Nick Bonfield reminisces about his favourite ever Major Championship - the 2003 USPGA at Oak Hill
Sitting here, writing this, I simply can’t fathom how 11 years have elapsed since my favourite ever Major Championship: the 2003 USPGA.
As a 25-year-old, I wasn’t around for some of the age-old classics – Trevino edging out Player at Shoal Creek in 1984 or the Duel in the Sun in 1977, for example – but I genuinely don’t think there’s been a more captivating major in the past decade.
The 2012 Masters and the 2009 USPGA – where Y.E. Yang produced the shot of a lifetime to defeat Tiger Woods and become Asia’s first major winner – push it close, but Micheel’s victory at Oak Hill had it all: the drama, the intrigue, the skill, the incredible control of nerve amid unprecedented pressure, one of the best shots I’ve ever seen and one of the most unexpected winners in major championship history.
I was 14 years old at the time, and the 2003 USPGA Championship turned by liking for golf into a full-blown obsession. No, Tiger Woods wasn’t in contention. In fact, only one of the world’s top 10 finished inside the top 20. But that didn’t matter.
It was at that point I realised why golf was such a great sport: anyone in the field can win any tournament on any given day, and the world’s top-ranked players don’t have to be in contention to create a wonderful, drama-fuelled, nerve-shredding spectacle.
Before the start of the tournament, only the most diligent golf fans knew of Shaun Micheel. He came into the tournament as the world number 169 and a man who hadn’t won a PGA Tour event in 163 starts on the circuit.
Still, anything can happen in a Major Championship.
On Thursday, Micheel compiled a solid one-under-par 69 and followed up with a second-round 68 to claim the 36-hole lead.
Despite never having experienced such pressure, he played his first 15 holes on Saturday in four-under-par, but three consecutive bogies to finish convinced many his foray into the spotlight would be a short-lived affair; that he’d stumble to an 80-something final round and fall back to middle-of-the-road mediocrity. But Micheel had other ideas.
In a pulsating final round, Tim Clark, Micheel and fellow overnight leader Chad Campbell – all seeking their first majors – exchanged blows atop the leaderboard as the tournament built towards a crescendo.
With three holes remaining, it was looking like a two-horse race. Micheel bogied 15 to fall back to three under, while playing partner Campbell narrowed the gap to one shot with a fine birdie two. Standing on the 18th tee, the gap was still one.
Micheel’s tee shot found the left semi-rough, while Campbell dispatched a blistering drive straight down the middle. At that point, a play-off seemed the likely outcome. Again, Micheel had other ideas.
His seven-iron pitched over the grassy bank fronting the puting surface, landed on the green, took three hops and settled two inches away from the cup. It was one of the best pressure shots of all time and a fitting climax to a tournament that was scintillating from start to finish.
I hope all those naysayers who pour scorn on the USPGA’s status as a Major Championship remember the event’s rich history, its list of past winners and the unprecedented drama it’s produced over the years.