2005: PGA Tour - A sad dissolution
Monday, September 12, 2011
After the highlight of his golf career, a second-place finish at the Byron Nelson Championship, rookie Sean O’Hair heard from his estranged father, Marc. He received two e-mails. The father congratulated the son with whom he hasn’t spoken in 21⁄2 years. But the messages didn’t have a soothing effect.
“The e-mails prove to me there is no future between he and I,” said O’Hair, at 22 the PGA Tour’s second-youngest member.
O’Hair refused to elaborate, but did confirm that image and money were broached.
“He thinks I’m responsible for his bad press,” O’Hair said.
Marc O’Hair’s image hasn’t been rosy these days, but he should look inward rather than blame his son. All the son said about his overbearing father after excelling at the Nelson was that he loved him and hoped he was doing well.
And during a lengthy interview at the Memorial, Sean was candid about their fractured relationship but traveled the high road. He praised his father for teaching him good values. He called him a “good man deep down in his heart.” He thanked his father for making him “stronger mentally.” He says his dad just has a “weird way” of showing his love and did the best he could. He wondered if the media has tried to understand his father’s side.
“I don’t want to come off bashing my dad,” O’Hair said. “I wouldn’t be here without my dad. But I’ve also got to be my own man. If we got back together, I don’t know what he would want. Right now I don’t need the adjustment of getting back together because I’m happy.”
Apparently Marc O’Hair wants money. Father had son, at ages 17 and 20, sign a contract promising the father 10 percent of the son’s earnings for life. Marc, who declined an interview request, curiously once said that when his son got famous he’d send copies of the contract to the media. Well, the kid already has made about a million dollars this year, ensuring a 2006 Tour card.
Asked if he plans to compensate a father who made sacrifices while overseeing a professional career that began at 17, Sean O’Hair said, “I don’t know. That’s something I’ll decide on through time. That’s something my lawyer is looking at for me.” He added that if a legal battle ensues, he wouldn’t “take it lying down.”
So a sad saga gets sadder after a couple of e-mails.
O’Hair is a delightful young man with a promising golf future. He birdied the last three holes just to get through the second stage of Q-School. Now he has made nine consecutive cuts, rare for a rookie. Lucas Glover, another young talent, calls O’Hair “a stud.”
O’Hair says he’s “very happy” traveling the Tour with wife Jackie, 4-month-old daughter Molly and father-in-law/caddie Steve Lucas. His mother and sister, both caught in the middle, also lend support. O’Hair says he accepts the split with his dad and is at peace because his life has never been better.
But an undercurrent of father-son discord taints. There’s pain below the surface, for everyone in the family. O’Hair says family members “try not to talk about it.” Yet the past follows along. You know the story: Traveling by car with his father, O’Hair tried qualifying for Nationwide Tour events for a few years without success, then played the mini-tours. Under one agreement, Marc would pay Sean if he shot under par but Sean would run miles after over-par rounds. Father pulled son out of a junior tournament after a bad showing. There was yelling and military-like discipline. Sean thought about quitting the game after being pushed so hard.
“I can’t even remember some of the stuff, why it led up to the way it is now,” O’Hair said. “It’s almost like it snowballed. It wasn’t one thing. It got to the point he would tell me what to do and I disagreed and he didn’t like that. He was used to my obeying everything. He was very dominant and it was his way or the highway.
“It got to the point I became a man and made my own decisions. If kids didn’t go to college and get out on their own, every family would go through what I did. You have to learn to be your own man.”
Sean says the separation was “long overdue” on both sides because they constantly disagreed. Mutual respect vanished. He says they said a lot of hurtful things to each other. He says he’s as much to blame as his father. Whatever, golf had become too serious and intense instead of fun. He says he has many fond childhood memories but that their relationship changed when he turned pro and finances came into play.
O’Hair says he didn’t feel “positive support” until Jackie came into his life. “I don’t even know if I ever had it before,” he says. “She opened my eyes. It was more of a dictatorship with my dad. I didn’t tell him he was dictating my life because that would be disrespectful.
“It got so bad, I got to the point I didn’t care anymore what would happen. I used to be scared he might run off or kick me out. When Jackie came along, I didn’t feel like I’d be alone.”
Lucas, an affable Pennsylvania insurance agent, says O’Hair is far more “well-adjusted” now than two years ago. “His life’s in order,” the father-in-law said. “He’s a talented individual rising above all of it and making his way. Given his past, he would have more than enough reasons to fail. . . . He could win 10 U.S. Opens and the story still would be about what’s going on with his father.”
Now it’s to the point Sean says he doesn’t think the two can coexist peacefully because “too much pride is involved.” It got to the point the two didn’t talk at Sean’s wedding Dec. 28, 2002.
On one hand Sean says, “I don’t want him to be in my life.” On the other he says, “If things changed, that would be great.” He longs for a normal relationship when he sees Lucas interact lovingly with his own son. “I wish I had that,” Sean said, “but I have a good situation.”
O’Hair is told about a man who got a telephone message from a twentysomething son during Nelson week that simply said, “Dad, I just called to say I love you.” O’Hair’s eyes opened wide.
“That’s what I miss,” he said.