The Continuing Maturation Of Sean O’Hair

“I’ll make plenty of money in my career. I want the crystal.”

That’s what Sean O’Hair said following his dramatic collapse down the stretch at the 2007 Players at the TPC of Sawgrass. His quadruple bogey 7 on the “Island green” 17th hole, followed by a bogey on the 18th hole saw O’Hair drop from second place, where he was duelling with eventual champion Phil Mickelson, into a tie for 11th. That stumble at the finish line cost him somewhere in the neighbourhood of $750,000, but he didn’t make any apologies for his play. He didn’t question his resolve and he didn’t question his own talent. He stared at the face of failure, into the eyes of “choke” and he didn’t bat an eyelid.

Two years later Sean O’Hair is returning to the TPC of Sawgrass for the 2009 version of The Players a different person and golfer, some would say a fully formed man. Last week O’Hair proved to himself and the world that he belongs in the upper echelons of the game, taking down Tiger Woods and one of the strongest fields of the year in winning the Quail Hollow Championship. The 26-year old has risen to number 12 in the world, up from 59th at the start of the year, and is currently 3rd on both the PGA Tour Moneylist and Fed-Ex Cup rankings. He leads the tour in probably the two most significant statistical categories as well- the all-around ranking and scoring average. Speaking to the media at The Players yesterday O’Hair reflected on his year so far, his past, and the reasons behind for his rise to the top.

“I think, number one, Rotella and I always talk about with putting, if you’re not a good wedge player, if you don’t have the opportunities from inside ten feet, your putting statistics aren’t going to be that great. If your birdie opportunities are from 20, 25 feet instead of ten, eight feet, you’re obviously not going to putt as well as somebody who does have those opportunities. So that’s number one.” O’Hair said.

“I think number two, I’ve changed my stroke a little bit. I’ve always been kind of an armsy putter, and I haven’t really ever released the putter face. And I think I’m more…I’ve changed my stroke to more of a shoulder rotation. So that’s definitely helped. I think my putting stroke has improved quite a bit in the last couple of months. And then obviously when you start seeing that ball go in the hole, your mind changes awfully quickly.”

Quail Hollow brought O’Hair’s victory total on the PGA Tour to 3, all well before his 30th birthday. Of all the American stars under the age of 30, he is the first player to do that. And while he may be a little more “under-the-radar” than compatriots like Anthony Kim or Hunter Mahan, in a lot of respects O’Hair has grown up on the PGA Tour, and is a more mature player for doing so. His well-publicised split with his father non-withstanding, it takes a while to mature under the harsh spotlight of golf stardom, something O’Hair has had to deal with since he made his tour debut as a gangly 22-year old. Now in his 5th year on tour, O’Hair can not only boast of 3 tournament wins, but he and wife Jackie are also expecting their third child this summer. When asked about the expectations placed on the young Americans O’Hair was dismissive, but realistic about perceived expectations from the public and the media.

“You’re asking about expectations that you guys have, and with all due respect, I really don’t care what you guys think. My thing is I care about where I want to go, and I think the thing is there’s a lot of things that have been written in a negative way, especially after Bay Hill and the thing is I can’t control what you guys write. I can’t control the expectations people have on me. The only thing I can control is how I think of myself and the expectations that I put on myself.”

But for all his success this year, O’hair is still very much on a mission. The goals he has talked about are lofty ones- winning the career Grand Slam along with 50 events on the PGA Tour itself. Quail Hollow did a lot to put the demons of Sawgrass and Bay Hill behind O’Hair, and with a new found confidence it’s hard to bet against him.

“I don’t want to be just a guy on the PGA TOUR making a good living. That’s not my goal. My goal is to win as many golf tournaments as possible. I want to win major championships. I want to win this tournament. There’s a lot of goals I have. At the end of my career I’d love to be in the Hall of Fame….I believe in myself. I believe that I can become one of the better players out here. I think I feel like I’m on the right track to do that.”

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