O'Hair's rocket rise has stability as fuel

New, functioning family turned his career around

Golf

August 11, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SPRINGFIELD, N..J. - He could have been one of those sports casualties, the Todd Marinovich of golf. It seemed Sean O'Hair was heading in that direction, estranged from an abusive father and struggling to get on the Nationwide Tour.

To call what has happened to O'Hair in the past 10 months a dramatic turnaround would be understating things greatly.

After finishing tied for fourth at the PGA Tour's qualifying school, he has gone from being ranked 1,155th in the world to 38th, increased his income from $3,400 to nearly $2 million, has won his first tour event and will likely be named the tour's 2005 Rookie of the Year.

O'Hair knows how close his career came to ending a couple of years ago after he broke off communication with his father, Marc.

"I definitely thought about giving up the game," O'Hair said yesterday before the 87th PGA Championship, which will begin today at Baltusrol Golf Club. "Every time I would think about it, I would say, `What else would I do?' And there really wasn't anything."

If not for his wife, Jackie, and his father-in-law, Steve Lucas, he likely would have quit. Those who followed O'Hair's amateur career might wonder what happened to the 17-year-old wunderkind who won the PGA junior championship and turned pro before finishing high school in Florida. Many would blame Marc O'Hair.

The stories about their dysfunctional relationship are endless. How Marc O'Hair reportedly made his son run a mile for every bogey he made each day. How his father reportedly hit him, sometimes in the face, if his son protested or complained. How his father claimed that O'Hair, at 19, signed a contract guaranteeing him 10 percent of his career earnings.

Marc O'Hair blames the media for the way he has been portrayed, and last month sent out a 17-page fax to several news organizations trying to tell his side of the story. It came after CBS did a report on the O'Hairs on 60 Minutes. In explaining why his son suffered some bloody noses, the elder O'Hair, said, "Sean has a very delicate nose that bleeds very easily ... It runs in my family. There was never any abuse."

The younger O'Hair not only found love when he met Jackie, a former member of the women's golf team at Florida Atlantic, but he also found a family that he has said is more much supportive than his own.

The Lucas family, which is from Philadelphia, will be here this week, with his father-in-law, as usual, caddying for O'Hair.

"I think the main thing is that Jackie just made it a great situation. If I played bad, it was OK," said O'Hair, who turned 23 the day after winning the John Deere Classic last month. "I'm still going to get a hug and kiss when I get off the golf course. Whenever you don't have the weight of the world on your shoulders, it's a lot easier to perform."

There have been lots of hugs and kisses this year, and plenty of reason to celebrate. After missing the cut in three of his first five tournaments and finishing no higher than a tie for 14th in the Honda Classic in March - in part because of the birth of his first child in February - O'Hair suddenly went from struggling rookie to budding star.

A second-place finish in the Byron Nelson Championship proved to be only the beginning of what has turned into O'Hair's long, hot summer. Last month in the John Deere, he became the only rookie to win this year, coming from five strokes back in the final round.

The victory earned him an invitation to the British Open, where, after needing help from White House officials in securing his passport on a day's notice, O'Hair finished tied for 15th at St. Andrews. Most recently, he finished tied for eighth in the Buick Classic, and got to play there with Tiger Woods on Sunday.

"That was a lot of fun," said O'Hair, currently ranked 15th on the year's money list. "I've told people that there's golf, and then there's Tiger golf. Playing with Tiger is just a great experience for I think everybody for a lot of different reasons. He's the best player in the world, so you're going to learn a ton from just watching him and everything."

Though his victory in the John Deere and his escapades trying to get to Scotland certainly earned him some attention - the win also drew the interest of the high-powered International Management Group (IMG), which signed him last week - O'Hair is not being mentioned among the contenders here.

"I think I definitely have the ability to play well this week," he said. "I can't control what other players do, but this golf course definitely fits my game."

Along with his adopted family, O'Hair credits a couple of teaching pros back in Lubbock, Texas, where he lived until age 13, for helping him get this far. There is someone else he also believes helped him get this far. O'Hair admits he still thinks about his father.

"I don't try to think about the hard times," he said yesterday. "He's still my dad and I love him and I always hope the best for him. Like I said, some of the things I went through probably helped me get to this point. He definitely helped me. Things are going so well and I have such a great situation right now, just as far as the hard times, it's like another life."

At a glance

What: PGA Championship

Course: Baltusrol Golf Club, Lower Course (7,392 yards, par 70), Springfield, N.J.

When: Today-Sunday

TV: TNT (Today-tomorrow, 1-7 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) and CBS (Saturday-Sunday, 2-7 p.m.)

2004 winner: Vijay Singh

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