West Chester's Sean O'Hair hoping to find passport to success at British Open

Posted: July 15, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - The first time Sean O'Hair came to the Old Course for an Open Championship, he almost didn't.

That was 5 years ago, when he got his first PGA Tour victory at the John Deere Classic, which earned him a spot in the oldest major that was teeing off 4 days later. There was only one problem: He didn't have a passport.

When his story became public, he got some of the right help from some of the right people and was able to make it over with his father-in-law, Steve Lucas, who at the time was also doubling as his caddie. He got in a practice round or so, caught up on his sleep and quickly learned that even things like his favorite soda could taste a little different here. Then, he went out and tied for 15th in his first major.

It was an experience that will remain with him forever.

Now, West Chester's best-known golfer would like to create even more indelible keepsakes.

This time, he's traveling with his wife Jackie, who's expecting the couple's fourth child in January, and her parents. The young ones are being cared for back home. The expectant parents have rented a house about 10 minutes away from the first tee.

It's a long way from flying standby.

"This is a special place, and it's obviously been special for me," said O'Hair, who reluctantly pulled out of the John Deere last week to give the bulging disk in his back some much-needed down time. "But it is a little different feeling than when I was here in '05. People aren't talking about me as much. It seemed like everyone was asking me, 'Hey, aren't you the guy without the passport?' That was kind of neat. Obviously, it's a whole other week, another opportunity to try and do well here. I've been playing nicely, so I'm hoping it's a good one for us."

Jackie caddied for him here at the 2007 Dunhill Cup, which is held in October. While the weather yesterday felt like autumn, that's about the only common denominator. Dunhill was about having fun. While there's room for quality bonding time, this week is a little more serious.

"Any time you go back to a place where you're comfortable, you're going to feel good about it," O'Hair said. "Whether it's a major or not. Just seeing it again makes you feel better."

This is his 19th major. He tied for 12th last month at Pebble Beach, his best finish in four U.S. Opens. His lone top 10 was a tie for 10th at the 2009 Masters. He's never missed the cut in the British, but hasn't done better than 65th in his last three.

He's been 11th or 12th in four of his last five tournaments, including the AT&T National at Aronimink, a club he belongs to, 2 weeks back. His best this year was a tie for fourth, in the season-opening event in January.

Like Tiger Woods, putting has been his primary nemesis.

"We've been pretty patient," O'Hair said. "At some point, some have to fall. We're spending a lot of time on it. It's frustrating because I'm hitting it well."

Like Tiger, he's considering a new putter. "We've been messing around with one that's a little heavier," he explained. "If the greens are slower, it'll allow me to be more aggressive."

He celebrated his 28th birthday on Sunday, so there should be plenty more majors in his future. But there was a time when he was considered perhaps the top young American player. And he may still be. But every time you look around, more and more candidates for that title seem to crowd the landscape. The one way to separate yourself from the pack is to win one of the four tourneys that truly define his chosen profession.

Nobody understands that better than him.

"The back's still a little sore, but there's really nothing I can do about it," O'Hair said. "It's the Open at St. Andrews. If you can play, you play. I hated to miss last week, because that means so much to me, but I didn't really have much choice . . .

"Come Sunday, something's going to happen for somebody, and they're going to experience one of the greatest things in all of sport. And every guy who's here thinks it can happen to them. I'm no different. So let's go out and see. You only get so many chances to play in the Open here."

At least once you slip past the customs officials. *