Victory at Oak Hill no guarantee of success as Shaun Micheel can attest

Ten years after his Major victory, Micheel, 44, is not exempt on the PGA Tour or the Tour

 Shaun Micheel in action  during the first round of the 95th PGA Championship  in Rochester, New York. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Shaun Micheel in action during the first round of the 95th PGA Championship in Rochester, New York. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images


The footsteps of champions are not erased when the tide goes out, which Rich Beem pointed out to Shaun Micheel on a rainy Friday the way one might call attention to a rainbow.

Micheel, who won the US PGA Championship the last time it was held at Oak Hill Country Club, in 2003, carded twin 76s in his return, each score six strokes higher than his worst round a decade ago.

“To see Shaun struggle like that at a venue where his greatest accomplishment as a golfer has taken place, I felt heartbroken for him,” Beem, the 2002 champion, said afterwards.

“Because trust me, I know how it feels.”

Beem, who was on his way to another missed cut, said he told Micheel to look at the bright side: “When they give the trophy out to somebody on Sunday, our names are still on it. They can’t take them off.”

Of the last 25 US PGA Championship winners, 16 were claiming their first-time Major. Twelve of the 16, including Beem and Micheel, have yet to win a second Major.

Micheel and Martin Kaymer, the 2010 champion, are the only US PGA Championship winners since 1950 without another PGA Tour victory.

Micheel’s title drought was extended here to 216 starts. At least Kaymer, who began playing a full schedule on the PGA Tour this year, has since won on the European Tour.

Two inches
In 2003, Micheel sealed his victory with one of golf’s most memorable final-hole shots, a 7-iron approach from the first cut of rough that landed two inches from the pin.

Ten years after his crowning moment in golf, Micheel, 44, is not exempt on the PGA Tour or the Tour, the circuit one rung below. In 10 combined starts this year on the tours, he has not broken 70 or made a cut.

“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 Tour, I would have told you you were crazy,” Micheel said. “Or thought I was dead or retired.”

Beem’s victory in this event was his third on the PGA Tour and his second in two outings. He held off Tiger Woods at Hazeltine Golf Club 14 days after he took the title at the International. Beem has since gone 242 tour starts without a win.

It’s as if the PGA Championship ate its victors. Three of its past five winners are still looking for their next Tour victory, including the 2008 winner, Pádraig Harrington, a three-time major champion who extended his winless streak on tour to 93 with a missed cut here.

“There’s a lot of pressure, no doubt about it, and it doesn’t make things easier,” Harrington said. “There’s the frustrations of not getting to that high again.”

“Most guys, it’s a burden to carry and it’s a struggle. That’s why you have so many one-time Major winners.”

A major reason Micheel succeeded here in 2003 is that he approached the championship as if it were another stop on the Tour . It became infinitely harder to treat the Majors as the next event on the calendar when he was introduced at every one as a former Major winner. “It kind of brought me to a new level,” Micheel said, “but it also kind of put a lot more scrutiny, maybe, on my golf.”

He recently spoke of the spotlight’s damaging effects.

“I think it changed me a little personally,” he said, “because I just have always felt, how am I going to upstage this PGA? How am I going to keep this thing going?”

Beem, 42, can relate.

“I was just playing golf. I didn’t even think about my own expectations. Then I won the PGA and certainly everybody’s expectations went up.”

Injuries have also taken a toll. Micheel had shoulder surgery in 2008, and Beem neck surgery in 2010.

“We’re on that list of the worst golfers ever to win a Major championship and whatever. That’s somebody else’s list. That’s not my list,” said Beem.

It was different in Europe, where he travelled last year to compete in 10 events, Beem said. “You’re a Major champion,” he said. “It’s the one thing the Europeans desire more than anything else, so they respect it over there. It doesn’t matter how long ago you won it.”

At last year’s Scottish Open, Beem said, he was “kind of down in the dumps” after chasing a 68 with a 77 to miss the cut. “I came in,” he said, “and I was complaining about my playing.”

Beem said he was interrupted by Paul McGinley, who told him: “Richie, you’re a major champion. Get over this round and let’s go have a pint.”

Beem added: “Obviously, it’s probably going to be the only Major I ever win, but you know what? I’ll take it.”
New York Times