IRVING, Texas (AP) — Sean O’Hair wants to be known for his game, not how he was pushed into the professional ranks while still in high school by an overbearing father.
With the way O’Hair is playing these days, his past is becoming less of the story, though it’s no less disturbing.
O’Hair shot a season-best 5-under 65 on Thursday in the EDS Byron Nelson Championship to take a one-stroke lead over defending champion Brett Wetterich and Anders Hansen after the tournament’s first round without its namesake.
“You don’t want to be known for other stuff,” the 24-year-old O’Hair said. “My life is in a great spot. I’ve got two beautiful kids I love to death and I’ve got a beautiful wife who does nothing but support me. … I’m very fortunate to be in the situation that I’m in.”
That wasn’t always the case for O’Hair, who was pushed relentlessly by his father to be a star. He used to have to run a mile for every bogey and turned pro at age 17, a year before he finished high school.
Wetterich’s 66 included an eagle 3 on the 554-yard 16th hole when he hit his approach within 7 feet of the pin. His 20-foot birdie attempt for a share of the lead at the closing 440-yard hole at the TPC Four Seasons course slid just left of the cup.
One of the things Wetterich treasured about his only PGA Tour victory was the personal congratulation he got from Nelson at the 18th green after the final round. Wetterich was the last winner to have that privilege.
Nelson, the champion golfer known as “Lord Byron” and in 1968 the first to have a PGA Tour event named after him, died Sept. 26. He was 94.
“It is a little sad to not see Byron there. I really miss him,” Phil Mickelson said after his round of 69. “But I don’t think he’s very far away from us. We still have all the great memories he’s provided.”
Luke Donald, with his ninth consecutive Nelson round in the 60s, and Scott Verplank were among five players tied for fourth at 67. Another dozen players posted 68s.
When O’Hair was the Nelson runner-up to Ted Purdy as a PGA Tour rookie two years ago, O’Hair’s story became well-publicized. But by then, he had already severed ties with his father.
“I kind of had my life in order. … Once the media kind of got involved in that situation, it made it a little bit more difficult for me,” O’Hair said. “That stuff is long gone, and it’s been long gone for a long time.”
O’Hair said he now talks to his father “once in a while.” While he politely described their relationship as a “good situation,” he didn’t elaborate.
Coming off four consecutive top-15 finishes, O’Hair got off to a good start with birdies on the opening two holes at Cottonwood Valley, the easier of the two courses used for the Nelson’s first two rounds. He finished with seven birdies and two bogeys, the last on the par-3 17th after “the one bad swing of the day” left his tee shot in the bunker.
Before his last four tournaments, O’Hair started the season missing five of six cuts and tied for 56th at the Nissan Open.
“I went back to an old instructor of mine, and things are starting to click,” O’Hair said. “Golf is just about confidence, and it’s just going out there with the feeling I’m going to play well, and that just wasn’t the case at the beginning of the season.”
It also helped to be back at Nelson. The only place O’Hair has finished better was at the 2005 John Deere Classic in Illinois.
Mickelson, No. 4 in the world ranking and highest-ranked player in the field, was 4 under in his first round since the Masters before his only three bogeys came on the last four holes. Afterward, he didn’t want to discuss the swing changes he’s been working on with new instructor Butch Harmon.
“I’m pleased so far, yeah,” Mickelson said. “I hit the ball well, gave a few shots back in the end.”
Mickelson, No. 7 Vijay Singh and No. 11 Donald are the only three of the top 13 players in the world playing this week. Mickelson and Singh, who also had an opening 69, are past Nelson champions.
Rod Pampling and Ken Duke, the 2006 Nationwide Tour champion coming off a PGA Tour-best runner-up finish last weekend at New Orleans, were in the group at 68. Both missed chances to do better.
Pampling had birdies on three of his first five holes at the TPC, including a 60-foot chip-in at the 490-yard No. 3. But he had an erratic back nine with three consecutive birdies sandwiched by four bogeys, missing the green on the final two holes.
Duke hit his drive at TPC’s No. 14 out of bounds and three-putted at the 17th.
Divots: Hansen had a bogey-free round. … Hank Kuehne shot a 74 in his first PGA Tour round since The Players Championship in March 2006 before he had surgery on his left hip. His gallery included tennis standout Venus Williams, who he is reportedly dating. They rode on a golf cart together back to the clubhouse after his round. … Friday’s rounds will be the last for the Nelson at Cottonwood Valley, which has been used every year since 1994. A multimillion dollar redesign of the TPC course begins May 10.