Tour Champ Not Just for Big Names
At times, it can be staggering.
``Last year, I was getting ready for the second stage of Q-school,'' O'Hair said Wednesday at the season-ending Tour Championship, the PGA Tour's version of an All-Star event for only the top 30 players on the money list.
This year's tournament features a half-dozen players like O'Hair, who essentially were nobodies a year ago and now take their place among the elite at East Lake, with $1.17 million to the winner and $92,000 for last place.
``I've gone from the lowest level in golf to the highest level in one year,'' O'Hair said. ``That's pretty cool.''
He's not alone.
For every Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, there is someone like Billy Mayfair, a former winner of the Tour Championship whose game fell into disarray. It got so bad last year that Mayfair finished 140th on the money list and had to use a one-time exemption from the career money list to regain his card.
For every Retief Goosen and Davis Love III there is Brandt Jobe, who missed the last eight months of the season last year with a left wrist injury. Jobe started out this season on a major medical extension, meaning he had 20 tournaments to get his game in order.
Olin Browne missed the cut in the Chrysler Championship last year to fall on the wrong side of the bubble, from No. 125 on the money list to another year of begging for sponsors' exemptions.
Lucas Glover was headed back to Q-school for the fourth time at the end season.
The Tour Championship indeed is an All-Star game, but the stars are redefined. It's not who draws the biggest galleries or has the lucrative contracts. It's not former major champions.
This week is for the guys who played the best, even if some of them need an introduction.
O'Hair is becoming a known quantity, and not just for his troubled past with a father who treated him like a commodity, making him run a mile for every bogey and driving him to turn pro at age 16.
He finished second in the Byron Nelson Championship, won the John Deere Classic and comes into East Lake at No. 16 on the money list with nearly $2.3 million. O'Hair, 23, is a lock to win PGA Tour rookie of the year.
And to think of where he was a year ago.
``I had to birdie the last three holes to get into the final stage of Q-school,'' he said. ``If I don't do that, I'm not here. It just goes to show how quickly life can change.''
Browne might be the most unlikely story of all. He is the definition of a journeyman, a 46-year-old who has been grinding away at a game he loves for the last 20 years. Browne had not won since the 1999 Colonial, and spent the last two years outside the top 125 on the money list, a sure sign that his best golf was behind him.
He refused to accept that.
Browne went to Houston swing coach Jim Hardy nearly two years ago and saw steady progress. He finally broke through at the Deutsche Bank Championship with a one-shot victory, and a runner-up finish at the Texas Open. He had never been higher than 45th on the money list, but this year checks in at No. 24.
``Top 30 is something you'd like to do, but I hadn't done anything to feel confidence enough that top 30 was attainable,'' Browne said. ``It's been a lot of fun. This is like a pat on the back for the guys have played great.''
Mayfair played more solidly than great, and his only regret is not having won this year.
Not that he is disappointed in his season, a remarkable turnaround for the former U.S. Amateur champion. Mayfair was so determined to play better than he started his season in Hawaii, his only goal to finish in the top 125. Then came his runner-up finish in the Colonial, fourth place at the Western Open and four other top 10s.
``If you play good, everything takes care of itself,'' he said.
Jobe was thinking the same thing when he sat down for breakfast Wednesday morning at East Lake, and later when he walked through a tunnel beneath the bleachers and onto the practice range. He walked past Goosen. Down the way was Love and Justin Leonard, players who make regular appearances at this tournament.
``I was reflecting about that, where we were when we started the year and where we are now,'' he said. ``I couldn't dream this would happen after the last two years. This is the ultimate bonus.''
It might seem like another Tour Championship for Woods, who has never missed one since he turned pro at age 20 in 1996 and qualified in just seven tournaments. He needs to win to become the first $11 million man in golf.
Phil Mickelson, No. 3 on the money list, decided to stay home this year with his kids.
Nine players are at the Tour Championship for the first time, but they have one thing in common with everyone else.
``Everyone has worked their tails off,'' O'Hair said. ``And that's why they're here.''
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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School
One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.
McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.
It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.
McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).
Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).
Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.
Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award
The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.
The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.
Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.
The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.
Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4
Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.
Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.
Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.
The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout
It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.
Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.
Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.
"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."
Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.
Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.