-- Indiana golf's most prized alum, Shaun Micheel, returned to his alma mater Little 500 weekend for the first time since winning the PGA Championship last August. The Memphis, Tenn., native became a recognized name in the golf world with his sterling PGA victory and the manner in which he pulled out the win. He responded to every challenge and withstood a late charge by Chad Campbell en route to a final round 70 and the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
Leading by one-shot heading into the 72nd hole of the tournament, Micheel hit what will go down as one of the greatest shots in PGA Championship history. Sitting 174 yards from the pin in the first cut of rough, he dropped a 7-iron within three inches, leaving him a tap-in for birdie and his first career victory on the PGA Tour. He became the first and only Hoosier to ever win a major championship.
The former All-America and 1991 Big Ten Champion returned to Bloomington as Little 500 Grand Marshal. He attended both the men's and women's races and found some time to return to the course where he honed his skills as a Hoosier under former men's head coach Sam Carmichael.
Micheel took time out of his schedule to take some swings at IU's state-of-the-art practice facility, talk with current Hoosiers and answer some questions about the Hoosier program, Jeff Overton, the PGA Championship and his career.
How does it feel to be back in Bloomington?
"Right now, I'm just here meeting everyone at the course. I'm marshalling the Little 500 today (Friday) and tomorrow. I'm just taking advantage of some of the things I never had an opportunity to do when I was in school. I was never at the Little 500. We were always playing at the Firestone in Akron. I always missed it. It's great to come back and see something I never had a chance to participate in. I've seen the movie Breaking Away and loved the movie. I'm happy to be back."
How has your life changed since winning the PGA Championship?
"It's changed quite a bit. Professionally, I think winning is something I've dreamed about. I didn't have any expectations I'd win the PGA Championship. Personally, I think my life changed more with the birth of my son, Dade, last November. There are a lot of things going on around me now that are demanding a lot of my time. It's a balance, and I've really worked hard trying to get that balance right."
Are you more relaxed and pressure-free after your victory?
"The last few years I've been hanging around the top 125, worrying about the next year. That's not fun. To have that exemption and get the chance to play in some of the events that I've watched on TV over the years means a lot. It's been a lot of hard work, a lot of lean times and a lot of time spent away from home. For me to be able to take time off and not worry about my money position and where I'm going to play next year has really made it special."
Did Ben Curtis' British Open victory provide any inspiration before the PGA?
SM: "All the guys on the PGA Tour are so good. It's very deep out there on the Tour. It (Oak Hill) was a totally different golf course. I think all four major championships present something different. That's why you typically get four different major champions every year. It's just where somebody is good at one thing and maybe not good at something else. I don't think he was really inspirational at all. It just goes to show that after I won, the Tour is as deep as it is."
Being from Memphis, do you know John Daly?
SM: "I do. John brings a whole new level of excitement to golf. Knowing John, he's great for the game. People want to see a guy that plays aggressively, hits the ball long, and John has great talent. He's just had a lot of issues. We're all happy for John."
What was the mood in Memphis following your victory?
SM: "I didn't tee off until 3 p.m. on Sunday and I was watching TV at 10 that morning, and they mentioned that they were going to go live from Shaun Micheel's parents' home. I had no idea. They had set up shop and CBS had put all their camera crew and stuff in their house. They were basically living their life on live TV. All the emotions, the swings, the birdies, the bogeys were broadcast to a national audience. I've seen some pictures and videos of my Country Club and all the fans and friends that came out to support me. I couldn't have been happier. I could not wait to get home that Monday."
Does the PGA Championship have the best field?
SM: "I'd say so. The Masters qualifications have changed over the years. It's very difficult to qualify. There are many players that deserve to be in all the majors, particularly the Masters, and they just are not able to do it. I think sometimes the bad rap (on the PGA) is referring to club professionals playing. I think last year 98 or 99 of the top players in the world were playing that week. It was my first time to play in the PGA, and I was really grinding my tail off toward the end of the qualification period to even get in. It was a thrill for me to play, and I feel like I beat a pretty good field."
Describe your last shot.
SM: "Everyone is going to remember me for the last shot. I'll remember that, of course. But what people sometimes forget is I played 71 pretty good holes before that. It was a week where each day was a building process. I got more familiar with the golf course. The last shot, it was really ironic because on Tuesday I was playing in a practice round, and I had 175 yards and the wind was in my face about 10 miles per hour, and I came up short. And I hit it great, just short. I got to Sunday and had 174 yards with no wind, and it took me two seconds to pull the club. I really didn't focus on much other than execution, just making sure I made solid contact.
"I had 71 holes under my belt, so the nerves, they were there, but they were there all four days. I wasn't really feeling any different. I just felt like I was going to win. I think when you have confidence about something and you are confident in your ability, there is no reason to be nervous."
Did anything happen in the weeks prior to the PGA that gave you reason to believe you could win?
SM: "Two weeks before, in Hartford, I started playing well. I finished 10th and that's ultimately what got me into the PGA. I had missed three cuts in a row prior to that, and I hadn't done that in a couple of years. I think a lot of that was the pressure of trying to qualify for the PGA. I had been there and the next thing you know I'm losing my grip on it. I played well and then went to Denver, which is a very difficult golf course. I made the first cut but didn't play well.
"When I showed up at Oak Hill I saw the rough. I saw the severity of the greens, the speed of the greens, and I thought, 'This is going to be a tough task just for me to make the cut.' I thought that was a realistic goal for me. I think that's what helped me win. I didn't have any expectations whatsoever. I think that's ultimately what carried me through."
Did you ever get discouraged going from tour to tour earlier in your career?
SM: "I didn't. The joke on the Tour up until 2001 was that I hadn't played on the same tour in consecutive years since I turned professional. I played the Tour in 1994 then went to the T.C. Jordan Tour, Asia and the Nike Tour. I always knew I would make it. It was just a matter of how was I going to change my plan of attack to get better. I was stagnant there and not getting much out of my game. My attitude wasn't very good. I went overseas and started getting a little more confident and from there on out I really started to believe I could do it."
What do you think of IU's Golf Course and the practice facility?
SM: "The golf course hasn't changed that much. I think the golf course was always something I found very difficult. I think it improved my game. The last couple years I have been coming back and going to the Foundation and have been absolutely impressed with what they have done with the practice facility. I think it is the ultimate recruiting tool. Short game is where the game is won or lost. I worked for three days with coach Carmichael for six or seven hours straight on my short game at the facility just before the PGA and that is ultimately the main reason I won. I made 21 birdies that week and got the ball up-and-down from every location you could be in. I'm happy they are making some big strides with the program because the kids are good."
What do you think of IU's current number one golfer Jeff Overton?
SM: "I've heard how well he is playing and I've certainly looked at the web site and followed his career. He's doing great. I look forward to seeing him on Tour in a couple years."