Shaun Micheel copes with ailments to play

Jun 5 2011 - 5:43pm

DUBLIN, Ohio -- In the past month, the medical diagnoses were coming fast and furious for Shaun Micheel.

He was told he needed a spinal tap because he might have multiple sclerosis. He spent two days in a neurology clinic with an enlarged left carotid artery before stroke or aneurysm was ruled out. Dizziness, face-tingling and headaches were deemed caused by Meniere's disease, which affects the inner ear. He had tubes put in for that, but the prescribed anti-seizure medication made him feel worse, so he eventually stopped taking it.

Then there's the ringing in his ears, which he said he's experienced for the past three years.

"After all the other stuff that's been going on, the ear-ringing is the least of my worries," Micheel said.

Because even as Micheel was trying to keep his 42-year body from betraying him, the 2003 PGA champion couldn't find a reason to keep playing professional golf. He no longer enjoyed going to work.

He'd lost his inspiration last October when his mother, Donna Micheel, passed away at age 64 from lung cancer that had spread to her liver and brain. They'd spoken on the phone at least once a day when he was on the road.

Micheel, a Memphis, Tenn., resident, poured all of his mental energy into playing last year for her and earned more than $1 million, his most since 2006, when he finished second at the PGA at Medinah.

He was ready to walk away.

He'd told his wife Stephanie that he might quit, might look for another way to support her and their two children, Dade (7), and Marin (4). His kids kept asking if he made the cut, even though he suspects they don't know what that means. They wondered when he was going to bring home another trophy to go with the lone one from Oak Hill.

"Those are tough questions to answer. They don't quite understand how difficult it is and how great these guys are out here," Micheel said.

Coming into this week's Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club, he'd missed five consecutive cuts, counting his withdrawal due to a headache with a hole to play in the second round of the Zurich Classic in New Orleans.

But the Monday before the Players Championship last month, he had a 90-minute lesson with Michael Breed, host of the Golf Channel show The Golf Fix. Breed's tip that he concentrate on one thing -- cut spin, which gets his right shoulder through the ball -- might have cured what Micheel's doctors couldn't.

This week, when Breed's lesson finally clicked, Micheel's physical ailments and all his life's dramas seemed a little less dramatic.

Thanks to a TV guy.

Playing in his seventh Memorial, Micheel turned in his best round at Muirfield Village on Saturday, his third-round 67 leaving him tied for fifth, 5 strokes off the lead of Steve Stricker.

"My ball's flying straight again," Micheel said.

"It's good to see him playing well," said Micheel's caddie since 2010, Stephen "Stick" Johnson, who has been his friend for 18 years. Johnson, his wife Mitzi and Stephanie Micheel went to law school together at the University of Memphis and Mitzi Johnson opened a law practice there with Stephanie Micheel.

"It would be nice to have a nice steady life," Johnson said of Micheel's travails. "That's what golf is. Nobody's life is steady."

Especially not for Micheel, whose career was thrown off its axis by a diagnosis of low testosterone in 2004, then the tour's institution of a drug testing policy in the summer of 2008. To take the medication he needs, Micheel must apply for a therapeutic use exemption, which requires he go off the drug for periods of six to eight weeks about every two years. He needed to apply for another exemption for the diuretics he takes for the ear-ringing.

Then came shoulder surgery for a torn labrum in June, 2009, two months after his mother was diagnosed with cancer.

That rocked his world the most, especially when she was too sick last year to come see him play at the St. Jude Classic in his hometown, where he finished fourth. He also took fourth at the John Deere Classic. He carded a double eagle in the final round of the U.S. Open, only the second in the tournament's history, and dedicated the shot to Donna Micheel.

He knows coping with the death of a parent is common on tour. Although some of his peers used golf to help them cope with their grief, Micheel found no solace between the ropes.

"There's no escape out there," Micheel said. "I thought that would be the case for a while. For those who say they can forget about all that out there, I think they're lying to you.

"The ropes are only a barrier between me and the crowd and I've visited the crowd far too often this year. Those thoughts of her stay with you."

Micheel said he still hasn't found someone to take her place and isn't really sure if that's what he needs.

"My whole career I've played for myself, my caddie and my family," he said. "It's not enough to play for myself any more. Maybe I'm playing for my dad. Other than the obvious, I'm playing for my job.

"I'm not one to give up, really. But you have to look yourself in the mirror and be excited about coming out here to play and I hadn't been. I can find other jobs if I quit playing golf."

Micheel talked so freely about his medical issues that they almost sounded like his solace. No wonder this seemingly tortured soul has embraced the one bit of help he's found -- from a TV guy.

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