- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2005

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Nobody in the field of this week’s 134th British Open had a more bizarre journey to St. Andrews than Sean O’Hair.

Approximately 31 sleepless hours after he left his home in suburban Philadelphia, the 23-year-old PGA Tour rookie stood on the steps of the clubhouse of the R&A late yesterday afternoon, stared at golf’s most hallowed ground and grinned.

“When I got here I was a little low on energy. But right after I walked down the steps and onto the first tee, I got goose bumps,” said O’Hair, who came directly from the Edinburgh airport to the Old Course to squeeze in his only pre-tournament practice round. “Before I left home I told my wife, ‘Honey, you need to pinch me because this has got to be a dream.’ Last year I’m playing the mini-tours, and now this week I’m playing in the British Open.”

O’Hair earned an exemption into this week’s field via his virgin PGA Tour victory at last week’s John Deere Classic, where he carded a final-round 65 to edge Hank Kuehne by a stroke. But the ecstasy of his breakout moment was dulled by the realization that he was scheduled to be in Endicott, N.Y., at the B.C. Open this week. Though a spot awaited him at St. Andrews, he had no hotel, no flight and, worst of all, no passport.

Like much of his painful past, the document had been left behind, lost somewhere along the way. He spent all day Monday, his birthday, making phone calls, his would-be dual celebration supplanted by a logistical debacle. Tournament officials from John Deere took up the cause. Senators were phoned, the White House was contacted and O’Hair’s passport was ready by noon Tuesday.

“I need to thank the people at the John Deere Classic a lot because they made this happen,” O’Hair said.

Marc O’Hair, stewing somewhere in Lakeland, Fla., over his son’s success, would tell you differently.

Father and son haven’t spoken since a terse greeting at Sean’s wedding in December 2002. That’s because Marc O’Hair is the Darth Vader of obsessive sports dads. He’s Marv Marinovich, Stefano Capriati, Damir Dokic and Jim Pierce rolled into one.

In a story first chronicled on CBS’ “60 Minutes II” in 2002, Marc cashed in his share of the family shutter business in Texas for $2.75million when Sean was 15 and moved the family to Bradenton, Fla., determined to make his son a professional golfer. Sean enrolled in the prestigious David Leadbetter Academy, the school/factory that also hsd given professional golf Paula Creamer.

Two years later, when Sean had risen to become the nation’s second-ranked junior amateur, Marc yanked his son out of school, prompted him to turn professional and placed the family’s financial burden squarely on his son’s shoulders. Sean was awakened by his burly drill sergeant of a father every morning at 5a.m. for a run (a mile extra for every bogey on his most recent scorecard). He practiced or played from 7a.m. to 4p.m., worked out afterward, ate a diet dictated and prepared by Marc and spent his night’s watching swing tapes.

Marc decided his son was too good for the mini-tours. So they spent every week traveling to the Nationwide Tour stop, attempting to qualify Monday and practicing on the routine occasions when Sean didn’t earn a spot in the fields. In three years under this regime (2000 to 2002), Sean made less than $6,000 in official earnings. The family tension was immense. According to a Golf World article published in January, Sean’s friends from the Leadbetter Academy and the Nationwide Tour said Marc verbally and even physically abused Sean.

“I had a tough situation when I was a kid — that’s the easiest way to put it,” said O’Hair after his victory Sunday. “It was just not a happy situation, and there was a lot of pressure.”

Perhaps most alarmingly, Marc even made Sean sign a contract (renewed most recently when he was 20) stating that 10 percent of all his future earnings would be turned over to his father. Marc talked about his son as if he were a commodity, calling him “good labor” on the “60 Minutes II” segment. He attempted to justify the contract by telling Golf World he had invested $2million in his son’s future.

That future changed forever when Sean met a junior on the Florida Atlantic golf team named Jackie Lucas in 2002. Since Sean had no social life, the chance meeting occurred at a driving range. Their awkward first date was the first of Sean’s life. But Sean instantly fell in love with both the young woman and her loving family, the two were married later that year and Sean was finally freed from his father.

The couple bought a mobile home, Jackie picked up his bag to save on caddie fees, and Sean stepped down to the mini-tours (the Cleveland Tour in New England and the Gateway Tour in the Southwest), where his career finally blossomed. After two successful years, he made it through PGA Tour Qualifying School in his sixth attempt last fall to earn his 2005 tour card. He recorded a second-place finish at the Byron Nelson Championship in May, and then parlayed that confidence and financial security into last week’s win.

“It’s been unreal,” said O’Hair, now ranked 16th on the PGA Tour’s money list ($1.7 million). “I wasn’t even ranked before this year. Going from unranked to 52nd [in the world] in 18 events is pretty special.”

As for the contract, O’Hair’s father hasn’t demanded his 10 percent share, which two attorneys said yesterday was legally flimsy at best. Nor has Marc acted on his stated threats in Golf World to mail media outlets a copy of the contract to “crucify” his son in the press. But there’s little doubt Marc, in a perverse twist of irony, feels betrayed.

“I busted my [butt] on this thing,” Marc told Golf World. “I thought I was doing him a favor. I invested everything I had in his golf game. … I was floored when my own flesh and blood, my own son, told me to shove it.”

Sean still has trouble addressing the subject, but he has a new paternal figure in father-in-law Steve Lawson, who caddied for him last week and will handle the duties again this week.

“I never considered getting another caddie just because they might know the course,” said O’Hair, who was forced to leave behind Jackie and their 5-month-old daughter, Molly, because of the last-minute arrangements. “Steve’s a huge part of me being here. We work well together, and we’ve got a good thing going.”

Sean had made one previous trip to the Old Course as a 15-year-old. But like his passport, the memories of that dark time in his life have been misplaced. He spent yesterday trying to memorize driving targets and bunker locations and picking the brain of practice partner and 1996 British Open champion Tom Lehman.

“I didn’t remember anything about the golf course, and I still don’t know it at all,” said O’Hair, who regardless never stopped glowing yesterday. “That’s OK. I’m not going to have any expectations coming over on such short notice. I just wanted to do it because it’s kind of special to have your first major come at St. Andrews. … I’m just going to enjoy every second of it, and look at it almost like a vacation.”

Sean vacations at St. Andrews. Marc languishes in Florida.

Sometimes fate gets it right.

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