After identity crisis, O'Hair gets fresh start

By Doug FergusonOctober 8, 2013, 11:22 pm

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – The greeting from Frys.com Open president Duke Butler is meant as a joke, even though it has some truth to it.

''Happy New Year,'' he tells players when they arrive at CordeValle Golf Club. That's still 85 days away – except on the PGA Tour calendar. For the first time, it goes to a wraparound 2013-14 season that begins Thursday.

Sean O'Hair is most likely to take him at his word. Not only is it a new year, it feels like a new start.

Just over a week ago, O'Hair completed one of the most gratifying months of his career with his best result of the season. It was only a tie for eighth. And it was on the Web.com Tour. But it meant he could keep his job.

''Got it done,'' he said. ''Got my card back.''

The first step forward was to take what felt like 100 steps back. Just four years removed from beating Ernie Els in singles at the Presidents Cup, O'Hair went through such a miserable year that he wasn't sure he wanted to keep playing golf.

He lost confidence in his swing. He suffered what he called an identity crisis on the golf course.

''I forgot myself as a player, how I swung and how I played,'' O'Hair said. ''And then taking that on the golf course, I almost forgot how to act and how to think. I really just got to a point where I just kind of was blank out there and lost my fight. Anything you could possibly do wrong, I did wrong this year. I just had to take a step back and had to first ask myself, 'Do I really want to do this anymore?'''

Burnout at age 32 would be understandable.

O'Hair was a product of an overzealous father who was caught up in the arrival of Tiger Woods a generation ago. He groomed the boy to be a golfer and made him run a mile for every bogey. O'Hair eventually sought his own way.

With a new wife, and his father-in-law as his caddie and calming influence, O'Hair won the John Deere Classic in 2005 and reached the Tour Championship as a rookie. He won three more times, including the Quail Hollow Championship just two months after losing a five-shot lead to Woods.

Woods used to wonder if O'Hair's regimented upbringing made his mind tougher or his heart too tender.

O'Hair was never tested more than he was this year.

''Do I really want to do this anymore?''

''I don't want to be mediocre,'' O'Hair said. ''I still think I've got my best golf ahead of me. That's kind of what answered that question for me. I don't want to just hang around and be one of these struggling journeymen. I did that early in my career, and I don't want to do that again.''

He began working with Washington psychologist Julie Elion this summer. For the Web.com Tour Finals, the four tournaments he played to earn one of 25 cards, he put father-in-law Steve Lucas back on the bag. At home outside Philadelphia, he began working on his putting with the pro at White Manor, John Dunigan, who used to teach O'Hair's wife before she went to Florida Atlantic.

It was humbling to return to the Web.com Tour, but O'Hair saw it as the only way back.

''A gut shot,'' he said. ''It was like, 'Do I really want to do this?' There were a lot of tears this year. It was hard. It was hard on my wife. It was hard on me.''

O'Hair wasn't the only player who had to start over.

Ryo Ishikawa, who played on the previous two Presidents Cup team and began racking up wins on the Japan Golf Tour when he was 15, for years had it easy. He received three special invitations to the Masters. He received rock-star status and could get whatever sponsor exemption he wanted. But he failed to keep his PGA Tour card. So as contemporary Hideki Matsuyama was getting ready for the Presidents Cup, Ishikawa was at Web.com Tour events in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina.

He has his card again. He earned it.

So did Heath Slocum, who just four years ago made a 20-foot par putt to win The Barclays over Woods, Els, Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington.

''In a 12-year career, you can take a lot for granted,'' Slocum said.

All of them are at the Frys.com Open, wanting to get a head start on what feels like a second chance. It doesn't figure to be easy. Jack Nicklaus said last week, ''We've got more good young players than we've ever had before.''

O'Hair is 31, the father of four. His world ranking is No. 301. He has a long way to go, and the Frys.com Open is only a start.

But at least it's a start.

''I was in this situation and could either say, 'I should be here' or 'I should be there' and kind of sulk about it,'' O'Hair said. ''But instead I thought, 'You know what? I'm here. It is what it is. And I need to make the best of it and I need to humble myself to where I'm just any Joe Blow. I need to earn my spot again. I was glad I did that.''

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.