What if? There are so many of those questions bouncing around Sean O'Hair's mind right now.

What if he's tearing up Bethpage Black next week at the U.S. Open and one of his buddies who is walking the course with him gets the phone call that O'Hair's wife, Jackie, has gone into labor a week early with the couple's third child, a second son? What if it's Sunday - Father's Day - and O'Hair is leading the tournament? What if he doesn't make it back to West Chester in time for the delivery? What if he has to tell Baby No. 3 that, well, sorry, I was a little busy the day you arrived, but I was there the days your older sister and brother were born?

And what if O'Hair leaves a potential major championship on the table, after all the years and miles and heartaches he and, for that matter, Jackie have endured?

"Hopefully, she just hangs on for dear life until after the Open," O'Hair said.

That the Texas native is even talking about leading a major at this stage of his career speaks loudly to the type of year he is having and the expectations it has raised. Just a few years ago, Jackie was doubling as O'Hair's caddy and they were down to $2,000, without a PGA Tour card or much hope.

Now O'Hair, the PGA rookie of the year in 2005, who settled with his wife, a native of Aston, in suburban Philadelphia, has amassed more than $10 million in career earnings, including more than $3 million this year alone. Since January, he has won one tournament, finished second in another, and finished in the top 10 in four others, putting him tied for first with six top-10 finishes in 13 events. Despite pulling out of the Memorial last week with a slight forearm injury and skipping the final Open prep in Memphis this week, O'Hair is ranked 13th in the world and sixth in earnings.

While he won't be the favorite at the Open - that honor is reserved, as usual, for Tiger Woods - O'Hair is expected to be in the mix at Bethpage. He has never played the course and he's coming off a minor injury, but O'Hair is putting better than he ever has and is playing with a confidence born of his stellar results.

A few weeks shy of his 27th birthday, the 6-foot-2 O'Hair, still wiry and boyish-looking, feels as if this is his time, if only that baby in his wife's belly will cooperate.

"I've been thinking about it, and I was like, 'This stinks,' " O'Hair said. "But playing in the U.S. Open, how many people can say they're doing that? And I've got a healthy baby coming," and "who can say that, too? So I'm pretty fortunate. It's not a hard thing."

A crushing collapse

Bay Hill was hard. Boy, was it hard.

O'Hair entered the final day at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March with a 5-shot lead over Woods and was looking for his third career victory. He ended it watching Woods hole a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 18, give a roundhouse fist pump, and jump victoriously into the arms of his caddie, Steve Williams.

Woods won with a 3-under 67. O'Hair lost with a 3-over 73.

That final day at Bay Hill, O'Hair didn't hit a fairway until the sixth hole, didn't have a birdie putt inside of 30 feet until the ninth hole, and didn't adequately handle the nerves associated with Woods breathing down his neck on a Sunday. It was such a thorough collapse that it could have ruined O'Hair's year. He could have folded, and no one would have thought the lesser of him, because although he's been a pro for 10 years, he's young and still learning.

But O'Hair, who has been working with renowned sports psychologist Bob Rotella for nearly four years and added swing coach Sean Foley to his team last summer, kept Bay Hill in perspective. It bothered him, he said, for about a week. At the Masters, he absorbed good-natured ribbing from Woods before finishing tied for 10th at 7 under (Woods finished tied for sixth at 8 under). A few weeks later, against one of the deepest fields of the year, O'Hair held off a pack that included Woods to win the prestigious Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, N.C., by a stroke.

While he didn't make a putt longer than 10 feet all week, O'Hair was flawless from tee to green, and despite bogeying the last two holes, finished with a 69 to become just the third player under 30 - and only American - with at least three Tour wins.

Woods waited for O'Hair to walk off the 18th hole with his 3-year-old daughter, Molly, and the world's No. 1 offered a handshake and a hug.

The next week at the Players Championship, Woods heaped praise on O'Hair, who started the year ranked 59th in the world and now is knocking on the door of the top 10.

"He's got every part of the game," Woods said. "He can hit it long. He can chip and putt. He's got a great feel. But I think more importantly, just the kind of person he is. That's what everyone really appreciates about Sean. He's such a great guy, and I'm lucky enough to call him my friend."

"I don't think I would've won that golf tournament if Bay Hill didn't happen," O'Hair said last week. "Tiger played a great round of golf [at Bay Hill], and that really tested my acceptance. Hey, it happened. There's nothing I can do about it but move on. . . . I think that's the one thing that I've improved on more as a player - just my mind. I think I'm a lot more patient, I'm a lot more accepting out there. It is what it is. You can't do anything about it, so deal with it."

It seems so easy, but when playing the ultimate mind game - golf - that can be easier said than done, and O'Hair, who has endured his share of mental anguish in his young life, knows it.

His biggest test on the golf course might come at Bethpage, where there will be bushy rough and big expectations.

"It's such a mental event," O'Hair said. "It takes so much out of you mentally, which takes it out of you physically. You've just got to be ready for it, and you've got to know what to expect. I've played in a couple U.S. Opens, and I know what to expect. I've never played Bethpage, but I've heard some good things about it. I'm looking forward to it."

A better putter

"How many of you consider yourselves a good putter?" O'Hair asked a group of weekend golfers at a charity event benefiting Chester County Hospital last week. Scanning the crowd and seeing no hands raised, O'Hair quipped: "Don't feel bad, because I stink, too. It's like the blind leading the blind."

Only not exactly.

O'Hair has improved his putting, long considered the weakest part of his game, and ranks 41st this year in putting average. He's first in greens in regulation, which has alleviated much of the stress on his putter, and it has made him less concerned about having to make long putts.

As a result, O'Hair is fourth in birdie average and fifth in scoring average.

It's another reason why he's so optimistic heading into the Open.

And really, for the first time in O'Hair's career, the media focus is on his game, not his past, which has been a nice switch, too.

His is a well-known story. O'Hair was a child prodigy, turning pro as a high school junior and touring with his domineering father, Marc, who sold his share of a family business to finance his son's fledgling career. His father reportedly viewed their relationship as employer and employee, and it devolved into a dysfunctional existence that ultimately led to a split.

Sean hasn't spoken with his father since late 2002, when he married Jackie. Together, the couple toiled on the mini-tours, traveling to tournaments in an RV and struggling to make it.

Sean embraced Jackie's family as his own. His father-in-law, Steve Lucas, served as his caddie for a time, and Sean has embraced West Chester as his home. He and Jackie bought a sprawling house there in 2005, and have been filling it with children and memories.

"I think the thing I've learned is, no matter what I do, if I win however many majors or however many tournaments, people are always going to want to talk about [my past]," O'Hair said. "The thing is, my dad trained me to be a tour professional. That was his goal in life, to make me a tour pro, and I don't know if I'd be here without some of the stuff that he did. So I think a lot of credit is due there.

"As a father, I would never have treated my son the way he treated me, but he did what he wanted to do, and obviously I'm grateful to him for how he got me ready for the PGA Tour. On the other hand, it saddens me that it was such a high cost to him and I. It cost our relationship. Hopefully, things are mended, but I don't think they ever will be."

Marc O'Hair could not be reached for comment.

Sean said that he had thought about trying to patch up his relationship with his father, but that now was not the time.

"At some point in time, someone's going to pass, either [my parents] or me," Sean said. "I don't want either one to sit back and say: 'You know what? I wish we could've sucked up our pride or whatever it was and just know we're family and that's all that matters.'

"I don't know who's going to make that first move. Somebody's got to do it. I've thought about it a lot, and I don't think I'm quite ready right now. I've got a lot of stuff on my plate to deal with right now as a person, as a player, and as a father. Hopefully, I can deal with that sooner or later."

For now, O'Hair is focused on his next tournament and trying to win his first major. And he's eagerly anticipating the arrival of his child. While he said he was struggling with the logistics of what to do if his wife goes into labor during the Open, O'Hair said that ultimately he knew what he would do.

"I'm going to feel guilty even if I'm playing well and don't pull out," O'Hair said. "It's going to be hard to keep playing, because it's a big deal. So the chances of me withdrawing are probably pretty good."

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.