With his second win in as many weeks, 54-year-old Jay Haas remains the Champions tour's sheriff

Wednesday June 4th, 2008
Haas fired a final-round 65 to pass seven golfers on his way to his second title in a row.
Mike Ehrmann/SI

"You can't retire at 50," Nick Price said last week in Iowa. It was an assertion that was not true for Price himself — he's sixth on the PGA Tour's alltime money list, with $21.6 million, which suggests that he could spend his afternoons whittling duck decoys on the porch of his Hobe Sound, Fla., mansion.

But you get his point. Tournament players gotta play, especially while they're young — sort of.

Notwithstanding Hale Irwin, who has logged 19 of his record 45 senior victories since he turned 55, your typical Champions tour winner is in his early 50s, can still see his toes and, in most cases, can even touch them. Sometimes, as was the case in Iowa, the transitions are poignant.

Case in point: first-round coleader R.W. Eaks. The mustachioed former college basketball player shot a five-under-par 66 on 56-year-old knees that, if he follows his doctor's advice, won't see 57. "I just trashed them," said Eaks, who is facing double knee-replacement surgery for a degenerative, bone-on-bone condition.

Loath to give up the tour after winning two tournaments in '07, Eaks labors in the fitness trailer for an hour before and for two hours after every round, lifting 10 pounds with his legs — which, he pointed out, "a child of three can do."

At the other end of the spectrum was Price, who showed up at Glen Oaks Country Club with the whistle-while-you-work attitude of a tournament volunteer.

"The Champions tour has been everything I wanted it to be," he said last Saturday afternoon, enjoying his role as the 36-hole leader. "There's not quite the hype and the buzz of the other Tour, but it's fun. It's not like if you hit a bad shot, this great pall of a black cloud hangs over you."

And then you had Jay Haas, 54, who was fresh off a victory the week before at the Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill. Haas shot a final-round 65 at Glen Oaks for a one-stroke victory over 55-year-old Andy Bean. That lifted the 2007 player of the year atop the money list and gave him an insurmountable lead in the unofficial Courses with Oak in Their Names race.

"A month ago I just had a bunch of good finishes," said Haas. "All of a sudden I've had a great year."

The win, the 12th of Haas's senior career, came at little cost to his central nervous system. He hung back in the pack for the better part of three days then blithely made his Sunday run. Playing ahead of Price and Bean, Haas sank a 48-foot birdie putt on 14, got up and down for another birdie on the par-5 15th, then took the lead by birdieing the par-3 16th from two feet.

Price, meanwhile, missed birdie putts of five feet on holes 11 and 13.

"I've got six years of not being in that situation," he conceded. "I get anxious, and I start playing defensively."

Price's tentativeness with the putter was most painfully exposed on the final hole, where he needed to sink an uphill 26-footer from just off the green to force a playoff. He left it four feet short. Then, inwardly seething, he missed his par putt as well.

"I was so embarrassed by that first putt," said Price, whose genial temperament conceals an intense will to win. "Four feet short is pitiful. I don't know how to explain that."

Anyway, Haas observed, players who were stars on the regular Tour don't always take the senior circuit by storm.

"My first year or two, my expectations were so high that I put extra pressure on myself. You think, These guys are all old. I should be able to win."

There are all kinds of pressure, of course. Eaks left Iowa feeling the pressures of time and choice, his 36th-place finish doing little to help him set a date for knee surgery. Price departed with a great pall of a black cloud hanging over his head, saying, "I want to feel the way I used to on those last nine holes."

Haas? He flew off to Columbus, Ohio, to test his body and nerves in a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier. "The last time I played in the Open," he said, "was at Winged Foot in 2006, and I thought that was it for me. But I'm going to try it one more time" — he grinned — "like an idiot."

Hey, why not? You can't retire at 54.

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