The best redemption, underdog stories in PGA Championship history
In golf, maybe the only thing sweeter than a major championship is finding redemption at a major.
Maybe that means beating a rival who's beaten you before. Maybe it's dispatching demons from a previous collapse, or ghosts of tournament past. Perhaps it’s even as simple as shedding a label as an underdog, or an unknown, and going toe-to-toe with the best in the game.
The PGA Championship has played host to many great redemption stories over the years. Here are four of our favorites.
John Daly, 1991
Daly wasn’t even supposed to play in the 1991 PGA Championship. A Tour rookie, Daly was the ninth and final tournament alternate when two-time PGA Championship winner Nick Price dropped out at the last minute due to the birth of his child. The other eight alternates either declined the invitation or replaced others who missed the event for varying reasons.
Daly instantly became a fan favorite, in part because of his no-holds-barred personality and in part because of his “grip it and rip it” style. Playing without a practice round and with a caddie that was new to him (Jeff Medlin, who worked with Price), Daly shot a 69 in the first round. He never looked back, leading the crowd from Friday on and downing the field by three stokes.
Daly hadn’t accomplished much before the ‘91 PGA Championship. He’d previously played in two majors – both U.S. Opens – and made the cut once, in 1989, when he tied for 69th.
"I had never heard of him," Ken Anderson, the man in charge of the alternate list, said in a Daly oral history. "I had to go look him up in a PGA Tour player guide so I'd know what he looked like in case I had to go find him and get him registered."
But Daly’s talent was evident from the start. Medlin, who had worked with some of the best in the business, was understandably skeptical at first. His attitude quickly changed.
"Jeff had caddied for guys like Freddie Couples, Nick, Jeff Sluman,” Diane Medlin, Jeff’s widow, says. “And to go from that caliber of player to someone he'd never heard of, he was like, 'Oh, I'm working for a rookie.' But after the first round he called and said, 'I can't club this guy. He hits it longer than anybody I've ever seen.'"
Everything Daly has done since is well documented. But America met one of golf’s most popular figures at the 1991 PGA Championship.
Nick Price, 1994
Price was the anti-Daly heading into the 1994 PGA Championship. He was certainly no underdog. Aiming for his second PGA crown in three years and his second major in a row, he was on fire heading into the festivities at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
But Price’s 1994 bid carried a staggering weight. Seven decades of weight, in fact. A few weeks earlier, Price had won the Open Championship. No player had won the Open and PGA Championships in the same year since Ben Hogan in 1924.
Two others had recently tried and failed. Nick Faldo won the Open Championship in 1992. He finished second at the PGA Championship that year (to Price, no less). In 1993, Greg Norman won the Open. Carrying a one-stroke lead into the Sunday of the ’93 PGA Championship, Norman lost in a playoff to Paul Azinger.
So Price was tasked not only with breaking a seven-decade drought but doing something two power players in the previous two years had failed to do.
Turns out, Price did it right. He gave himself a hefty margin for error on Sunday, going into the final round with a three-shot lead. He ended up winning the 1993 PGA Championship by a whopping six strokes. Finally, the same person won the last two majors of the summer.
Price, despite all the pressure, showed it could be done, paving the way for Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy, who have all accomplished it since.
Shaun Micheel, 2003
Only dedicated golf fans knew who Shaun Micheel was going into the 2003 PGA Championship. He’d never won a PGA Tour event, let alone a major championship. Micheel entered the tournament ranked 169th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Micheel had never finished higher than 22nd at a major before, and that was in 1999, his first PGA Championship. Yet there he was on the final day, duking it out for the Wanamaker Trophy. On the final hole, he smacked one of the best shots in tournament history, closing out his magical week with a ridiculous 7-iron on 18. The ball settled within inches of the hole after Micheel ordered it to, "Be right!"
Micheel would tap in for birdie and the PGA Championship.
"It's kind of scary, really," Micheel said at the time. "I was trying to win the B.C. Open a year ago at this time [he blew a three-shot lead on the final day and lost]. Even up until maybe a month or two ago I was trying to keep my card. To have my name on that trophy, I don't know what I'm thinking right now.
"I look down that list right there [on the trophy] and see all the names and I just hope that maybe I can produce a career like a lot of those guys have."
Three years later, he would once again contend for the Wanamaker, this time finishing second to Tiger Woods. Those are the only top 20 major finishes of his career.
Jason Dufner, 2013
To truly appreciate Dufner’s 2013 victory, you first have to relive his agonizing 2011 defeat.
Approaching the 15th tee at the Atlanta Athletic Club, Dufner was playing some of the best golf of his life. He carried a five-shot lead with four holes to go. Then the wheels fell off.
A water shot resulting in a bogey kicked off the demise. An approach shot on 16 sailed into the greenside bunker. An errant putt for another bogey followed. At the end of 18 holes, Keegan Bradley had stormed back to force a three-hole playoff.
Here’s how that turned out:
Bradley won and Dufner would forever be the subject of one of the most painful collapses in golf history.
Then the 2013 PGA Championship rolled around. Dufner was once again outstanding through the first three days, carding a 7-under 63 on Friday, tying for the lowest single-round score in major history. Jim Furyk took the lead after a brilliant Saturday round, but on Sunday, Dufner forged past the demons that haunted him in 2011. He sank a putt to bank his first and only major win:
“I can't believe this is happening to me,” Dufner said at the time. “I just decided that I was going to be confident and really put my best foot forward and play aggressive and try to win this thing. I wasn't going to just kind of play scared or soft.”
He played magnificently, and in doing so provided maybe the best story of redemption in PGA Championship history.