Mark O’Meara will forever remember 1998 as the year he truly made it as a professional golfer.
He did not always dream of playing the sport and did not experience the global dominance that many crave.
But in the week that O’Meara celebrates his 62nd birthday, his journey is a reminder to everyone that it is never too late to achieve something great.
By the time he retired he had two majors to his name — and that is more than most can say.
A late starter
O’Meara had little stability in his younger years — born in North Carolina, he had lived in another six States by the time he turned 13.
It was then that his parents settled in Mission Viejo, California, where he used to take his mother’s golf clubs and play on the nearby Mission Viejo County Club.
He fell in love with the solitude of the course and quickly found he had a knack for the sport, taking his hobby more seriously when given a set of used clubs for Christmas.
Others soon got word of his talent too — Long Beach State University offered him a scholarship to play, and he capped his amateur career by defeating reigning champion John Cook at the 1979 U.S. Amateur Championship.First professional steps
After completing his Marketing degree in 1980, he turned professional and joined the PGA Tour a year later, but success did not come so easily among the big boys.
His reputation was boosted in 1984 when he tied seventh at the U.S. Open in Mamaroneck, but he was left waiting until later that year for his first win on the tour.
A victory at the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1984 — more than two years after joining the tour — helped contribute to his most successful season, with 16 top-ten finishes and five runner-up spots.
He shot sub-70 scores in all four rounds in Wisconsin and raked in $54,000, contributing to his second place standing on the 1984 Money List.PGA success
O’Meara’s good form in 1984 did not desert him, and between 1985 and 1997 he collected 13 titles on the PGA Tour.
The Pebble Beach National Pro-Am proved particularly fruitful for the American, winning it five times during the 1980s and 1990s.
That form accompanied European Tour wins in England and France, plus two victories in Japan.
He continued to push at the majors, with seven top ten finishes across all four tournaments between 1985 and 1995, but he was unable to find that elusive trophy.
By 1998, O’Meara was 41, and approaching two decades without a PGA Tour title.
He needed a push and found it in the form of a young golfer with whom he practiced at Isleworth in Orlando — Tiger Woods.
O’Meara had taken the 1997 Masters winner under his wing, but it was he who was being inspired by Woods.
The impact was immediate and impressive — he shot 67 in the final round at Augusta, including three birdies in the final four holes, to win the 1998 Masters title.
It was the moment he had waited for since his teenage years, but his time at the top was not over yet.Birkdale bliss
Just three months later, O’Meara went to Royal Birkdale with a new swagger, his confidence rejuvenated by his Masters triumph and his motivation helped by Woods.
He had tied third at the previous Open at Royal Birkdale in 1991 having shared the lead after round three.
In 1998, he was tied in second with Jim Furyk and Jesper Parnevik after 54 holes — and he was not about to let another opportunity slip.
A final round 68 propelled him to the top of the leaderboard, but overnight leader Brian Watts carded 70 to take the tournament to a four-hole playoff.
O’Meara birdied the 15th as Watts parred, and they halved the next two holes by hitting pars.
On the final hole, Watts missed his par shot to give O’Meara a two-shot opening, and he holed to claim the Open crown.
Heights not repeated
Both O’Meara and Woods — who had finished third at Royal Birkdale — returned to Britain later that year and the Champion Golfer beat Tiger in the final of the World Match Play at Wentworth.
His successes in 1998 took him to a career-high number two in the world, a superb feat after nearly two decades of waiting for a major.
It was the year of his life and saw him set a new record as the oldest winner of multiple majors in the same year.
But Royal Birkdale was to be his last PGA Tour title — indeed, he would win only one more senior trophy in his career, the 2004 Dubai Desert Classic.
He was 41 when winning The Open and a downturn in form, coupled with injuries, limited the heights he was able to reach.
O’Meara is considered one of the most likeable figures in golf, and an excellent putter — although that stroke deserted him somewhat in his later years.
The American won four matches from 14 at the Ryder Cup, including two at the 1997 event at Valderrama when the European team held off a fightback to win 14.5 to 13.5.
He was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2015, but he later said he “did not think it could get any better than” 1998 when asked to reflect on his incredible career.
“You always have to live your life, and judge your life, on how you feel that you have done,” he said. “You cannot worry so much about how you are perceived in your successes and failures.
“As a young man growing up in Southern California, I was just hoping to get on the PGA Tour and stay out there a little bit, maybe win one tournament and make a living at professional golf.”