t really want to do it,” he said. “It really was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime shot.”