Despite past, O'Hair has bright future

Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2005

IRVING, Texas — In what might have been the harshest part of a ''60 Minutes II'' interview, Marc O'Hair bragged about knowing how to make a buck in the business world. It was always about material, overhead and labor.

Sitting next to him was his teenage son, whom he had pushed to turn pro a year before the kid finished high school.

''He's pretty good labor,'' the father said in a segment first broadcast three years ago, shown again Sunday during the final round of the Byron Nelson Championship.

Labor is one thing.

Sean O'Hair also has the goods.

Most PGA Tour rookies struggle just to make a paycheck this early in the year as they cope with travel plans, places to stay and courses they have never seen. O'Hair has made the cut in seven straight tournaments, and his runner-up finish Sunday was no accident.

He showed poise well beyond his boyish looks and 22 years, scrambling for par out of bunkers and hitting lasers at the flags when his round could have slipped away. He closed with a 2-under 68 to finish one shot behind winner Ted Purdy.

O'Hair was the ninth player this year who failed to protect the outright lead going into the final round, but he and Phil Mickelson at Doral are the only ones who broke par.

''I played with a lot of heart out there,'' he said.

One can only imagine that he plays with a heavy heart, too, although that doesn't appear to be the case.

''I know he's got kind of an odd story with his father, but you could never tell there's been any bad blood between the two,'' said British Open champion Todd Hamilton, who played a practice round with O'Hair early in the week and wound up in the final group with him Sunday.

O'Hair severed ties with his father two years ago and married the first girl he dated, who also happened to love golf. She played at Florida Atlantic and brought perspective and self-esteem to his life.

''She's basically the heartbeat of my game and my life,'' O'Hair said.

He now travels the tour with Jackie and their 3-month-old daughter, Molly. His father-in-law, Steve Lucas, took time away from the insurance business to caddie. They were joined Sunday on the TPC at Las Colinas by O'Hair's mother and sister, who flew in from Florida.

The only one missing was Marc O'Hair.

Asked how his father might have felt to see him come so close to winning, O'Hair searched for the right words.

''I love my dad,'' he said. ''And I ... you know, I hope he's doing well. That's all I have to say about that.''

The Orlando Sentinel, which first wrote about the O'Hair saga in December, tried Sunday evening to contact the father, who has an unlisted phone number. Marc O'Hair cussed at the reporter and hung up.

It seems unlikely that O'Hair can escape questions about his path to the PGA Tour, a story that reeks of a father who treated his son like a commodity.

Up every day at 5 a.m. to run, on the course from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. The father made him run a mile for every bogey on his scorecard and derided him for missing shots. It was all in the kid's best interest, to make him the best.

''What am I supposed to do — say, 'Oh, Seany boy, you don't have to get up early today?' The military, they know how to build a champion,'' Marc O'Hair told the Sentinel in December. ''Somebody who slacks off, that's a loser. The typical high school kid is hanging out at the mall. That's a loser.''

O'Hair prefers not to rehash his youth, such as it was.

''I don't know if it's died out,'' he said. ''I would like for it to.''

In an interview after he shared the 36-hole lead, O'Hair said he had not spoken to his father in nearly two years. But he says that with no animosity in his voice, and hoped that their estranged relationship might one day change.

''That would be nice,'' he said.

Lost in the appeal of his past is the promise of the road ahead.

O'Hair was rated among the top amateurs when he was at the David Leadbetter Academy, and it's easy to see why. His swing is polished, and length is not an issue. He is polite, well-spoken and firmly rooted in reality.

''I'm going to be a happy person if I'm not playing well, and that's the key,'' he said. ''It used to be where if I didn't play well, I was an unhappy person. I don't think your golf game depicts who you are as a person.''

That might be the only scar tissue.

Lucas has little experience as a caddie, plenty as a father-in-law. He makes sure O'Hair pays attention to the next shot, instead of worrying about what happened on the last one.

Tied for the lead early in the final round, O'Hair turned over a 6-iron and saw it land in a bunker, leaving him in a tough spot. He bowed his head and walked slowly to the bag, but that didn't last long. Once at the green, he dug his feet in the sand and blasted out to a foot to save his par.

''If I have to, I'll stand on his feet to keep him from hitting the next shot until we're sure he's stopping thinking about the last shot,'' Lucas said.

O'Hair no longer looks back, and he stopped having regrets. There was a time he thought about quitting when he was a teenager among men, facing competition way over his head.

What would he do if he could turn back the clock?

He looked over at his wife and daughter, and the answer was never more easy.

''She really turned my life around and showed me what matters in life,'' O'Hair said softly. ''If I didn't turn pro, I would never have met her. I wouldn't have a good situation like I do. So right now, I don't have any regrets at all. She showed me through her actions, how she treats me, that family means more than anything.''

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