Shaun Micheel stuck a 175-yard approach shot a few inches shy of the cup at the 72nd hole of the 2003 PGA Championship and walked into golf history books.
He tapped in for birdie to win the Wanamaker Trophy, and a plaque sits off the 18th fairway at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y., marking the spot his 7-iron wowed the crowd.
Micheel has returned to Oak Hill several times since, but the warm and fuzzy feeling is back as he prepares to play the PGA in its latest visit to the venue this week, the 20th anniversary of Micheel’s moment.
“When I drive up Kilbourn (Road), I definitely think about all the things that happened to me when I won,” Micheel told Field Level Media in a phone interview.
Micheel is remembered for more than that 7-iron: The 2003 PGA was not just his first major title, but also his only PGA Tour victory. He never broke through again.
The “one-hit wonder” label dogged him. Some alternatives were even less kind — a fluke, an undeserving champion. Micheel no doubt deserved the win, having guarded the lead throughout the final two rounds, but nevertheless he began to struggle with his own expectations.
“Winning your first tournament as a major championship — and particularly the way that I won it with that shot on the last hole — it just was hard for me to try to one-up that,” Micheel said. “I certainly spent a lot of time trying to keep that level of play. I changed the way I practiced. I think I was in search of perfection.”
Adversity came in waves. He lost full-time tour status after 2011, he needed heart surgery in 2014 and his parents passed in 2010 and 2016. But with time comes perspective, and Micheel is proud of what he accomplished — and knows there’s no use trying to change the opinions of strangers.
“People don’t really understand the amount of hard work,” Micheel said. “Take my 7-iron. They see that shot, but they don’t see all that went into that, to getting to that point.”
When the world’s best golfers play Oak Hill May beginning Thursday, the course will hardly resemble the site of Micheel’s victory. A renovation sought to bring it closer to Donald Ross’ initial design, requiring the removal of hundreds of trees. But in keeping up with the times, it’s been lengthened to a menacing 7,394-yard par-70.
“With the event being in May, being a lot cooler than it was when I won (in August), it’s gonna play a lot longer,” Micheel said. “It’s been wet. But I think when the players arrive there, (they’ll see) it is a beautiful, beautiful piece of property.”
Micheel visited the area in March for a gala for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, one of several children’s charities that matter to him. He’s dedicated much of his time off the course to philanthropy, utilizing doors that only opened once he became a major champion.
Before Micheel’s win, his good friend John Daly hosted the annual Make-a-Wish Classic in Micheel’s hometown of Memphis, Tenn. Daly was looking to pass it off in order to start his own foundation.
“That left a void for them. Come August of 2003 when I won, that void was quickly closed,” Micheel said. “They approached me and it was an incredible opportunity for (wife) Stephanie and I.”
The event raised more than $3 million and granted 600 wishes in 14 years.
He’s found another way to give back.
Micheel, who originally wanted to be a pilot, credited former Indiana University golf coach Sam Carmichael with influencing him to pursue professional golf. When Butler head coach Colby Huffman reached out last year to gauge Micheel’s interest in becoming an assistant, he was receptive to the idea.
Micheel attended some of Butler’s tournaments in 2022-23 while also coaching individuals remotely.
“I can share my mistakes that I’ve made playing golf,” he said. “I’m pretty much like, ‘Hey, this is what I did — don’t do that.'”
When Micheel reflects on the past 20 years, this is what stands out; not everything that didn’t go right during his career, but everything that did.
Most important, the Micheels had a son and daughter, Dade and Marin. Stephanie was pregnant with Dade during the 2003 PGA; now Dade is 19, and he got to play a round with his dad at Oak Hill the Saturday before the championship.
Yes, Micheel has shown his son the 7-iron plaque before.
“The difference now is that plaque is 340 yards off the back tee,” Micheel laughed. “The only time I’ll see it during the week is when I’ll walk by it.”
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media