2005: Passport in hand, O’Hair heads to British

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Silvis, Ill.

After rookie Sean O’Hair won his first PGA Tour event July 10 he had a quick decision to make. Go to the British Open or not?

O’Hair shot a final-round 65 Sunday to win the John Deere Classic by one shot over Robert Damron. With it, he earned a spot in this week’s British Open at St. Andrews as the top finisher not otherwise exempt.

O’Hair had to do some quick scrambling.

“I have no passport,” O’Hair said during his news conference. “I just thought about that.”

But some calls were made, and O’Hair told The Royal & Ancient Golf Club about an hour later that he was coming.

Playing in the British will give O’Hair a chance to thank one of his idols, Jack Nicklaus. Since finishing second at the Byron Nelson Championship in May, O’Hair had been having problems with his swing. He worked on his own and asked other players, but still couldn’t find an answer.

So earlier this week, he went to a local bookstore and bought two of Nicklaus’ books, “Golf My Way,” and “My Golden Lessons.”

“I really like how he plays, and I was just looking through it and I got an idea,” said O’Hair, who turned 23 the day after his victory. “I tried it on the range before I went and played Thursday, and was hitting the ball great. I just hit the ball probably the best I’ve ever hit it. . . . I think today outdid the rest of the days, but every single day I hit the ball better than I ever have.”

O’Hair started Sunday’s play five strokes behind third-round leader J.L. Lewis, but quickly climbed into contention with three birdies on his first nine. He got to the top of the leaderboard with a 14-foot putt on No. 14, and his victory looked secure when he blasted out to 2 feet for another birdie on 17.

But after being so steady all day, O’Hair made things interesting.

“(On) 18, especially a guy in my situation who never won before, you’re definitely almost puking,” he said, laughing. “My hands were so sweaty, I was more concerned about keeping my hands dry than anything.”

He nearly put his second shot in the water, forcing him to scramble to make par. With his ball on the hazard line, O’Hair took a “baseball swing” with his 8-iron and chipped within 10 feet.

But with Hank Kuehne and Lewis still two groups behind him at 15 under, O’Hair had to

wait. If either made birdie on 18, it was going to a playoff.

Lewis folded first, putting his second shot in the water. Kuehne hit a monster drive, leaving him 94 yards to the hole. But he flew his approach 24 feet from the hole and left his birdie putt 2 feet short.

“Hank is the type of player that performs his best under pressure. Whenever you put something in front of Hank, he’s pretty much going to do it,” O’Hair said. “I was really sweating it out.”

O’Hair, who earned $720,000, finished at 16-under 268. Kuehne (68) and Damron (67) finished one stroke behind O’Hair, and Lewis (72), defending champion Mark Hensby (64) and Wes Short (66) were another shot back.

The early attention at TPC at Deere Run centered on 15-year-old Michelle Wie, who came within two shots of making the cut.

O’Hair was among the pros that had high praise for Wie.

“Well, in my opinion I think she’s a little bit better player than I am,” O’Hair said with a laugh. “I think I just got lucky this week.

“I don’t even think Tiger (Woods) would even come close to what she did this week. I think she should be proud of herself, and I look forward to seeing her out here more. I think she definitely deserves to be out here, and it’s just a matter of time before she makes a cut.”

On the weekend, the attention turned first to Lewis, a winner here in 1999 and runner-up in 2003, and finally to O’Hair.

His story has been well-documented this year – O’Hair grew up dealing with a demanding father, whom he doesn’t speak with. Today, O’Hair is enjoying life on Tour with his wife, Jaclyn, their 5-month-old daughter, Molly, and his in-laws, Steve and Cathy Lucas. His father-in-law is his caddie.

“That’s really the main thing why I think I’ve succeeded so quickly, is that I’m in such a great situation with my family,” O’Hair said. “I’m happy and I’ve got a great relationship with my father-in-law and mother-in-law, and my wife is my best friend.

“I had a tough situation when I was a kid. That’s the easiest way to put it. It just was not a happy situation, and there was a lot of pressure there. I just think now it’s the exact opposite. How can you not succeed?”

Kuehne, who also has had to deal with personal issues, was happy for the Tour’s newest winner.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to win,” Kuehne said. “But if I had to get beat by somebody, he’s a great guy and a solid kid and a very, very good player. So I’m very happy for him.”

O’Hair calls his wife his “guardian angel.” More importantly, he found a life with her family.

“That was the best thing that ever happened to me,” O’Hair said. “The great thing is, no matter what my situation is as far as careerwise, meeting them I would be happy as a clam.

“I’ve got everything I need.”

Including a PGA Tour victory.





– Staff and wire reports

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