PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
O’Meara keeping it pressure-free in title defense at 63
February 27, 2020
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- February 27, 2020
- Mark O’Meara is looking to defend his PGA TOUR Champions Cologuard Classic title. (PGA TOUR Champions)
Mark O’Meara, 63, was on a snowmobile on Monday in Park City, Utah, riding the backcountry with a couple of buddies not really thinking about much except getting from Point A to Point B without hitting a tree.
By Wednesday, he was in Tucson, Arizona, getting ready to defend his PGA TOUR Champions Cologuard Classic title.
He also would like to avoid hitting any trees this weekend in his professional endeavor. O’Meara shocked a very good field last year in the desert and perhaps even himself by rolling to a four-stroke triumph. He started nearly perfectly; after narrowly missing birdie on his first hole he ran off eight consecutive birdies.
It was the Hall of Famer’s first victory on PGA TOUR Champions in eight years, four months and 21 days, the second-longest gap in Champions history. He also became, at 62, the fourth-oldest player to win.
“Last year was such an interesting start,” O’Meara said Thursday. “To run it over the edge for birdie on the first hole and then birdie eight in a row, two through nine, I don't think anybody expects that, including myself.
“So it gave me a good sense of, you know, that my game wasn't that far off. And to come through in the clutch with the pressure on and the lead on Sunday and shoot 7 under par, you know, I mean, I understand this game is very difficult because I've been doing this a long time, so I never take anything for granted. But hopefully this week I can reflect on some of the fond memories that happened last year.”
O’Meara was able to draw on his own history of how to close a tournament. The man has won across the world and across the decades – 16 times on the PGA TOUR, including two majors and eight times worldwide.
“When I was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2015, that was a tremendous honor,” O’Meara said. “I always felt like I was borderline whether I deserved to be in the World Golf Hall of Fame or not, but because I won more globally around the world as a young American player, winning the U.S. Amateur, playing five Ryder Cup teams, two Presidents Cup teams and winning in Australia, winning twice in Japan, winning five or six times in Europe besides the 16 wins in America and winning in Argentina, too. I think because I was more of a global player at a young age when most Americans weren't going around the world, I think that that -- I take a lot of pride in that. Besides winning in America, winning outside my own country is something I put high on my list.”
O’Meara has gotten off to a pretty good start in 2020. He finished T19 at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai and T13 at the Morocco Champions before an illness forced him to withdraw after the first round of the Chubb Classic.
O’Meara said he took ill shortly after returning from Marrakesh and that he probably never should have tried to play at the Chubb. But he went home and got plenty of rest. Then he was able to get in some “riding the sled” before returning to the Champions Tour.
“The great thing about where I am in my life now is like, look, I want to play well for myself and certainly my pride, but I don't let it beat me up as much as back in the olden days,” O’Meara said. “So lowering my expectations has been greater, and when I'm riding my snowmobile or I'm flyfishing in a river, I'm not thinking about my golf swing or why I hit it over the trees on one hole. I think I've become a better player. I play better when I have time off, when I go and distract and get away from the game. It doesn't take me very long to get in the groove of things.
“When I'm riding up there in the backcountry I'm trying to not obviously slam into a tree or hit a stump or start an avalanche. But I have all the gear on, so if I get stuck up there, I can survive for a few days. It's a little bit extreme for what most people probably think, but I love it. I have a lot of fun.”
Nothing is more fun than winning, but O’Meara sounded wistful about his chances. Then again, he probably wouldn’t have bet on himself last year, either.
“It's great to be back,” O’Meara said. “We've got a great sponsor in Cologuard. They've made this tournament one of our premier events, and it shows because if you look at our field this year here, it's special. You've got a lot of Hall of Fame members playing, and we've got a lot of these young rookies -- Ernie Els and some of these other guys that are very talented players. It's going to be tough to defend, but I hope to have a good week and I’m excited to get started.”