If you missed the final round of the 2015 Valspar Championship at the Innisbrook resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, you missed a great, 3-way playoff between the eventual winner, Jordan Spieth who made a 12-footer to get in, superconfident Patrick Reed and 32-year-old comeback story, Sean O’Hair .
All of them played great to get into the playoff and as always, each with a chance to have won it outright had this or that putt gone in.
In the playoff itself, each of them played hardscrabble golf making impressive up and downs to save par…until the third hole, 17. Spieth, playing last to make a winning birdie, made it. It was a big-breaking right to left putt that got to the hole and improbably disappeared for the win.
Spieth is a great story: no status, to sponsor exemptions, to temporary member to accept unlimited exemptions, to winner, to Ryder Cupper to Rookie of the Year. It was a year for the ages full of glitter and glamour.
But sometimes the tougher stories can be just as compelling as in the case of O’Hair. He lost his card in 2013 winning only $268,614, and became a reclamation project working hard on his game to get back to his previous form as a four-time winner on Tour. It began by earning his card back by playing well down on the Web.com Tour. And then this P2 performance this week.
It’s not always about winning, though to be quite honest with you. You know, anybody — that’s kind of what I guess the two guys that I played with in the playoff, they haven’t really experienced yet.
You know, this is my 11th year out here and, you know, I have 15th or 16th year being a professional golfer. You have your good years and bad years. The thing that you realize is that anybody teeing up come Thursday can win the golf tournament on the PGA Tour. You see it every week.
Padraig Harrington is a great example. He hasn’t been playing very well for quite sometime and his results going into the [Honda Classic] weren’t that extraordinary and he was able to get it done.
And, you know, to me it’s more about just playing well, you know, coming in and playing well on a difficult golf course and being able to deal with your emotions, deal with your nerves, deal with, you know, uncomfortable shots and I really was pleased with how I handled myself this week.
And on the comeback trail, you look for any glimmer of hope. In this case, his patient, hard work on his game paid off. He found that most of his problems were with his mind, not his swing:
This is my 10th event [this year]. I’ve made 9 out of 10 cuts for this season and I’ve been kind of seeing some progress for awhile now. You know, lot of my finishes aren’t that impressive but I feel like I’ve kind of been getting into my own way, whether it be losing focus or kind of what I just talked about earlier, about dealing with your nerves, getting over a shot that you’re not comfortable and you don’t quite pull the shot off, double-cross a shot or something like that you didn’t trust it, whatever it is.
You know, I’ve been playing well to be — I feel like I should have at this point have about four Top-10s if not better. That’s how well I’ve been playing.
But like I said, just been getting into my own way and so I did have some confidence coming into this week and I really was happy with where my mind was and, you know, where my body is and how I was hitting the golf ball.
So, just move forward and take this on to next week.
And then he said something that shocked me. It’s hard to know if he was speaking figuratively or literally, but when asked if this finish validated that he had been working on the right stuff, he said he had only been home for five days this year:
Just feels good to — I’ve been home for five days this year and I mean I’ve been working my tail off and, you know, losing your card the last two years have not been something that I’ve been proud of and it’s been very stressful and, you know, that’s a big reason why my family and I are moving down to Florida, just because I can’t be the golfer I want to be and be the husband and father I want to be and be up North [he lives in Pennsylvania].
So, you know I told my wife this year, I really I’m going to make golf No. 1, you got to be for that and I’m not going to feel guilty about doing it.
She backed me up and so really been working my butt off and it’s just really nice to see some results because like I said, it’s been disappointing playing as well as I have and really not having very good finishes this season.
And finally, with all of his earnest hard work he may have found his secret ingredient to having it all hang together. And he is not the first player to have found it: it’s simply having fun…as a way to relaxation…as a way to freedom:
I had a lot more fun this year than I did in ’08 [when he won Valspar the first time]. ’08, I don’t really remember, it was kind of a blur with the crowd. I felt like this week I enjoyed myself more on the golf course.
I embraced the challenge, you know, and normally I would try and put myself in a cocoon and not really pay attention to anybody, you know, somebody said good shot or whatever I wouldn’t hear them or wouldn’t pay attention to them.
This week I just said I’m just going to have fun and enjoy being out there and I definitely tend to play better when I’m relaxed. That was kind of my game plan this week is just go out there, go out there relaxed and have fun. Playing myself into contention just made it that much more enjoyable.
Let’s hope he can keep smiling.