June 20, 2009

Full Circle

Cheated out of a childhood by his father, Sean O'Hair has found happiness as a father himself, and in contending for the Open

Sean O'Hair's journey to the PGA Tour and fatherhood has been interesting.

Sean O'Hair's journey to the PGA Tour and fatherhood has been interesting.

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- On Father's Day, Sean O'Hair played some golf while waiting to hear if he had become a father for the third time. Only good things have happened for him since the babies began arriving six years ago -- except for the epidural part where his wife, Jackie, is given an injection with a needle the approximate length of a 1-iron. "Got a little quizzy the first time," O'Hair said, meaning queasy, a condition familiar to many new dads.

Then, smiling: "Didn't really watch the second time."

This time, O'Hair might have found a way to skip the epidural altogether. If things work out magically, he could win the U.S. Open championship and become a daddy all over again on the same day. "I talked to her today before I played," he said after three rounds left him seven shots off the lead with seven guys in front of him. "If she goes into labor, I want her to tell me. I do want to know."

In the late afternoon sunlight -- a rare piece of beauty here this week -- Sean O'Hair stood near the putting green at Bethpage Black. He is tall and lean, blue-eyed and blond, 26-years old, a winner of three PGA Tour events and more than $7 million in five seasons. Here's a question: On Father's Day, with the Open there to win, do you think O'Hair's father would trudge along on the muddy, happy, another grandbaby's-coming day?

Of course.

Unless he's the daddy-dearest type.

Alas, by all accounts, including his own, that pretty much defines the sperm donor named Marc O'Hair, who once told Steve Elling in Golf World: "I'm an iron-asshole bastard ..." Then he boasted of those moments when he force-marched his kid out of high school as a junior and into professional golf at age 17 with a regimen that would make a drill sergeant blush. Make a bogey, run a mile. Make eight bogeys, run eight miles. Marc O'Hair sold his share of a family shutter business for $2.7 million and claimed to have spent it all to create Sean's golf career. There was David Leadbetter's golf academy. There were 200,000 miles driving on the minor-league golf circuits. Five times, O'Hair failed at PGA Tour qualifying.

Childhood?

Forget it, kid, we got business down the road.

Father-son?

Forget it. This was investor-investment, trader-commodity, master-slave.

There was even a contract, apparently done in case the son ever came to realize that the father had more than the son's best interests at heart. Sean O'Hair was to give the father 10 percent of all his earnings -- not just a year's worth or even five years -- all his earnings across all time. No doubt lawyers would argue the validity of such a contact signed by a minor under psychological duress. But the happy news is, it didn't matter because, one day, not long after meeting Jaclyn Lucas, Sean O'Hair walked away from the life his father wanted and into the life he wanted.

Yes, he had become the professional golfer of his father's irrational imaginings. There is that. But at what cost? Here is O'Hair on his father, as quoted by Elling: "Anyone who has the right perspective thinks he's crazy." Since the day he married Jackie, Sean O'Hair has not spoken to his father. On Father's Day, then, the father was not at Bethpage Black's 17th. It is a devilish par-3 with no visible landing area. There the son dropped a 5-iron two feet from the flagstick, a birdie. At the 18th, a par-4 with no visible landing area, O'Hair's 7-iron second shot fell a foot from perfect and stuck in thick grass above a bunker, a bogey.

So he came in at 71, one over par. A "tough day," he said, because he "squirted" a lot of "mud balls" that wouldn't go where they were supposed to because mud -- this is the bog at Bethpage -- on a ball's side changed its flight pattern. "But I'm happy with the way I finished."

And he's waiting for the call from home.

He's not doing the Phil Mickelson thing. In 1999, when his wife was due any minute, Mickelson carried a beeper into the final round of the U.S. Open and said that if she went into labor, he would leave the course, no matter what. To some that was melodramatic, and I suspect that O'Hair has no such contingency plan because, when pressed on whether he would leave with a chance to win the Open, he said only, "We'll see."

On this Father's Day, what I'm rooting for is that the happy daddy arrives home before the new baby does, maybe bringing along a shiny trophy for his wife.