Monday, May 14, 2007

Splish, Splash: O'Hair takes choker's bath

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine
American golf fans are desperate, and desperation clouds judgment.
They realize Tiger Woods is now a thirty-something with a wife, an expected child around British Open week and the singular goal of catching and destroying Jack Nicklaus' 18-major record.
He cares about history, chasing it endlessly, yet also now juggling it with a family. The young prodigy has masterfully transformed himself into the established champion well on his way to the title "Best Player Ever."
It's a ride past its midway point, and the American golfing landscape has never looked bleaker. Phil Mickelson, fresh off a PLAYERS title, is 37 and while he's likely to produce at least another half-decade of world class golf, the sands through an hour glass drip daily.
Jim Furyk is another thirty-something, and Davis Love III and Fred Couples are battling injuries as a result of success and its by-products -- the wear and tear that constitutes a winning desire at any cost.
The supposed next great young Americans haven't produced. Do you remember Ty Tyron, the overwhelming power of Hank Kuehne, the silky-smooth Jeff Quinney with the athletic family pedigree? All with so much hope, so many expectations, so few results.
Enter Sean O'Hair, 24 and rail thin. Maturity not an issue -- not when he grew up with an overbearing father who made him run a mile for every bogey, pulled him out of AJGA competition and forced him to train like a track star after every round in the black.
No, O'Hair has experienced so much pain through the early years that handling the pressures on a golf course will never compare. His demeanor has little ebb and flow, his golf swing a seamless motion of back and through.
And he's a Philadelphia boy -- from West Chester with stops in Florida at the David Leadbetter Academy and a subsequent childhood home of Best Westerns and the back of his father's car. Speaking of the father, well, he doesn't speak to him anymore. That story has been well chronicled on "60 Minutes" and every sports show from here to Bristol.
It makes you pull for the kid. Coupled with a fabulous golf swing, and well, O'Hair is American golf's next young hope, almost to the point where criticism is disallowed, unwarranted for fear of destroying his psyche, his fragile mindset, some even call it a ticking time bomb bottled up from years of "Yes, sir, right away sir."
Every golf writer nationwide has lauded O'Hair for guts and gumption on the 17th tee at The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass Sunday. Then they've patted him on the back for speaking to NBC's Roger Maltbie and handling disappointment with style and grace.
No one is pulling away the "Stars & Stripes forever" blinders, stepping back from the situation and calling O'Hair's Sunday decision making what it truly was.
Sean O'Hair choked. Just like Scott Hoch and Greg Norman and Jean Van de Velde. For some the pain was drawn out, for others it was over in the time it took to strike a three-foot putt.
Yet, in the end O'Hair never corralled the ever-building nerves and adrenaline. He and Mickelson weren't put on the clock, but they were a full hole behind Peter Lonard and Aaron Baddeley late in the round because O'Hair's pre-shot routine got longer and more hesitant.
Then there was the missed opportunities at 15 and 16, two relatively easy putts on some of the flattest greens on tour. NBC's Johnny Miller spoke ad naseum about Sawgrass' minimal breaks all week, then O'Hair missed a pair of putts inside 10 feet that would have trimmed Mickelson's lead in half.
But that wasn't the worst part. Standing on the 17th tee, O'Hair pulled nine iron for a 138-yard shot with negligible wind. It was way too much club -- Maltbie and Miller spoke in utter shock before the West Chester resident even pulled the trigger. Instead of talking him into a pitching wedge like a veteran caddie should, Steve Lucas (O'Hair's father-in-law) handed the youngster a signed, sealed and delivered death warrant.
A nine iron that never had a prayer -- not even taking into account his adrenaline and the events of just a day earlier. His nine iron on Saturday stopped just under five feet from the hole to a back pin playing approximately 143 yards. When he hit it, O'Hair almost became sick with the realization it was H20 bound.
The golf gods spared his ball, turning what could have been 4 or worse into the middle of three closing birdies. He wasn't so lucky Sunday.
He said he was playing "to win," and not for the paycheck. However, what's wrong with hitting wedge to the middle of the green, making par and heading to Sawgrass' hardest hole where a birdie-bogey swing is entirely possible?
What's wrong with keeping the possibility of failure in the back of Mickelson's mind as he stands on the 72nd tee of another top-notch event with the lead and sudden doom lurking down the left?
It's a much smarter proposition than trying to carve an easy nine iron into a sucker pin with so many emotions running through your head.
The young man will learn, and I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment that the TPC "fits his game." He may even be America's next young golfing star.
Many times, failure first leads to success in the long run. Let's hope choking has the same effect.
Jared Trexler can be reached at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

'We all choke, and the man who says he doesn't choke is lying like hell. We all leak oil.' -- Lee Trevino