SAN FRANCISCO -- Part of what makes an event like this so intriguing is to see the forging of unlikely bonds. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have already had another epic ping-pong clash, complete with the requisite trash talk -- not all of it suitable for publication. Geoff Ogilvy has already willingly taken 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa under his wing, agreeing to partner with the Japanese phenom through his first Presidents Cup round on Thursday.
And then there is the curious alliance developing between the greatest basketball player of all time and 27-year-old Sean O'Hair.
Why of all the players on the U.S. Presidents Cup team, Michael Jordan has targeted O'Hair for mentoring remains a question to a lot of people, O'Hair included. But after playing together in a casual practice round on Monday, Jordan made clear that he was going to make O'Hair, the only team-play rookie on the U.S. side, his "biggest project."
"I have no idea," O'Hair said when asked why he was singled out. "You know, I don't know if he feels that I need the most help out of anybody out here or what. I don't know. He just came up and we started talking a little bit, and you know, he's got a lot of good insight."
So Jordan has been in O'Hair's ear, encouraging him, occasionally needling him, and of course, taking his money. The practice round on Monday had O'Hair giving Jordan six strokes a side. As the golfer said later, he knew from the first hole he had made a mistake.
"I'm probably the only player in the history of golf that has actually cost money to play in this event," he said.
But even then, he said, it's been worth it. A winner of three PGA Tour events, with a well-documented complicated family backstory, O'Hair has been on the verge of superstardom for several years now. He's had some hiccups along the way, most notably when he coughed up a five-shot lead to Tiger Woods in March at Bay Hill. But if those same shortcomings are what drew Jordan to him, he's not complaining.
"It's different than a psychologist," O'Hair said. "I would take him over any psychologist any day. You know, a guy who is sitting there telling you, hey, this is what you should be doing, and if he's basically sat behind a desk his whole entire life, that's all well and good. But if you have an athlete who performed at the highest level...you're going to take his word for it."
-- *Sam Weinman *