How Shaun Micheel
      won the PGA

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Out of the Ashes rose the Phoenix!
The setting is the B.C. Open golf tournament on the PGA tour, (being played opposite the British Open the same week at Muirfield), and it's late July in the summer of 2002.  I'm caddying for Spike McRoy.  Spike had just shot 12 over par for two rounds at Milwaukee and missed the cut there.  His playing status was off of finishing 127th on the previous year's money list and when he failed to regain his playing privileges in the Fall Classic that year.  So his order of entry into 2002 tournaments was via the 125 to 150 category off year 2001's money list.

I figured he had about 8 or 9 tournaments that he'd be eligible left to play in 2002 and I told him so following the performance at Milwaukee.  And I told him this, "You're probably going to be back at tour school this fall to try and get your card back for 2003."  "I know how you guys can play your butt off when it's all on the line there with your back against the wall." Just play likes it's one week at Q school each week only you get a lot of chances -8 or 9!  "Spike every week is just a one week qualifier to get your exemption (full card) back on the PGA Tour!"  "Forget the 12 over, it's done, it's a new week, a new opportunity, in several upcoming tournaments to get it done!"

In Thursday's first round, Spike got it to -2 early in the round, only to botch a couple of easy plays and after 10 holes he stood at one over for the day and had 'backed up' three shots from the minus two early on the front nine.  I could see that he was 'trying to hard' and getting in his own way out there.  

So in the middle of the next fairway before it was his time to play I tapped him on the side of his head and said, "It's all right here man!"  And he came back to me, "I know, I don't have any confidence right now."  "I said, no I don't mean that!"  "You're botching up what I know are easy plays for you.  You're trying too hard.  And look you're a great putter."  (He'd once finished second in the World Putting Championship).  "When you get on this next green to putt, forget about results.  And relax!  There's nothing wrong with your putting stroke."  "The hole's this big", (I formed a big hole with my hands to demonstrate my point.)  "I don't care if you knock it 10 feet by or 5 feet short, just relax and enjoy it!  Forget about results. It's just another in many 'opportunities' you're going to have."

He then proceeded to hit the next golf shot over the green and up against a small tree!  He left the first one in the muff and the second attempt to about 5 feet.  Then he calmly stroked that one in the center of the hole for a bogey five taking us to +2 for the day.  Hardly what I wanted after our 'talk' in the fairway out there.  But then he started to play!  He made four birdies right after that to shoot a respectable two under par 70 after it looked like a 74 for sure earlier.  I could see that my intervention had an effect.  He'd made some good putts coming in and relaxed along the way, and his mood was more upbeat when we were finished.  The next day his good play continued and his putter got hot!  

When he wasn't rolling them in, they looked like they would go in anyway.  We had to complete round two early Saturday morning and Spike finished off a 65 with birdies on the two finishing holes at the Enjoie Golf Club.   In Saturday afternoon's third round he posted a 3 under par 69 to post -12 going into Sunday's final round -seven shots back of a hot Shaun Micheel who was looking like he was going to 'lap' the field at Endicott that week.  Unlike Spike, Shaun was playing with full playing privileges from the previous year and he looked like this was going to be the week that he would evolve as a PGA tournament winner!

Drop back five and 1/2 years earlier to the Spring of 1997 :  I was in Florida looking for work on the PGA Tour the week of the Honda Classic at Heron Bay in Davie Florida.  I'd just had a job with an old 'boss' of mine the week before at Doral -Joel Edwards but had no steady job at the time.  I was amongst about 10 to 12 guys who were 'shopping' the parking lot that week looking for work.  There was a young player who'd gotten his playing card for the second time around, (his first time being out of the 1994 PGA Tour school three years earlier after which he failed to retain his playing privileges.)  This time he had 'graduated' out of the 1996 PGA Tour 'Fall Classic' in Santa Barbara.  His name was Shaun Micheel.  We'd spoken a bit on the West Coast earlier in the year at the Bob Hope Classic where Shaun was an alternate to get in that week about possibly working for him somewhere 'down the road' that year.  

Something impressed me immediately about this kid but I couldn't really put a handle on what exactly it was at the time.  He'd come from a hard working family in Memphis Tennessee where he'd grown up and his dad was a Fed Ex pilot.   Shaun honed his skills early on at many of the municipal golf courses in the town there and later at the University of Indiana where he'd played college golf.  Maybe that something was his even demeanor, or his Ron Howard of Mayberry kind of looks and golly gee style.  I know that I liked the fact that he didn't try to be anyone but himself and that was a genuine well spoken and sincere young gentleman from the get go.  I guess that impressed me the most.  

That summer I caddied for Shaun was anything but impressive for either one of us.  I think we made about 3 cuts in a dozen or so tournaments.  He had a definite idea about how to approach the golf course which was somewhat conservative in that regard and he is the kind of player I would categorize as a 'feel' player.  He had the skills to make it on tour in that he better than average length off the tee and a decent short game.  There were a couple of times when we approached a particular golf course he'd never seen when I'd tell him, now here 'you need to do such in such on this hole',  or 'this hole you've got to hit driver'  Then he'd tell me, 'Don't tell me how to play the hole!'   Often by the end of the tournament week he'd be more on my side saying, 'You were right about such and such', if he thought I was.

Back to 2002 at Endicott:  Spike was clearly frustrated about his three under par 69 on Saturday as a lot of his putts had great speed but veered off slightly with a lot of near misses.  I instead liked what I saw.  Here was a guy rolling his ball like the best of them do when they're doing it right.  And I knew he left some out there and that he hadn't run out of bullets yet!  We still had round four to play on Sunday and that there was still some ammo (birdies) left in his gun!  But we had a lot of ground to make up.  And Shaun Micheel was tied with Paul Gow playing in the last group on Sunday trying to do something he'd never done before, win a PGA Tour event.  And win it from the lead position.  

If a guy's never done that it's difficult for him to not get caught up in expectations, in what might happen, instead of being able to separate that out, stay aggressive and not focus totally on results and instead go out and continue to execute good golf shots and make the putts.  Shaun had worked his way into a position to 'protect' rather than to play offense out there.  It happens a lot.  And sure enough, as we began climbing up the leader board on Sunday, Shaun and Gow, perhaps regressed into 'match play' mode playing against each other and neither one could get it under par for the day.  So the leading score didn't move any lower as we inched closer to the lead.

By the time we stood on the 16th tee we were tied for the lead at -18 for the tournament.  When we walked off the green with a par and still at -18 we were still tied as Micheel was playing in the day's final pairing 5 holes behind us.  A lip out for birdie on the 17th followed by a dramatic 35 footer for birdie at the finishing hole and a closing round of 65 had elevated Spike McRoy to be the sole leader in the tournament at nineteen under par.  Temporarily.  There were still two guys at -18 that had 5 holes to play.  My guy had done it though.  I'd thrown him out the challenge to go out and play to win.  I told him to relax.  Forget about results.  He accepted my advice.  I know I'd told the right guy, the right thing, at the right time.  (And believe me it doesn't always go that way!)  And now the reward would be the ultimate in professional golf.  Possibly.  But we would need 'help'.  

Help in the form of one Shaun Micheel possibly running out of 'bullets'?  As we left the 18th green's scoring tent, the cheering gallery around the finishing green, and the national media coverage I told Spike not to 'celebrate' and to be ready for at best a playoff -if we were lucky.  He agreed and went to the press room.  Now he had to watch a fellow competitor and close friend try to rise to the occasion to beat him.  Spike and Shaun are good friends.  They've played a lot of golf together.  They're nearly the same age and both grew up in the South and Spike lived in Memphis for two years while when his wife attended optometry school there.  

Spike later told me that it was most of the most nerve wracking things he'd ever gone through -to be in his circumstance and have to watch and see if someone who is your good friend and to whom victory means as much to him as it does to you, and not pull against him.  Likewise, I'd once worked for Shaun when he was struggling.  Now it could be his 'dream' or it could be Spike McRoy's and mine.  Shaun did tie us at -19 after birdying the 16th hole but then bogeyed the 17th, and playing #18 tried to hit a tough shot knowing he needed birdie on 18.  Instead he made bogey allowing a fast charging  Fred Funk to slip by him into second place at 18 under.

Shaun didn't care that he didn't finish second.  He didn't play well enough.  All he knew is that he didn't execute under the pressure.  Shaun Micheel left the 18th hole down trodden knowing that he had tried and failed in the greatest of tests of his mettle.  At that time to him it was just another failure.  He refused the interviews after and politely congratulated Spike.  The next week in Quad Cities, Shaun went out of his way to congratulate Spike and me on the win.  I told him his time would come, and when it did  it would go his way that day, and it would seem a lot easier too.  I'm sure he thought it was just me being polite back then.  But I meant it.

There's no game like professional golf.  There's no place to run and hide when it isn't 'working out' your way.  You're blatantly exposed to your bare essence for all to see and answer to.   All that matters is the Truth.  And the truth of the matter is that  Shaun Micheel went through all that self examination and scrutiny and failure and pain at Endicott and handled it like a class champion.  

I'd seen a kid who'd struggled and matured as a professional golfer since I'd worked for him.  He was always mature in his dealings with people.  All those tours he'd played on and smaller victories -(he'd won on the Nike Tour the year after I'd worked for him as well as on some of the other sub tours).  And every time you get a card through Q School it is a victory all by itself.  So in essence he was already a winner.

He had taken the loss one year before on broad shoulders and learned from it.  Little did we know at the time that there was a greater day for him coming just around the corner and down the road.  Our victory and his loss at Endicott was just part of that preparation for a greater day for him in the sun.  Getting himself that second opportunity was all his own doing.  And being able to finish it off in such grand style off the seeds that were planted by the Ashes of that loss one year earlier at the B.C. Open!

Almost exactly one year from our battle at Endicott, and just up the road from that scene in Rochester, N.Y.  Shaun Micheel leads the PGA Championship almost wire to wire.  Playing the last two rounds of a major championship, with the lead, he stood up to the test better than any veteran player in the field.  What a great performance and story.  As I know I speak the Truth and I'll always be proud whenever I get a chance as I do now to say, -I was once a small part, (however unwittingly), of his evolution into professional golf, and that I once knew -Shaun Micheel -PGA CHAMPION!

Bob Whitbread

Stay tuned to Caddy Bytes for a winning caddy interview with Shaun Micheel's caddy -Bob Szczesny in the next couple weeks!










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