COLUMBUS, Ohio – You know things are bad when all those warring swing thoughts in your head have merged into blaring dissonance, making it tough to single out one voice that actually might raise your game.
And Sean O’Hair had it bad.
“I was trying so many different things,” he said, “that I really didn’t know how to walk up to the ball and hit a golf shot. I had so many thoughts in my mind, I really didn’t know which one to pick.”
If you’re wondering why the four-time PGA TOUR winner has spent the past month auditioning for a new card in the Web.com Tour Finals, look no further.
At a time when a keen eye and strong voice might have fixed the flaws that had crept into O’Hair’s game – or cautioned him not to chase perfection in the first place – the 31-year-old pro wound up listening to everybody.
The good news is that O’Hair just might break out of his tailspin in time. Last week’s tie for 17th at the Nationwide Children’s Championship lifted him to No.22 on the Finals money list with $36,000 – not quite enough to say he’s home free with one stop left, but an encouraging position.
The four-event Finals concludes at next week’s Web.com Tour Championship, where the remaining 25 PGA TOUR cards for 2013-14 will be handed out once the last putt drops on the Dye’s Valley course at TPC Sawgrass.
“Obviously I don’t want to be here,” O’Hair said between rounds at Ohio State’s Scarlet course. “But it is what it is and you’ve just kind of got to take it for what it is and want to be here. … I really wanted to get my mindset right [that] I need to be ready to play.”
The Finals bring together the top 75 players on the Web.com Tour money list with the top 75 who finished outside the FedExCup Playoffs. For O’Hair and others who had been PGA TOUR mainstays, getting bumped to the Finals can be a little shock to the system.
Since joining the PGA TOUR in 2005, O’Hair never had failed to finish outside the top 100 in either FedExCup points or earnings. He was fifth in the 2009 FedExCup race, the same year he won at Quail Hollow. He was RBC Canadian Open champion two years ago.
Even when his performance slipped a bit in 2012, he had reason to stay positive. He missed only four cuts, and a victory with Kenny Perry at the Franklin Templeton Shootout figured to give him some momentum into 2013.
Instead, he missed his first three cuts. Though he notched a pair of top-20 finishes in his first nine starts, his chart also included two withdrawals and four rounds of 76 or higher. One was an 83 at the Northern Trust Open, prompting one of those WDs.
“I started tinkering and started losing confidence in myself,” he said. “I tried a lot of different stuff this year, yet felt like I was getting worse and worse and worse.”
The spiral was only beginning. He played six consecutive events in April and May, then a five-week run from mid-June to mid-July.
“I didn’t manage my schedule very well,” he said. “My recipe has been three events [maximum in a row], and only spend two weeks away from my family. And I had a couple of times where I was spending six, seven weeks away from my kids.”
O’Hair survived just one cut in eight starts that followed THE PLAYERS Championship. When he withdrew after an opening 75 in Mississippi, he headed for home lost and confused.
“It’s been hard; a lot of soul-searching this year,” he said.
In times past, O’Hair always had someone to lean on for guidance. First it was his father, Marc, though his overbearing ways eventually led to an estrangement. Instructor Sean Foley and caddie Paul Tesori later provided wise counsel, but by mid-2011 he had cut ties with both.
In the never-ending quest for improvement, O’Hair really didn’t have a person to turn to. So he turned to lots of people.
“Each week it’s a different thing,” he said wearily. “I’m trying to find the Holy Grail of the golf swing, and there’s no such thing.”
It took friends back home near Philadelphia to finally put him on the right track: Get rid of the mental clutter. Simplify.
A lesson with Foley helped get O’Hair pointed in the right direction again. He’s now working with John Dunigan, a friend who taught O’Hair’s wife, Jackie, during her junior days.
“I’ve had to almost kind of build from scratch again,” O’Hair said. “Get rid of all the trash in my mind and stop playing ‘golf swing’ out there. Play golf, hit golf shots, keeping it simple.
“You look at guys like Tiger [Woods] and Phil [Mickelson]. They can win a golf tournament where they’re hitting it all over the place. But they’re missing in the proper spots; they get up-and-down when they need to. They make the crucial shots when they need to. That’s golf. That’s how it’s played.”
The reconstruction remains a work in progress, but the Web.com Tour Finals also gave O’Hair a chance to start on even terms again. He tied for 11th at the Hotel Fitness Championship, then missed the Chiquita Classic cut before heading to Columbus.
“I think it really just comes down to having a couple of things that work well for you and that you feel you can do day-in, day-out,” he said.
The approach might get him back on the PGA TOUR sooner rather than later.
“I feel like for a while now I’ve gotten a little bit better as each week’s gone on,” O’Hair said. “I think if I can just build on that each week and feel a little more comfortable out there and get a little bit more confidence back – you know, I’ll be happy with the result.”