PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Shaun Micheel will drop his clubs and walk right out of this U.S. Open if his dying mother needs him by her side back home in Memphis.
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.”
Janie McCauley/The Associated Press