The Tiger Formula

Grooming The Next Golf Champion

Even though he's been off his game lately, Tiger Woods has done a lot for golf -- not the least of which is bring mounds of money to the sport.

Tournament purses have more than doubled, and sponsors are paying millions to find that next fresh face.

Kids who want to strike it rich are using what might be called the Tiger Formula: start young, work hard and give up a lot, sometimes even college.

Most will never make it, but as Correspondent Jim Stewart reported a few years ago, it can be a full-time, family venture.
"I look at Sean as my son. I look at him as a business also. He likes that," says Marc O'Hair, who urged his son, Sean, to drop out of high school to pursue his dream of being a professional golfer.

Marc O'Hair sold his share of the family company, and spent the family savings in a high-stakes gamble that someday his son will make it.

The payoff could be in the millions in prize money and sponsorships on the PGA Tour. Marc O'Hair believes some of it is within reach, but Sean admits that it's a big burden to carry.

"I'm not gonna lie to you. It's a lot of pressure. But if you wanna be great, there's a lot of sacrifices you have to make," says Sean.

This may sound like simple, youthful ambition, but it's rooted in a new reality of professional golf. It goes like this: Even if you're young, hard work and fierce determination can win in this game and win big.

In search of that success, Marc O'Hair moved his family from Arizona when his son was 15 so Sean could attend school at the David Ledbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It's a boot camp for the best, where students like Paula Creamer are chasing Tiger.

"My main reason is to achieve my goal, my main goal in golf," says Creamer. "To be No. 1."

At Ledbetter, that calls for 16-hour days. Kids are up before dawn for conditioning. Then they're off to the course for an entire afternoon of golf, and there's schoolwork to prepare them for college. Sean spent more than a year there and was very good. By 16, he was the country's second-ranked junior amateur.

"I said, 'You know, Dad, I want to be a professional golfer,'" recalls Sean. "And we looked back and we said, 'Well, what's college going to do for us?' College golf is great. I mean, you can learn a lot in college golf. But was I going to go to college for an education? No."

That's when Sean decided to quit school and turn pro. He's earned a high school GED while on the road, traveling from golf course to golf course, entering what are called Monday qualifiers, where approximately 150 hopefuls compete for just a few slots in that week's televised pro tournament. Sean and his father are away from home for weeks at a time.
What is a typical day like?

Sean goes on a 20-minute run, and then he's off to the course before 7:30 a.m. His father will pick him up at 4 p.m. for an hour-and-a-half workout.

"It's tough," Sean admits. "But it's a whole routine now, where you gotta work out. You gotta get physical. You gotta get big, you gotta get strong."

Not only to win, but because that's what sponsors want, too. Teenagers are one of the biggest untapped demographics in golf, and who better to advertise to them than their peers?

Ask Matt Kuchar. After Tiger Woods quit Stanford University and turned pro, Kuchar was the next amateur world champion, and sponsors flocked to him, trying to convince him to do the same thing, quit school and endorse their products.

"Everybody promises the same thing, that you'll be the cover boy, basically," Kuchar says. "You know these companies want you and you're going to the main guy. You're going to be, basically, a spokesman for this, this, and this. And pretty much everybody says the same thing."

It could all add up to a million dollars pretty quickly. For example, Kuchar says one company might pay $50,000, just to have a teen on the tour wear a cap with its logo.

"These kids have got to be performers, first," says Marc O'Hair. "They've got to have a good smile. They've got to look good on camera. Look at those blue eyes, that blond hair. Look at that great smile. Now, if I could get somebody to give me a million bucks for him to wear their shirt, their pants, or whatever, we'd do it."

No one understands these new economics better than the International Management Group (IMG) and its agents who signed Ty Tryon, a high school junior-turned pro, and got him sponsorship deals worth more than $1 million, even before he entered his first PGA tournament.

But IMG does more than just negotiate for players. It also grooms them at the David Ledbetter Academy, a school owned and operated by IMG.

Ted Meekma, the academy's executive director, says the goal of the school, which charges $40,000 a year in tuition, is to help kids get a college golf scholarship. Only two or three of a class of 150 ever make it into the tour.
But if the academy does happen to train the next Tiger Woods, however, that would be OK, too.

"It gives us a chance to sign a particular client at the right time,"says Meekma. "That's a great byproduct. And do we have an advantage? Probably we do. ... It's smart business."

But business and a kid's best interests can often times collide. Take tennis and Jennifer Capriati. She signed with IMG and turned pro when she was 13. But after a strong start, her game suffered, and her personal life spun out of control.

It was a public relations nightmare. And John Feinstein, an author who has written about the PGA, says the executives of pro golf took notice."

I know for a fact that they talk in their policy board meetings on the PGA Tour about what's gone on in tennis," says Feinstein. "They don't want scores of high school kids dropping out and saying, 'I can make it on the PGA Tour.' They don't want that."

That hasn't happened in golf yet, but the PGA recently adopted a rule that prohibits anyone under 18 from becoming an offical money winner on the tour.

At the Ledbetter Academy, you can bet the Capriati experience and the lure of early money are on the minds of these kids. They say they are determined to finish college, but understand the temptation not to.

Matt Kuchar didn't give in to that temptation. He turned down big offers and stayed at Georgia Tech to earn his degree.

"Even if I became one of the best golfers on the PGA tour, had I turned pro earlier, and had I been in the top five, you know, living a dream out here, I knew I would look back at a point, and say, 'God, I wish I could be that college kid again,'" says Kuchar.

But Marc O'Hair calls that kind of thinking backwards: "If you wanna play golf for a living, why go to college? You know, you're only gonna get to play golf half of the day, the rest of it you gotta study, go to school. And then at night, you can't look at tapes, work out. You gotta go study."

Unfortunately, Kuchar's last two years of college golf were unexceptional, and after graduation, he went to work as an investment banker, unsure whether he would ever pick up the game again as a professional.

A lot of agents and instructors used him as a negative model: "Don't do what Matt Kuchar did. He walked away from that money."

"That was tough on me for a while, to hear that, 'You don't want to be like him,'" recalls Kuchar. "Here I was, I stay in school. I graduate. I get my degree. And yet, it's used as a negative."

But the kid who had been written off at 19 made his way onto the pro tour this year. And three days after Stewart interviewed him in 2002, he won the Honda Classic, taking home $630,000 and a coveted spot in the Masters Tournament.

"Very few guys win on tour at 23," says Feinstein. "Or ever. To win on tour at this age is an indication that he's going to be a very big moneymaker for very many years to come."

As for Sean O'Hair, he's earned only a few thousand dollars, a fraction of the nearly $2 million his family has invested in his game. The O'Hairs have logged more than a 100,000 miles on the road, and Sean has yet to qualify for a PGA Tour event. But they are nowhere close to giving up.

But is this a wise investment or a long shot? And to what extent is this a dream factory?

"I think it's definitely a dream factory. And I think school and college, I mean, they're all dream factories, to a point," says Meekma. "We're not encouraging false hope. We're trying to say, 'If you really want to go there, here's the path you've got to take.'"

"It's tough. We're giving it a shot," says Marc O'Hair of his son, Sean. "And it's the best shot. He'll tell his kids one day - you know - I made it, or I gave it my best shot."

Since 60 Minutes Wednesday first reported this story, one of the IMG kids we talked to went on to college and finished as the top-ranked amateur in this year's Masters.

And what about Sean O'Hair?

Just last weekend, Sean's dream finally started to come true. He played in the Sony Open in Hawaii. It was his first official PGA tour event.

However, his father wasn't there to see his debut. They haven't spoken in more than two years.
  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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