by Jim Riggs
March 2, 2002
New Driver, New Back = New O’Neill
After earning only $5,399 in the first three events O’Neill shot 3-under par for three rounds of the Audi Senior Classic to tie for 10th and earned $42,500.
What led to O’Neill’s sudden success?
A new driver and a “new” back.
“Something happened to my driver and I still don’t know what,” he said Monday in a telephone interview while he was driving back to his hotel in Valencia, Cal., site of this week’s SBC Senior Classic. “It was something in the neck, I think. It happened to me one other time and either the drive shoots way off to the right or if you do hit it and it feels decent, it doesn’t go anywhere. It goes like 220 yards.”
The latter was happening this time and O’Neill’s drivers were 60 yards shorter than usual.
“I didn’t even realize it (was the driver),” he said. “I was willing to blame it on myself, I thought I was just hitting it badly.”
Finally, he figured out it was his driver, so the Titlest model was taken out of his bag and replaced with a TaylorMade at the ACE Group Classic in Naples, Fla., his second event on the Senior Tour.
The change came too late as he shot 83-77-77.
However, at the Verizon Classic in Lutz, Fla., things improved with rounds of 71-75-72 to tie for 51st.
But more than his driver was affecting O’Neill’s game. He was also experiencing some physical ailments.
“I thought I was just tight and tense and I finally couldn’t stand it any longer,” he said. “I had muscles spasms in my neck."
But it was more than his neck. When O’Neill arrived at Mexico City for the last week’s event, he visited the physical therapist who traveled with the Senior Tour and another discovery was made.
“He looked at me and said, “I can’t believe you could get the club back the way you’re back is, “O’Neill recalled. There was a muscle that was in complete spasm. 100 per cent of the time. He said it was terrible.”
When O’Neill asked was caused it, he was told hitting balls. “I didn’t hit anything for two months and then I came down (to Florida in January) and started hitting,” O’Neill said. When the Senior Tour began and his play got worse, he hit more balls.
His first session with the physical therapist was last Tuesday and the results were immediate.
“I went out to the range and hit balls and it was like night and day,” O’Neill said. “Then I played Thursday in the pro-am and I shot 67, 5-under, and second low for both pro-ams.”
And “the new O’Neill” continued to have success.
“Then for the next three rounds of the tournament I was fine,” he said about his even, par 72, 1 under 71 and 2-under 70. “I could have been right in the hunt if I would have had a putt drop in but the greens were tough.”
When asked what it felt like to shoot his first sub-par round on the Senior Tour last Saturday, O’Neill answered “I was just happy. I felt good and it wasn’t my swing. I was just feeling so good (mentally) because I felt good physically).”
What’s amazing is that O’Neill, the son of a physical therapist, didn’t know he had physical problems until he was diagnosed by a physical therapist.
“I can’t believe I’m that stupid, “he said to Conewango Valley Country Club pro Ed Morgante, who caddied for O’Neill in the first four events. “I haven’t shot a round over par since then.”
This week’s tournament is the fifth for O’Neill, but probably feels like it’s his second because he “started over” last week.
After two more California stops, there is a week off and O’Neill will be back in Jamestown. Then, it’s back to Florida for two more tournaments before another two weeks off.
During those brief visits home O’Neill will be asked about his Senior Tour experiences and some of his playing partners such as Hubert Green last week and Chi Chi Rodriguez the week before.
“He was very encouraging to me,” O’Neill said about Rodriguez. “He said, ‘Dan you’ve obviously got the talent, you’ve got a good golf swing. All you’ve got to do is be patient and you’ll play well.”