When it comes to major championships, every professional golfer has his own way of preparing and playing.
Phil Mickelson likes to arrive at a major already tuned up, on a roll if possible. Remember 2006, when he pulled off that magnificent feat of back-to-back victories at the BellSouth Classic and The Masters. Which explains why Mickelson spent last week at the Houston Open.
Tiger Woods, on the other hand, likes to lie low before a major. He takes the week off and retreats to his lair back home to chill out and work on the specific shots that he knows he will need for the upcoming major. No surprise, then, that Woods was nowhere to be seen the week after his big win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
That brings us to Philadelphia’s own Sean O’Hair and the first major of the year, The Masters, which gets underway Thursday.
O’Hair, 29, who lives in West Chester, has four victories on the PGA Tour, most recently the 2011 RBC Canadian Open, a colossal accomplishment at a time when he was beginning to worry about the future of his career. Other notable career notches include being voted 2005 Rookie of the Year and playing his way onto the 2009 U.S. Presidents Cup team. With $16.1 million in career winnings, plus millions more in endorsement money, it’s safe to say that O’Hair is not sweating where his next meal will come from.
If there is a pea under O’Hair’s mattress that keeps him awake nights, it’s his lack of a major championship title. Like any number of players of his caliber and expectations, O’Hair burns inside to join that elite club of major winners. The major title he pines for most of all is The Masters.
“The Masters, without a doubt,” O’Hair said late last week from Houston, where he was in the field with Mickelson.
Quite the traditional guy himself, what O’Hair likes most about The Masters are all the, well, traditions.
“When you win the U.S. Open, you are part of history, and that is something to be very proud of,” said O’Hair. “But there is nothing to show for it as you get older and you’re done with the game.”
If you win The Masters, by contrast, you get to be part of the annual pomp and circumstance forever.
“Every year, you get to put on that green jacket and walk into that champions dinner and relive something you did fantastic in your life,” said O’Hair. “Not too many guys get to do that, and it would be pretty special to be part of it.”
In five appearances, O’Hair’s best finishes at The Masters were a tie for 10th in 2009, and a tie for 14th in 2008.
O’Hair wasn’t in the field his rookie year, in 2005, and in 2006, like so many awestruck first-timers at Augusta National, he missed the cut. The past two years have been disappointing. He tied for 30th in 2010 and missed the cut last year.
If O’Hair has learned anything from all this, it is what he believes works for him and what doesn’t. So, while plenty of guys in the field essentially will go into mental lockdown and physical seclusion for Masters week, O’Hair’s is going to Plan B — he’s rented a six-bedroom house in the Augusta suburbs, which will be packed with family and friends from back home.
“I use all eight tickets they give us,” said O’Hair, laughing.
Besides wife Jackie and their four young kids, there will be his in-laws, Steve and Kathy Lucas, plus three golf buddies: Roc Irey, from Lookaway Golf Club, an accomplished amateur whom O’Hair has grown close to through Lucas; also, the Donnelly brothers, Jeff, from Fieldstone GC, and John, from Concord CC.
“I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I do have, I like to hang out with,” said O’Hair. “It’s a tight little group, and I like to keep it that way.”
Each night, they’ll play ping pong, romp with the kids, hang, laugh, swap lies, do anything to help O’Hair get his mind off the pressure that awaits him at the golf course.
“I play my best golf when I am relaxed,” said O’Hair. “The moment I say, ‘I am here to win this golf tournament,’ that’s when I know I am on the road to nowhere.
“Obviously, when I get to the golf course, it’s all business. But off the golf course, relaxing with my friends, I am the most comfortable I can be. I am not thinking about golf.”
Older and wiser, O’Hair no longer is in the business of predicting how he will do this week. He has learned to create what for him is the optimum environment, then play hard and live with the results.
“Do I have the game to win? Absolutely. Do I have the head to win? Absolutely,” he said. “And I like my chances. But really, at the end of the day, all I can do is give it my best.”