SOMETIMES, you can't truly appreciate something - regardless of how awe-inspiring - until it's taken away. Sean O'Hair was never like that. He understand how much of a privilege it was to play in six Masters in a seven-year span beginning in 2006, when he was just 23.
Which means he also knows how tough it was not to have been there since.
"I didn't watch," said O'Hair, a Texan who lives in Chadds Ford with his wife Jackie and their four children. "I mean, I watched on the weekend, but I didn't watch it intently like everybody does. It's not that my heart wasn't in it, but you get frustrated because you know what (being at) Augusta means. So it's kind of like putting salt on the wound."
That isn't an issue this week, since O'Hair, the only PGA Tour player who calls the Philadelphia area home, is back in the field. He'll tee off at 8:55 Thursday morning, in the sixth group out, with 1988 Masters champion Sandy Lyle and reigning British Amateur champ Scott Gregory. Five years ago, the last time O'Hair was at Augusta National, he came in 32nd, which was his worst finish of the four years he made the cut. His 10th in 2009 was his second-highest finish in a major, behind a seventh at the 2010 British Open.
Back then, he was on the cusp of cracking the top 10 in the world rankings. In the interim, he's gone through his share of struggles. He withdrew from the 2012 PGA Championship because of an injury and otherwise played only in the PGA Championship in August 2015, tying for 72nd. He tied for second at The Barclays last August, which propelled him into the Tour Championship in September. That helped him get the invitation to this year's first major.
He's 57th on this season's money list (with nearly $740,000) and ranked 85th. Last week, he was 49th at the Houston Open. He's missed only one cut in the last eight months. He'll turn 35 in July. He still thinks he has a bunch of golf left in him. Still, he's hardly taking this opportunity for granted.
"Everybody's in the same boat in that regard," O'Hair said. "Once you know you're going to Augusta, I think it brings a smile to your face. My main goal is to get back into the top 50 and get in all the events. But the Masters just separates itself.
"I want to enjoy every part of the experience. You know, looking around and soaking it in. Obviously, I'd love to play well. But you never know when you're going to come back. The PGA is a major, but it changes every year. The U.S. Open is great, but I can go down the street when I'm off and play Merion and get a feel for what a U.S. Open is like. You can't just go to Augusta anytime you want. It can't be replicated.
"I've never been like, 'Oh my God, it's Magnolia Lane.' It's more when you get past the clubhouse and see what it is. It's almost like heaven's gates are just kind of opening. You sense you're on sacred ground."
His family is with him in a rented house. The traveling party includes Jackie's parents, who live close to them (father-in-law Steve once caddied for him), his mom, brother-in-law (with girlfriend) and coach.
"It's just really the golf course, come home and eat," O'Hair said. "That's really what it is. And that's all you need. But Jackie's loving it."
The children range in age from 12 to 6. The two oldest, Molly and Luke, are old enough to get it. The others maybe not as much. But they were all going to caddie for him in Wednesday's par-3 tournament, before heavy rains closed the course for the second time in three days, forcing the first cancellation in the event's 57-year history. When Jackie, who golfed at Florida Atlantic, carried his bag in that competition "way back when," she got to hit a shot on the last hole and wound up making a birdie.
"She's always bringing that up," O'Hair said, laughing. "It's a cool memory."
It's the kind of place that can be quite cooperative when it comes to furnishing some. In many cases, merely for showing up. It's never a bad time to make some new memories.
"I've had my good weeks and bad weeks here," O'Hair said. "Just like almost any course. But this week is about this week. I'm not really falling back on too much of the past. Each hole has its own personality, which is why it's so great. I don't know anyone out here who hasn't envisioned themselves making a putt to win the Masters. It doesn't get better than standing there on the first tee. I know as an athlete you have to keep your head down but it's hard not to go 'Wow.'
"My game is probably the most consistent it's been in a long time. I have to get rid of some stupid mistakes. Last week, I had three three-putts and a four-putt, and didn't play the par-5s like I should. I felt I should've been close to a top 10. It's a matter of getting in a groove, from a momentum standpoint. Get to where I have a chance to win once or twice a year. I haven't had anything like that in a while."
The last of his four wins came at the 2011 Canadian Open. He lost the 2015 Valspar Championship to Jordan Spieth in a three-way playoff. He was runner-up at The Barclays last August. And he had three top 11s in the first two months of this year.
"It's funny, but I don't feel any more sense of urgency," O'Hair said. "I'm actually feeling the opposite. Maybe that's something that kind of held me back a little bit. I really felt like I was underachieving in my younger years. It's normal. But now I have a little more sense of reality. I know how hard it is. It's just part of the game. I'm going about my job, trying to get better. But it's a little less emotional now than it used to be.
"You don't see a lot of guys on tour who came up the way I did, starting from the bottom working your way up and then losing it and bringing it back. I think a lot of guys who went through what I did in 2014 and '15, they wouldn't still be playing on this tour. It shows a lot of what I'm made of. People used to say I didn't believe in myself, even when I was the 12th-best player in the world. I had that tag. I thought it was the exact opposite. But I'm not going to blow smoke up my (butt). If I had a (crappy) week, I'm going to tell you. It doesn't mean I have to beat myself up.
"I'm not weak mentally. That's one of my strongest suits. When there's college heroes who lose it, more often than not, you never hear from them again. There's even been some No. 1 players who've done that. I've been pretty proud of coming back from the dead, as you would say."
And golf's most treasured venue is again part of his world, for at least one more time. Savor away.