World Golf Hall of Fame member Mark O'Meara remembers the good fortune of avoiding a lost ball penalty on the 6th hole during his Saturday round at Royal Birkdale Golf Club en route to winning the 1998 Open Championship, "FORE the Good of the Game."
Unlike most professional golfers, Mark O’Meara’s path to golf was a solitary journey. Though he was born in North Carolina, by the time he was 13 he had lived in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Texas, California and Illinois before his family finally settled in Mission Viejo, California.
Struggling to make friends and mesh into his new neighborhood, O’Meara borrowed his mother’s golf clubs and walked to nearby Mission Viejo Country Club. As O’Meara recalls, golf became a respite, and he enjoyed the solitude of playing by himself.
“Golf became my friend,” said O’Meara. “Those days on the golf course by myself is when I fell in love with the game.”
He found that he had a talent for golf and, after he received a used set of clubs for Christmas, he began to get serious about his game. He lettered on his high school golf team and received a scholarship to play golf for Long Beach State University, where he was an All-American player.
To top off his college career, O’Meara won the California State Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach along with the Mexican Amateur before defeating the defending champion John Cook at the 1979 U.S. Amateur Championship at Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland, Ohio.
That victory signaled the end of a sterling amateur career. O’Meara joined the professional ranks in 1980.
“Golf became my friend. Those days on the golf course by myself is when I fell in love with the game.”
Entering the 1984 Greater Milwaukee Open at the Tuckaway Golf Club in Franklin, Wisconsin, O’Meara was feeling some pressure. Despite having his most successful season with 16 top-10 finishes – five as runner-up – he was still looking for that maiden victory on the PGA TOUR and was trying to find the money to buy his first house.
While staying with his parents in Milwaukee, his dad told him, “Go for it! Buy the house and figure out how to pay for it.” For O’Meara, that meant he needed to win.
Shooting sub-70 scores in all four rounds, O’Meara would win by five strokes over his nearest competitor, fellow Hall of Fame member Tom Watson, and claim his first PGA TOUR title.
He finished the year second on the money list behind Tom Watson and managed to pay for that house.
The victory at the Greater Milwaukee Open was the start of a winning career that would take O’Meara around the world. The winner of 14 international titles, O’Meara was not just a champion in the United States; he has won tournaments in Europe, Japan, Australia and South America as well.
In addition to the 1998 Open Championship victory at Royal Birkdale, O’Meara has taken titles in Europe at the 1997 Trophée Lancôme, the 1998 Cisco World Match Play Championship and, in 2004, the Dubai Desert Classic, which was played in the Middle East.
In Japan, O’Meara won both the 1985 Fuji Sankei Classic and the 1992 Tokai Classic, while in South America he claimed the title at the 1994 Argentine Open. O’Meara traveled down under in 1986 to take the crown from fellow Hall of Fame member David Graham at the Australian Masters Championship at the Huntingdale Golf Club in Victoria, Australia.
Back on American shores, O’Meara enjoyed great success and at no better venue than Pebble Beach. In the span of 13 years, he amassed an amazing five Crosby/AT&T National Pro-Am victories (tied with Phil Mickelson for most in history) and had eight top-10 and 12 top-25 finishes. He would win back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.
The 1990 victory was his most memorable victory, as his playing partner for the final round was his father, Bob O’Meara.
However, the year 1998 would be the most historic season of his career, when he captured his two Major Championship victories at the Masters and the Open Championship. As expected, O’Meara would be named PGA TOUR Player of the Year.
The final round of the Masters was a nail-biting finish. Three players, including O’Meara, were vying for the title. David Duval had come from behind to claim a clubhouse lead by two strokes over O’Meara and fellow Hall of Fame member Fred Couples. Couples caught up to Duval on the 16th hole, while O’Meara was one shot back.
On the 17th tee box O’Meara said to his caddie, Jerry Higginbotham, “Jerry, let’s change balls; I’m going to birdie the last two holes.” He birdied the 17th and when he rolled his birdie putt in for the victory on the 18th hole, he says he felt shock and disbelief – “I just won the Masters.”
Coming off of his Masters victory, O’Meara came to the Open at Royal Birkdale with a new-found confidence. He had played this course before in 1991, finishing third. Playing solid golf against stiff competition from his friend Tiger Woods and others, O’Meara tied the lead on the 18th hole to force a playoff with fellow American Brian Watts. He birdied the first playoff hole and never looked back.
Mark O’Meara had claimed his second Major Championship of the year and the final victory in his 34-year PGA TOUR career. These Majors would take him to a new level of stardom and ultimately qualifying him for enshrinement into the World Golf Hall of Fame.