(Photo courtesy of Alchetron)
I recently stumbled across an article discussing the worst major tournament winners of all time, and Shaun Micheel was named the “winner” (his only PGA Tour win was the 2003 PGA Championship), with Hilary Lunke earning a mention for her only win, the 2003 Women’s US Open. I’m certainly not one to hold back from throwing rocks, but the more I thought about it, the more the article bothered me. Sure, these victories stand out as anomalies, but Micheel and Lunke don’t owe us any apologies.
Those of us who took up golf at an early age will remember practicing putting and pretending that each one is to win the US Open or the Masters. From there, reality has a way of slapping most of us back to earth as we realize that this game doesn’t care about us, and probably hates us (I may be projecting here).
If you’re good enough to play high school golf, then college golf, and somehow find your way onto the PGA or LPGA Tour, you will have beaten astronomical odds. According to a survey on Statista, there are 23.8 million golfers in the US, and 51.5% are between the ages of 18 and 49, or 12.2 million players to pull Tour players from (I’ll ignore international players just to be conservative). There are 150 players each year with some kind of status on the PGA tour (not including medical exemptions or past champion exemptions), and about 155 on the LPGA Tour (they list a lot of eligible players, but the reality is that very few outside the top 155 eligible get to play). So that’s 0.0025% of players who are good enough to play at the highest level. For comparison, you have 10x better odds of getting struck by lightning in your lifetime (0.03%, according to National Geographic).
Of course, once you’ve reached the Tour, there are no guarantees – over the last 3 years, 60% of the guys who earned their PGA Tour cards from the Korn Ferry Tour have lost it in the next season. There are currently 46 PGA Tour-sanctioned events every year, and 32 LPGA tournaments, so actually winning a tournament is a huge accomplishment, and of course winning a major is an even more amazing feat.
Those who dismiss players like Micheel or Lunke are ignoring the enormous odds these players overcame to just be in the field. And while Micheel didn’t win again, he was top 100 in money in 2004 and top 50 in 2006 (2nd in the PGA Championship to Tiger, and 2nd in the World Match Play). And as unlikely as Lunke’s win was in 2003, she was top 100 in money in 2004 and 2005. My point is that there are no flukes over a 72 hole event – these players had something special inside that allowed them to execute when most of us would crawl in a corner and hide.
People often write off wins like Micheel’s as “just got lucky”. I would guarantee that whoever is saying that has never been under any kind of pressure in tournament golf. Being able to somehow execute good golf shots without the confidence of having won a Tour event before is something special, and even if the player couldn’t duplicate it again in other tournaments, they deserve our respect, not scorn. There are plenty of better targets for our criticism, like these a-holes.