Micheel plays Open with dying mom on his mind
It won’t matter where he sits on the leaderboard – or where he is.
While Micheel doesn’t think he will to have to make an early exit from Pebble Beach, his mom isn’t expected to live much past August, if that long. Donna Micheel’s lung cancer has spread to her brain, liver, lungs and spine.
Nobody would blame Micheel if his mind was far from this gorgeous golf setting and the Open this week. Yet his mom wants him right here, making a living playing the sport he loves. Micheel dabbed back tears at the end of his sensational opening round Thursday, when he shot a 2-under 69 for a three-way share of the lead to kick off his seventh appearance in the national championship.
“Doctors aren’t very specific how much time she has,” Micheel said. “We’re all hoping for a miracle.”
The next milestone would be her 64th birthday on July 2. She already made it to Mother’s Day and then her 42nd wedding anniversary on June 8, six hours of which were spent in a chemotherapy session.
Talking about his mother’s failing health is helping Micheel cope with it all – even if he’s unsure how she would feel about him sharing such personal information in the most public of forums and with the world watching his every swing, chip and putt. And tear.
“It makes me feel better. It’s very therapeutic for me to be very open,” said Micheel, whose best Open finish was a tie for 28th in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills.
He constantly fights the guilt he feels for continuing to play golf while his mom fights for her life. Micheel has reworked his schedule to stay close, and skipped overseas events.
Wherever he is when his mother’s final days arrive, Micheel will get home to say goodbye. He’s counting on Hospice to help him know when that is.
“I need to be there. I will be there. I have to be there,” he said. “It’s like a husband wants to be there when his wife gives birth. Golf doesn’t have to be my life. My mom is my life. We all only have one mother, one father.”
Last week in his hometown of Memphis, where he tied for fourth, Donna Micheel had hoped to watch him in person for the final time. But she just wasn’t physically able.
He wanted to win for her, and came close.
The 41-year-old Micheel is trying to make enough money this season to earn a full PGA Tour exemption for 2011. He’s also keeping his results and performance in perspective – something he’s gained going through all this with his mom.
So far this year, Micheel has earned $632,730 on the PGA Tour, good for 75th on the money list, and another $7,223 on the Nationwide Tour.
“I’ve certainly had a lot of time to reflect on not only the golfer that I want to be, but the person that I want to be and the father that I want to be and the husband that I want to be,” Micheel said. “I thought a lot about my career. When you don’t win multiple times and you don’t always have that exemption, it’s not easy finishing in the top-125, it really isn’t. … I needed to work hard and I needed, probably, a little bit of an attitude change.
“I think I’m so result-oriented. I think I look too far out in the future instead of focusing on what it is I need to accomplish each day as a golfer.”
He cherishes each day his mom has left, each regular Sunday dinner she can still be part of at Micheel’s house. Micheel thought he was losing her when his father called on May 9, Mother’s Day, and asked him to come over. Donna’s white blood cell count was dangerously low. She could barely speak as her son lifted her onto the bed. It took five days in the hospital to get her blood cell count back to a normal level.
This week, Donna is cheering her son from afar. He calls her a “very encouraging person.”
“Golf, I think, is a very emotional game anyway, if you let it be, so in some way I suspect that maybe this is helping my game,” Micheel said. “And I can’t, I don’t understand it.”
Donna is all but homebound now, her immune system susceptible to the most minor virus or bug. Micheel is trying to take care of his father through this ordeal, too, while also finding ways to explain the dying process to his 6-year-old son.
“I’m trying to focus on the great things in my mom, all the great things that she’s done for me in the course of my life,” he said.
Micheel and his dad have found in recent months they can talk about life and its real issues, going beyond their usual topics of Micheel’s golf game, football or when they next will go hunting.
“On Mother’s Day, I could see the trepidation in my dad. He was almost confused about what he should do when he called 911. I hate that it takes something like this to bring families closer together, but it has,” he said. “It really has.”
Micheel knows not everybody he plays with at Pebble Beach, or anywhere else, has any idea what he’s dealing with off the course. The camaraderie with his colleagues helps nonetheless.
Rocco Mediate put his arm around Micheel on the 18th and told him he had predicted solid ball-striking from the Tennessean on Thursday.
“He told me I didn’t disappoint,” Micheel said.
The smallest of gestures mean so much these days.
“The whole Tour’s a great support group,” Micheel said. “Jonathan Byrd lost his father last year of brain cancer, Kenny Perry has lost his mother. … It’s just nice to have great friends out here and everybody’s helping me through it. And I’m very fortunate to have that.”
McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School
One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.
McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.
It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.
McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).
Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).
Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.
Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award
The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.
The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.
Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.
The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.
Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4
Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.
Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.
Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.
The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout
It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.
Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.
Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.
"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."
Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.
Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.