Shaun Micheel still keeping things in perspective
Credit caddie Robert Szczesny with saving perspective.
Bob Tway, Nick Price and Jeff Sluman too.
Shaun Micheel's wife, Stephanie. She's also in the fivesome that has helped keep her husband grounded.
Unique demands, internal pressures and impossible expectations follow a golfer after he wins his first major, as Micheel did last August at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
Micheel, 35, the Memphis native and former Indiana University standout, made his first victory on Tour a major by knocking a 7-iron to within inches on the final hole. The tap-in birdie delivered Micheel from relative obscurity.
But how did instant celebrity on the PGA Tour affect him? Was he expected to finish in the top 10 every event? Was he expected to win a tournament every month?
Micheel, entered in this week's $4.7 million FedEx St. Jude Classic, hasn't won since the PGA Championship. But in those eight months he has learned a lot about handling fame.
"The expectation level is always there," Micheel said Monday at the Tournament Players Club at Southwind. "I think as a golfer we always put more pressure on ourselves than we should. I'm hard on myself, but Stephanie reminded me the other day that I've only missed two cuts since the PGA Championship last year. That's pretty good.
"I'm not finishing in the top 10 or 15 every week like I wish I could. But it's been fine. I think I've handled it a lot better than I thought I would. Right after the PGA was more difficult because I felt I had to showcase my win. But I realized in time that I'm not out here for other people. I'm out here for myself."
Micheel said Tway's and Sluman's advice and encouragement have been beneficial. Both won PGA Championships early in their careers.
"They have been some good friends and kind of helped out and helped me realize I don't have to do anything more than what I've been doing," Micheel said. "People get into solid practice routines, but don't rest on their laurels. It's been nice talking to people that have had that on their shoulders before."
Szczesny, Micheel's caddie for three years, said Micheel has been "playing great." He's made 10 of 11 cuts, had six top-25 finishes and earned $748,331 (52nd on the money list) this year.
Micheel's best finish has been ninth at The Players Championship, where he finished with weekend rounds of 69 and 67.
"I almost missed the cut," he said. "I think that shows you if you can make a cut on a golf course at a tournament that challenging, anything can happen."
Micheel drove the ball "exceptionally well" during that weekend missing, by his count, only three fairways. That led to a rash of birdies.
"It was very encouraging," he said. "I hung in there. It was a great feeling to finish ninth. I birdied the last three holes. Anytime you do that at an event like that you are going to move up the leaderboard."
Szczesny said Micheel is far ahead of where he was a year ago when he came to the Memphis event and missed the cut for the first time since 1997.
"A year ago he was worrying about keeping his (PGA Tour) card," Szczesny said. "It's been fun watching him progress."
By winning the PGA Championship Micheel earned a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
As for having a solid week in his hometown, Micheel said he hopes that he's due for one. His best Memphis finish was a tie for 19th in 2002.
"This year I'm going to go out and try to have some fun," he said. "I'm just going to go out and play. At this time last year I thought I was playing some pretty good golf. I tried so hard and missed the cut.
"There's some desire for me to play well to make up for last year. I'm playing with a lot more freedom. There's not as much pressure on myself to worry about where I'll be in October and November and whether I'm going to keep my card or have to go back to Q-school. I don't have that to worry about any more. It's a good feeling."
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