Commentary

Weekly 18: O'Hair breaks mold as tour's youngest with two wins

Originally Published: March 10, 2008
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

With his victory at the PODS Championship on Sunday, Sean O'Hair, 25, became the youngest player on the PGA Tour to have two victories, and one of just seven under the age of 30.

Success for young players remains elusive, especially in the Tiger Woods era. Sergio Garcia, 28, remains the leader of the group with six victories. Adam Scott, 27, has five. They are the only twentysomethings who have three or more.

Charles Howell III, 28, D.J. Trahan, 27, Aaron Baddeley, 26, J.B. Holmes, 25, and O'Hair all have two victories.

Aside from the international players -- Garcia, Scott and Baddeley -- O'Hair is the only player in the group who did not go to college.

So the Weekly 18 begins with O'Hair's thoughts on turning pro early.

Sean O'Hair

If I didn't have this feeling inside of me that I've belonged on the PGA Tour, I would have quit a long time ago.

-- Sean O'Hair

1. Stay in school
O'Hair's tale might be a good one for young players who wonder if it's best to turn pro or go to school. Players such as Ty Tryon, Tadd Fujikawa and Michelle Wie decided to play for pay as teenagers, just as O'Hair did some nine years ago, and all have had their struggles.

Of course, O'Hair was pushed into the pro ranks by his father, Marc, who traveled around the country with his son as he struggled on the mini tours. Sean made it to the PGA Tour three years ago at age 22 but doesn't necessarily believe his was the best path.

"If my son or daughter was a good junior player, and they were contemplating turning pro or going to college, I would highly recommend them going to college," O'Hair said. "I think there is a lot that college has to offer. Not only as a player but as a person, relationships, things you experience. I just don't really see anything negative about going to college. I see a lot of negatives turning pro."

O'Hair had some lean years as a pro, and things did not get easier after the relationship with his father fizzled and the financial support dried up.

"I can't tell you how many times at 17, 18, 19 years old where I wanted to quit," he said. "If I didn't have this feeling inside of me that I've belonged on the PGA Tour, I would have quit a long time ago. I have seen a lot of kids with a ton of talent who turned pro … they probably would have done better had they gone to college.

"Who is to say I might have been better if I went to college? I don't know. There is a lot of things you are exposed to, pressure, traveling around by yourself. There are so many different things that a 17-year-old, 18-year-old doesn't need to go through, unless you are a very special person."
2. Not as easy as it looks
O'Hair was rookie of the year in 2005 after winning the John Deere Classic. That victory got him in the British Open the next week, but O'Hair didn't own a passport. Some high-level help got him the necessary documents and a trip to St. Andrews, where he tied for 15th. He went on to win more than $2.4 million that year, added $1.4 million in 2006 and another $1.9 million last year. But he had posted just one top-three finish the past two years before Sunday.

"I think when I won the first time at the John Deere Classic, obviously it was overwhelming and awesome, and especially with me going to the British Open and everything," he said. "I felt like winning would happen all the time, and it doesn't work that way. This is just so nice to be back in the winner's circle."

3. Stewart Cinks again

Stewart Cink had a four-shot lead after two holes but could not hold on, now going 87 tournaments, or 3 years, without a victory on the PGA Tour. Cink is just 1-for-9 when holding the 54-hole lead in a tournament. And Cink did not shy away from it.

[+] EnlargeStewart Cink
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesIncluding Sunday's collapse, Stewart Cink has gone 87 tournaments, or 3 years without a victory on tour.
"I think it's not coincidence," said Cink, 34, who has four PGA Tour victories, his last coming in 2004 at the Bridgestone Invitational. "I just haven't played very good rounds. I tend to be less aggressive on my putting. It's like I'm a little bit tentative. I missed a lot of my putts from being tentative. You don't have room to be that way when you've got the best players in the world lined up behind you ready to pounce on my mistakes. I've got to get myself in the situation and just got to get a little more comfortable. … I've just got to get more comfortable grabbing on to the lead on Sundays and holding on to it."

Two weeks ago at the Accenture Match Play Championship, where Cink played beautifully before being defeated 8 and 7 by Woods in the final, he spoke about being an underachiever. He vowed not to be tentative going forward, but he appears to still have work to do.

"I'm frustrated," he said. "I'm extremely frustrated after this because I felt like I played well enough to win. I just let myself down a little bit here and there. I've definitely got some soul searching to do, and I definitely have to learn a few lessons."

4. Rule 78 -- part II

Before the Honda Classic, the PGA Tour policy board amended the highly contentious cut rule known as Rule 78, which allowed players tied for 70th to advance to the third round. At the beginning of the year, the rule had been changed to address field size. If the number of players making the cut exceeded 78 players, the number reverted to the next closest to 70 players, with those above being credited with a made cut, paid last-place money, but not allowed to continue.

That caused a good bit of consternation from players who felt that if you made the cut, you should have the opportunity to compete. So the tour compromised. It now allows all tied for 70th to play during the third round. But if the number exceeds 78, there is another cut after the third round to the top 70s and ties.

And that's what happened at the PODS Championship, when 79 players made the cut. When the third round was completed, there were 71 players at 7-over or better. The eight who were at 8-over or worse -- Paul Goydos, Cameron Beckman, Tim Herron, Jesper Parnevik, Charles Warren, Ted Purdy, Jason Gore and Kevin Streelman -- did not play Sunday and were all paid in accordance with their positions.

5. Tiger's back

After two weeks off, Woods returns to the PGA Tour at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament in which it has been all or nothing for him. In 11 appearances as a pro, Woods has won four times, but has just one other top-10 finish -- a tie for ninth in 1997. Since winning four straight from 2000-03, Woods has failed to finish better than 20th in four starts, and was tied for 22nd last year.

6. But how will he putt?

[+] EnlargeJohn Smoltz
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTiger Woods played golf last week with John Smoltz before stepping in Wednesday to face a version of Smoltz's real stuff.
The greens are in bad enough shape at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando that PGA Tour officials were compelled to put a notice in the locker room at the PODS Championship. Apparently the greens suffered from an unknown organic source, and it was perplexing enough to have agronomists stumped, too. Things were so bad that turf in selected sections was removed less than a month ago and replanted. Who knows how it will hold up to the scrutiny of PGA Tour pros this week?

7. Tiger and Smoltz

Woods spent some of his down time playing golf -- and baseball. After an outing at Isleworth last week with Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, Woods climbed into the batter's box to face Smoltz firing from the mound. Apparently, Smoltz was not serving up his best stuff.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the workout on Wednesday was closed, and Smoltz used it as an opportunity to throw three simulated innings at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. The newspaper got a rundown from Braves officials who were present and said that Woods struck out twice, drew a walk and then got a scorer-friendly single up the middle in his final at-bat. There were no fielders.

8. A Korean first

It seemed a bit strange that K.J. Choi would skip the PODS Championship. After all, the South Korean golfer is the only player to win the tournament twice, doing so in 2002 and 2006. Turns out, Choi had a good reason.

The European Tour this week is making its first-ever appearance in South Korea at the Ballantines Championship, to be played at the Pinx Golf Club on the island of Jeju.

Choi's appearance is giving the event a big boost, as is the commitment of Anthony Kim, whose parents came to the United States from Korea in 1971. It is his first tournament appearance in his parents' homeland. Others competing in the event are Padraig Harrington, Chris DiMarco and Y.E. Yang, who was born on the island of Jeju.

9. Sideshow

Having shot rounds of 78-80 to miss the cut by a mile at the PODS Championship, John Daly might have felt compelled to put some effort into his in-need-of-work game. Instead, Daly spent most of Saturday afternoon in a rowdy Hooters hospitality tent -- where he had retreated to during a lengthy rain delay during the first round of the tournament.

[+] EnlargeJon Gruden and John Daly
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaYes, that's Bucs coach Jon Gruden caddying for John Daly. Yes, it needs further explaining.
That is where Big John spotted Jon Gruden, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who happened to be visiting the popular Hooters Owl's Nest located behind the 17th green. They apparently got friendly enough that Daly thought it would be swell to have the coach caddie for him. So Gruden lugged Daly's bag around for the remainder of the day, creating a stir among the locals who go goo-goo over their team's head coach.

Of course, all Daly did by doing so was make a mockery of his own game and the competition. Having Gruden caddie for him during the pro-am is one thing, but during the tournament? Gruden the caddie looked as uncomfortable as an offensive lineman on figure skates.

Meanwhile, tournaments continue to give Daly exemptions, even though he has missed three cuts, withdrawn from another tournament, and finished no better than a tie for 60th in seven appearances. He'll be at the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week, where he once carded an 18 on a hole.

10. Champions choice

As defending champion of the Masters, Zach Johnson gets to pick the fare for the Tuesday night Champions Dinner at Augusta National. This is usually a slam-dunk decision, but Johnson has had trouble deciding. And he knows he needs to let the Augusta folks know soon.

"We have some ideas," Johnson said during a defending champion's conference call. "We're trying to piece some things together and see how that works out. I have a feeling it's going to be some Midwest food with some Florida fare, if you will, where my wife is from. So we'll try to incorporate maybe a surf-and-turf type thing."

11. Captain's game

Paul Azinger played in the PODS Championship, just his fourth event of the year on the PGA Tour, and missed the cut. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain is playing on a major medical extension and needs to earn $611,111 in 14 events in order to receive status for the remainder of the season.

[+] EnlargePaul Azinger
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesU.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger missed the cut this week in his fourth event of the year.
And he doesn't appear all that concerned if he doesn't make it.

"I haven't really practiced much," Azinger said. "I don't know why. My desire to play well is still there, but my commitment to get it done isn't. I don't know why. I think I'm going to start taking up cigar smoking and stuff. I'm ready to start drinking out of a bamboo cup with a pink umbrella on it."

12. A helping Calc

Mark Calcavecchia will just have to make the team if he wants to be in Louisville for the Ryder Cup. He had hoped to be one of Azinger's assistant captains.

"He would have made a better captain if he would have selected me as his assistant," Calcavecchia quipped. "I was lobbying for the job. He didn't think I was serious."

Azinger chose former Ryder Cup captains Dave Stockton and Raymond Floyd, as well as current player Olin Browne.

As for why he wanted to be an assistant captain?

"I wanted all the free [stuff]," Calcavecchia said. "And so did my wife [Brenda]. Plus she figured [Azinger's wife] Toni needed all the help with the women's outfits. My wife is right at the top of the game with that. I thought we were locks."

13. As for actually making the team

Of course Calc would love to be in Louisville as a player, right?

"My opinion changes on that every day," he said. "Some days I want to be on the team. Some days I don't want to be standing over that 4-footer, when I miss them every single week out here, with the Ryder Cup match on the line. I could make them or miss them just like anybody."

14. Make no mistake

Kenny Perry isn't wavering about the Ryder Cup. The nine-time PGA Tour winner and native of Kentucky wants to be on the team at Valhalla.

"The Ryder Cup has really motivated me and kind of woke me up a little bit for this year," he said. "I want to do the best I can, whatever that is. It's got me very focused and got me working at it again."

Perry, 47, played on the 2004 Ryder Cup team. And he's been keeping in touch with Azinger.

"Oh, yes, I'm brownnosing big time," Perry said. "I played a practice round with him in Phoenix. Every time I see him, I just keep my face in front of him a little bit."

15. Speaking of captains

Beth Daniel, captain of the U.S. Solheim Cup team that will take on Europe next year at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., has named Meg Mallon and Kelly Robbins as her assistant captains. Mallon is an eight-time member of the U.S. team and is tied with Juli Inkster for most points in U.S. history with 16. Robbins has been on the team six times.

"I'm thrilled to have these two players as my assistants," Daniel said. "Not only are they good friends of mine, but they collectively have 14 years of Solheim Cup experience, which I will lean very heavily on. Since being named captain, this is the most excited I've been about the Solheim Cup. This means things are starting to get rolling. I have my team in place and we're ready to go."

Daniel is hoping to defend home turf, where the U.S. has never lost in the Solheim Cup.

16. Making the cut

No pro plays just to make the cut, but achieving that goal at the Masters this year would be pretty special for Fred Couples -- even if he hopes to do far better than that. Couples has made the cut in every Masters he has played, 23 in a row. That is tied with Gary Player for the most in history.

[+] EnlargeFred Couples
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images"It's a nice thing," Fred Couples said of his record-matching 23 consecutive Masters cuts made. "It's not anything worldly."
"Playing there is bigger pride than that," Couples said. "I mean, the cut streak is a big thing. Last year was very much a fluke to make the cut. … It's a nice thing. It's not anything worldly."

The 1992 Masters champion shot 76-76 last year to make the cut on the number. Couples went on to tie for 30th, but because of back issues it was the last official tournament he has played.

17. Slow play

In winning the FBR Open earlier this year and in his first-round match against Woods at the Accenture Match Play Championship, Holmes got a lot of airtime. It was also time to see him go through a preshot routine that can often be quite slow. Holmes is not slow once he gets over the ball, but he can sometimes take awhile to line up and visualize his shot. Television announcers have noticed and commented on it.

"I'm working on that," Holmes said. "A lot of old habits kick in when you are under pressure. You are playing for a million dollars. If somebody thinks I'm slow, or taking long, I don't really care. I'm doing what I need to do to hit the shot when I get ready.

"Personally, I don't want to take that long. … It's something I'm working on. I don't want to be that slow. It's just something that crept into my game. I am working on it."

18. Quotable

"I'm looking forward to it, of course. I've heard so many things like 'Man, the place is unreal. I'd give my right arm to play it.' Well, how you going to play it if you give your right arm?"
-- Boo Weekley, on his first visit to the Masters and Augusta National next month

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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