The PGA Championship

An Interview With: SHAUN MICHEEL

August 15, 2003

JULIUS MASON: Shaun Micheel, ladies and gentlemen, at 3-under after the second round of the 85th PGA Championship.

Shaun, some opening thoughts, we'll go through your card and we'll go to Q&A if you don't mind, please.

SHAUN MICHEEL: Really, today was much different, I think, than yesterday. Yesterday I was thankful to have my putter in the bag, and today, I couldn't seem to buy a putt in the beginning. I was a little bit more nervous, I think, than I thought I was going to be.

I had some nice shots. Actually, the first five or six holes, I didn't really miss-hit a shot, and I was 3-over par, which is about what the majors seem to do to you. You lose your focus for just a little while and you're 3-over par.

It was a good, nice finish.

Like I said, I got off to a really nice start. I played the first four holes really well, then come to probably one of the easiest holes on the golf course. It just kind of jumped up and got me. Made a 6, just missed it over the green. Actually kind of bladed a chip and then had a tough putt from there and made 6.

Went on to the next hole and 3-putted. So now I'm thinking, well, those first, five or six holes is when you have to make up some shots and here I am throwing them away.

I came to 16 and hit a nice tee shot into the fairway. I had a sand wedge, one of my middle wedges and hit it about four or five feet. I was pretty nervous over that putt, even though it was five or five feet, just because I knew what it meant. It really meant having my first birdie of the day and then coming into the last two holes with a little better feeling.

Really, the turning point was 17. I missed the fairway to the right and was fortunate to really have a shot. I was just out of the primary cut of rough, I guess, and I was able to manufacturer something to get on the green and make a par.

As I was doing all day, I hit the fairway on 18, but I was pulling my short irons for some reason. I made about a 40 -- I don't even know how far it was; 40 feet maybe -- I don't know if ShotLink is here this week or not.

So I felt really good. I felt good going into the turn. I was hitting fairways and greens, putting the ball well, my speed was pretty good. I go to the par 3, No. 3 and make bogey. Really no big deal. I really wasn't watching the leaderboard. I was really more concerned with just trying to keep myself in position so I might have a good weekend and might hang around.

Just like the first four or five holes, I couldn't make a putt, I couldn't miss one, the last four or five. I'm kind of glad the day was over, and I'm certainly glad the way I finished.

No. 5, was a 9-iron. Jeff Lankford and I both hit it up there. He hit it about a foot and I hit it about three feet.

Go to the next hole, the par 3; I was trying to hit the center of the green. Hit a 6-iron to about 20 feet and rolled that one in.

Go to No. 8. Hit a nice tee shot and that left me a 9-iron in. I hit it about 20 or 25 feet.

No. 9, I believe I hit just a little 7-iron about eight or nine feet. I hit some nice shots coming in and made some nice putts.

Q: You said that you were more nervous today than you thought you would be; any idea what the nerves will be like tomorrow in the final pairing of a major with the lead?

SHAUN MICHEEL: Well, I think I was a little more nervous in the beginning because I thought that I had keyed in on something on the range before I played. Yesterday's warm-up was not very good for me. I wasn't hitting the ball very solid and I wasn't hitting the driver very well and I wasn't hitting the 3-wood very well. So it was more of a putting day for me yesterday.

Today, I came to the golf course a little bit early and felt like I had keyed in on something on the range, and I was glad to get off to a couple good tee shots early on.

So I don't see any reason why tomorrow will be any different. I mean, it probably will be, but if I keep hitting the fairway -- I mean, I'm smart enough, played this game long enough, to know that I can hit some middles of the greens and position my ball, keep my ball below the hole, that I can make some putts. There's no reason why I can't have another good day tomorrow and even Sunday.

Q: Do you think the course played a little more difficult than yesterday, and if so, what areas, on the green, in the fairway, the rough?

SHAUN MICHEEL: I think the greens were undoubtedly more difficult today. Of course, I was out early yesterday morning, and there wasn't as much traffic on the greens. Today they were a little drier. Just the putting for me today, I didn't have the straight uphill putts that I had yesterday. I had a lot more sidehill putts. The fairways are still pretty soft. You can watch guys out there take nice-sized divots, so the fairways are in great shape.

The greens, just because I was so late in the afternoon, they were just a little crustier than normal. I feel like I'm a pretty patient player, and I'm not ashamed to aim at the middle of the green and take my two putts, especially in a major championship. So undoubtedly the greens were probably the most difficult part of the golf course, and probably will be.

Q: It's not too early to think that you may join the illustrious three and become the first-time winner of a major this year; that's one question. The other question would be, when is the last time you found yourself in this position in a tournament?

SHAUN MICHEEL: Surely, I'd love to add my name to the long list of names that are on that Wanamaker Trophy, but that's obviously getting a little bit ahead of myself. I haven't really proven myself as a tour winner yet. I'm still working on a lot of things, and what's held me back, I don't know.

So it will be an unbelievable experience to kind of go on and play the next two days the same way that I've played these first two.

Last time, well, obviously, never in a major. This is only my third major championship. Players rate their careers on how many they have won. Heck, I've only played in three. (Laughter.) So I was just really happy and really honored to be invited. I was working pretty hard towards the end of this last part of the Tour and finally earned my way into this Championship.

Outside of that, the last time I led a Tour event was I think the B.C. Open. I think I had a three-shot lead going into the last day and I didn't close that one very well. Hopefully the second time will be a little bit better.

Q: When was that?

SHAUN MICHEEL: Last year.

Q: What Ben Curtis accomplished in Britain, is that an inspiration for you?

SHAUN MICHEEL: Absolutely. I met Ben -- I live in Memphis and I met Ben for the first time at the Target House, which is one part of St. Jude's Children'S Hospital. We just chatted and not much went on.

I actually watched that. I missed the cut that week at the B.C. Open so I was home with my wife watching. I knew that he was going to win. I could see that he was hitting the fairways. That was obviously the key to that event.

Sure, why not? Someone is going to have to win. I've played in enough golf tournaments now as a professional that I feel like maybe I'm ready to do something. I mean, I've probably played, just a guess, maybe 170, 175 tournaments on the PGA TOUR without a win. So maybe it's about time I do something.

Q: I'm sure you've talked about this before, and the bio talks about you saving two people from drowning in a car in 1994; can you talk about the circumstances of that, and also how that changed your perspective on life?

SHAUN MICHEEL: I found out I was a little bit better swimmer than I thought I was.

It was another player on the PGA TOUR, Doug Barren and I had just gone out and were going out to play a practice round. This was when I was on the Mini Tours in '93. We just kind of happened to see this car go off an embankment. It must have been 30 feet above the surface of the water. Kind of stood there in shock and all that and really were not sure what to do. No one else was doing anything. Everyone else -- nobody could really get down to where they were, so Doug and I were left trying to help those people out. Not knowing how deep the water was, I didn't want to test my swimming skills with clothes on so I stripped down to my orange fish boxers and valiantly went out and pulled them out.

There was another gentleman, I think he owned the gas station on the corner that saw everything happening. Just an elderly couple, that she meant to hit the brake but hit the gas and like we all can do, kind of panicked. We managed to pull them out.

I never heard from them after that. I read some of the articles from the paper and stuff. I kind of went on my merry way with the tournament. It was unfortunate, I was playing really well in that tournament, but I lost the tournament because I kept hitting in the water the last few holes. (Laughter.) It was kind of ironic.

I think about that a lot. It was something that I think any of us would do if put in that position. It was something that I think about quite a bit.

Q: Where was it?

SHAUN MICHEEL: Matter of fact, it's the Hooters now. It was in New Bern, North Carolina.

Q: A lot of people are going to wake up tomorrow, see your name in the newspaper and wonder who you are. Just curious, for those people, if you could tell a little bit about yourself what your interests are, hobbies are, family life?

SHAUN MICHEEL: Well, I'm about to be a father. My wife, who would not come in here, she's 25 weeks pregnant with a little boy. And so we are pretty excited about that.

Outside of that, you know, I started playing golf, I think when I was about 10 and progressively, just got a little bit better each year for some reason. I played basketball in high school but kind of gave that up. I knew that wasn't going anywhere. Golf is pretty addicting and I just kind of -- I kept getting better and better. Played on my high school team. Played pretty well. Went on and got a college scholarship.

There wasn't anything -- a lot of my friends were playing the AJGA Tour, and I didn't enjoy traveling that much. Even going to college, I really didn't do that much. I wound up finishing the Future Masters Tournament after I signed my letter of intent to go to Indiana and finally I started getting a little more recognition. But by then, I had signed my letter of intent, which when I look back was actually the best thing that could have happened to me, going to IU. Everyone said, "Why are you going north?" Well, I wanted to play, and I just -- I don't know. I loved the guys that I played with, I liked the coach, I like the practice facility, and there I went.

After graduating, I took an extra semester to graduate, went on and played in South Africa and kind of jumped in there, 7,000 miles away from home, didn't know what I was doing, didn't know how to travel by myself.

I played the Mini Tours for a year and a half and then I got my card, my PGA TOUR card in '94, made four cuts, I think. I was a wreck out there. I don't know why. Actually I feel like I hit the ball better back then than I do now, but maybe my middle game was starting to catch up, I don't know. And then I lost my card for a couple of years; played the Nike Tour.

Got my card back, about the same thing in '97. I just didn't have it. I've never been real comfortable, I guess -- not so much, not in the spotlight, but, I don't know. I wasn't ready to be out there between the ropes in front of all of those people, criticizing every shot that I hit poorly. That still happens. I get that. We all get that. I've learned to deal with that a little bit better.

Probably my career started turning around a little bit. I won in Singapore on the Asian Tour, the Singapore Open. I played the Nike Tour in '99 and finished ninth on the Money List and that got me out here again.

I think I kept my card in 2000. Played pretty well toward the end. I think I finished fifth in Las Vegas, which locked that up.

Go to 2001. I was battling kidney stones, probably my last 10, 12 weeks, and I think I missed most of the cuts towards the end. I had to go back to Tour School and played pretty well there.

Then last year, I started playing a little bit better.

This is my fourth year in a row, but my sixth year total.

That's pretty much it. I don't have a whole heck of a lot. I haven't done a lot.

I'm a pilot. I love to fly. That's usually what I do when I go home. My father was one of the original FedEx pilots hired, and that's how my sister and I got to Memphis. He just retired a year and a half ago and got me into doing that. That's usually what I do when I go home, I usually play golf with my dad and his FedEx buddies or I go flying. To me, that's just a stress-reliever. My wife won't go with me. She always asks me where we're going, but that's just her excuse. She won't fly with me, but that's okay.

Q: Your stats say last year you were in the top 10 in driving accuracy but fourth in greens in regulation. This year, you are 89th in accuracy and ninth in greens in regulation. That says that you are a good scrambler. Is that a fair description of you as a player and how much have you played away from that personality this week?

SHAUN MICHEEL: I don't know. The guys are so good out there. I've always had really high stats in greens in regulation, dating back to college.

The driving accuracy, I don't know. That kind of comes and goes for me. What separates -- if I'm 89th, 69th is maybe half a percentage point, who knows.

Some of those statistics are a little misleading. There is one stat I need to improve on in order to win, and that's obviously putting. I don't feel like I'm a bad putter, but sometimes they just don't seem to want to go in. I hit most of the fairways today. I think maybe I lose my focus a little bit more. There's a huge premium about hitting the fairways on this golf course than maybe some of the Tour courses. Not that the rough isn't deep but maybe the fairways are a little bit wider. We have actually been playing in a lot of rain most of the year, so the fairways have stayed pretty soft. I feel like I'm playing pretty much the way I always do.

I had a couple 3-putts early on today and that seems to be pretty typical for some reason. But I feel like I played pretty much today the way that I have been all year, even the last couple of years. I just have always tried to aim for the middles of the greens.

The scrambling percentage I would like to improve on. I think sometimes I get a little aggressive and maybe short-side myself, so that stat could be a little bit higher, and out here, especially on this golf course, you can't short-side yourself. So I think I'm playing pretty smart.

Q: What perspective do you draw upon what happened today, that somebody, going into the weekend, that somebody who may be the leader today, could be wherever they are tomorrow? This game is funny, and in a major this, things certainly gets topsy-turvy?

SHAUN MICHEEL: Today I was talking with Jeff Lankford. He and I both felt the same way. I had not mis-hit a shot in the first five or six holes and I'm 3-over par, knowing that I have to play 16, 17 and 18, and then I have to play the whole front nine.

The key to any golf tournament, especially this week, the way the golf course is set up, is hit the ball in the fairway. We can't emphasize that enough. I've never seen rough this deep, actually. I've played in only two U.S. Opens prior to this, but I don't recall ever seeing anything like that. I saw them out mowing the other day and all they were doing was sticking it straight up.

The way I drove the ball in Denver last week, was shocking. It was not very good. So when I played my practice round on Tuesday, I thought to myself, "This could be a long week." And fortunately, yesterday, some of the fairways I did miss were maybe on a couple of shorter holes that I could pitch on and did make some nice pars on and settled down.

Yeah, with this golf course, you need to be on top of your game. I think Phil said yesterday that not too many people come from behind in a major championships, and when you play this golf course, you see what he means. I played a nice round the last 12 holes, and I'm obviously going to think about that tonight and think about some of the other rounds that I've played really well earlier this year, and even last year, and hopefully build on that.

You know, with new pin positions, new tee locations, new day, new wind, I'm hoping there might be just a little bit of rain. I don't think that they want to water these greens at all and I know how difficult they can become, so I would like to see it soften up a little bit. I think we all would.

Q: Is the Singapore win your last win at any level?

SHAUN MICHEEL: I won in '99 on the Nike Tour. I won in Greensboro. So that's been a long time. Those are obviously nice experiences to draw on.

But I really felt like should I have won the B.C. Open last year. I was playing too well. Maybe it wasn't the greatest field, but it's a PGA TOUR event and it carried the same weight as a lot of the other ones, so it would have been nice to win. When you kind of throw it away like I did, it sits with you a little while.

Hopefully I won't think too much about that.

Q: What would your reaction have been if last week someone would have told you that you would be leading the PGA Championship after 36 holes?

SHAUN MICHEEL: Well, depends on when last week. I played my practice round in Denver and hit the ball very well. Then I went out on Thursday, the first round, and I hit three fairways. Somehow, ended up with 1 point or something like that, but I probably shot around even or 1-over, so I would have been very surprised.

As I said earlier, I feel like I'm a fairly patient person. When you're hacking it out of the rough like I was yesterday on the first three holes, I was really beginning to question that. So I would have been extremely shocked.

I feel very fortunate to be here. I didn't do anything spectacular today, or yesterday. I just hit the ball in the fairway. I just played golf. After last week, I would have been extremely shocked if you would have told me I would be leading this tournament, too, even after one day. I was thrilled with shooting 1-under yesterday and felt like if I could play like I did yesterday, and with the putter, I felt like I could have a nice tournament.

I just hope that that carries over for me.

Q: What are you rated to fly, and what do you fly when you're home when you say you just kind of take off?

SHAUN MICHEEL: I'm not instrument-rated. I've flown -- I've got about 200 hours or so. I fly a Cessna 182 most of the time when I'm home. I've been flying with Glen Day, and his pilot jumps over the seat and let's me fly his King Air so I've logged about 11 or 12 hours in the King Air.

That's actually one of my goals. I wanted to play well -- although security in the airports has gotten better, that part of my life is tortuous. I seem to handle the golf part well, but the security in the airports just frustrates me to no end, as any of us that travel.

So my No. 1 goal now is, besides winning golf tournaments and support my little baby that's on the way, is to get an airplane to try to make my life just a little bit easier. I had not seen my wife in 3 1/2 weeks; I played Hartford and Michigan and Denver, and then she flew in on Wednesday. I think that having an airplane would allow me to be able to get back and see her a little bit more. Being an attorney, she doesn't get to come out as often, and so I think with the birth of our child, owning an airplane would be a great way to go.

Plus, I love doing it anyways.

JULIUS MASON: Questions? Questions twice, for the life-saving pilot with a baby on the way that's leading the PGA Championship?

Thank you very much, sir.

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