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FIRST-PERSON: Rising above a father’s mistakes


JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Marc O’Hair knew how to build a golfing champion. He pushed his son Sean, a teenage golfing prodigy, like a drill sergeant.

Though his methods were tough, they obviously worked. Last weekend, Sean, now 23, won his first tournament on the PGA Tour at the John Deere Classic — and qualified for this weekend’s British Open in the process. Other victories are sure to follow for the young golfer.

But while Marc O’Hair may have succeeded in creating a great golfer, he didn’t know anything about how to build a relationship with his son. He and Sean haven’t spoken in almost three years, and a resolution seems unlikely anytime soon.

Marc’s methods were harsh and cruel to his teenage son. He made Sean get up at 5 a.m. every morning to exercise, and the boy was on the golf course every day for nine hours.

When Sean would bogey a hole, his dad made him run a mile. Marc often berated him publicly. Sometimes he would slap Sean. Through it all, Marc treated Sean more like a commodity than a son.

In fact, Marc made Sean sign two contracts with him, giving the dad 10 percent of Sean’s lifetime earnings.

“We have never had a father-son relationship,” Sean said in a Golf World magazine story. “It has always been the investor and the investment. That’s a tough deal when it comes to family. I basically felt like I was thrown to the wolves.”

Marc thinks his actions were necessary because he didn’t want Sean to be “a loser.” For him, the end obviously justified the means.

“What am I supposed to do — say, ‘Oh, Seany boy, you don’t have to get up early today?’ The military, they know how to build a champion,” Marc told The Orlando Sentinel in December. “Somebody who slacks off, that’s a loser. The typical high school kid is hanging out at the mall. That’s a loser.”

A break between the two came in 2002. Sean had tolerated enough abuse from his father, and he had fallen in love with Jackie Lucas. They were married in 2002, and Marc attended his son’s wedding. He and Sean haven’t spoken since.

Jesus said, “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul?” Marc O’Hair would be a good one to answer that question, because he sacrificed a relationship with his son for riches and golfing glory. I wonder what he’d rather have now.

In a way, the story has a happy ending. Sean and Jackie have a strong relationship, and in February their daughter Molly was born. Sean also found in his in-laws the kind of bond he never had with his dad.

And his approach to the game is healthy, even with all the baggage that came courtesy of a deranged father. Listen to Sean talk about golf, and it’s apparent the son has surpassed the father in maturity.

“I’m going to be a happy person if I’m not playing well, and that’s the key,” he said in an AP story. “It used to be where if I didn’t play well, I was an unhappy person. I don’t think your golf game depicts who you are as a person.”
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Tim Ellsworth is a regular columnist for BPSports, online at www.bpsports.net. His website, www.timellsworth.com, provides additional commentary on sports, religion, culture and politics.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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