Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jay Haas came to a realization after two rounds of the PGA Championship at Medinah in August. "I shot 74-69 here in the 1975 U.S. Open, and now I have the same 36-hole score (75-68) this week," he said. "So I haven't improved at all in 31 years." He hasn't soured, either. At 52, Haas had just made his record 592nd cut on Tour. He now plays the Champions Tour, but Haas' grin at the PGA suggested he still enjoys running with the young'uns. He sat down with us to discuss Ben Hogan, hot cars and, um, chicken gizzards (tasty!).

What's your greatest strength? And how have you managed to hang on out here on the PGA Tour for more than three decades?


I do everything well and I'm the best at nothing. My strength through the years has been my health. I've been injury-free for a pretty long time. I never was The Guy. I was never a top-five player. I won't say I've never have thrown in the towel in a tournament, but generally speaking if I get over par in an event I'm not going to pack it in. Out of 592 cuts, there we re probably 25 that I shouldn't have made but did because I kept hanging in there.

What do you mean by throwing in the towel?
I guess maybe to hit a shot when I'm not totally focused, totally committed to it and thinking about what I'm doing.

When did you do that?
Oh, you know, I wouldn't say I did it a lot, but — and maybe that's not a great term to use. Throwing in the towel is when you pack it in. I've withdrawn from tournaments before, thinking that I couldn't hit a shot on the clubface.

Aren't you supposed to make up an excuse, like "my back went out" or some such thing?
One of the funniest things that happened to me was at Doral. I used to hate that course. I used to either miss the cut or make $300. I played just awful there. I'd started on the back nine, and I had to play my last eight holes in 2-under to make the cut, which I was certainly capable of doing, and a rainstorm comes in. I get to the third hole, which is one of the tougher drives on that course, with water all down the right side, and I hit this drive that was in the middle of the lake. I mean just the most god-awful shot. So as this ball is in the air, the best I'm going to make on the hole is a 6, pretty much. So I grab my umbrella, and I swing it at the ground as I'm walking off the tee, and it turns inside out. The ribs are all broken and everything, so now it's useless.

So I jam this thing into the trash can, and now I'm just drenched and I've got to go hit this ball: up in three, on in four, two-putt for a six. I walk up and hand my card to whomever I was playing with and say, "I can't handle it anymore, guys. I'm outta here." And so, I'm pretty sure it was Mike Shea, one of the officials there that year, he comes driving up and says, "You know, Jay, you've got to give an excuse." I say, "Yeah, I know, I'll figure something out between now and the clubhouse." And what I ended up saying is that I was nauseous [laughs], which was pretty much true.

That happens a lot on Tour. Guys are playing bad and they pull a heartstring.
Yeah, and I'm not a fan of that. I've withdrawn three or four times in my career from just playing poorly and not wanting to be there, and I understand that, but it's not a good habit to get into. What I've learned is that you might be missing the cut by eight shots and hit a shot on the 17th hole of that second round, and you try a little something different on your drive and it clicks and the next week you play great. There's no telling when your game might turn around. And it's better to work on your game in a tournament than in a practice round. If you're 6-under or 6-over, there's pressure when you've got a scorecard in your pocket.

{C} Speaking of pressure, when were you the most nervous on the golf course?
The 18th tee in the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill. I'd been three down to Philip Walton with three holes to play, and it was looking like if Phil Mickelson won his match and I tied mine, we'd halve the matches and retain the Cup. Phil was making some birdies and winning, so now it's down to me, and it looks like I'm going to lose.





At the 2003 PGA, on Sunday, I'd made a birdie at 17 and was trying to make the Presidents Cup team, and I got on the 18th tee and did just what I wished I'd done in '95. I swung as hard as I could and it went straight. I made par and finished [tied for] fifth. To this day, if the 1995 Ryder Cup is on television, I can't watch it. Not because of me but because the whole team — we had a lead and we lost.



Which was worse, 1995 or 2004?


But you shared the blame.


Your son, Bill, is trying to follow in your footsteps on Tour. How's that going?



Did your father play?


Your first coach was your uncle, Bob Goalby.


You credit your marriage for a lot of your success.


She didn't travel with you?


Some people argue that money has hurt the game, that few guys still have the burning desire to win.


Your pension is largely dependent on the number of cuts you make in your career. Have you sat down and done the numbers on how gigantic it's going to be?



How many zeroes will it have?


So you've got it all salted away in an index fund?


You do spend on cars, like your 1994 Mustang that was the pace car at Indy. How much did that set you back?



I was at the Ford Senior Players Championship in Dearborn, Mich., and I saw this guy named Marty Collins on Sunday morning and he said, "I understand you're looking to get a Shelby. We can work that out no problem." I was so excited. I think I shot 3- or 4-under and ended up finishing tied for third or something. I was so excited when I came into the locker room. I said [to fellow car enthusiast] Bruce Lietzke, "Bruce, Bruce, come here, I've got to tell you what happened today!" Bruce has got like a nine-car garage. For me, it's more about the chase.



You seem like you have everything. What did you get for your 50th birthday?


What was your birthday meal?

[Laughs.] Jan was planning the meal, and she said they were sitting at this huge board room table with 15 people there. One of them asks, "What's his favorite meal?" And she says fried chicken gizzards, which is true! [Laughs.] I just love 'em! I've eaten them since I was a kid. My dad used to eat 'em all the time. You've gotta try 'em. Anyway, she said their mouths just dropped open, like, "Who eats fried chicken gizzards?" Anyway, they brought out this heaping plate of fried chicken gizzards and they were wonderful. I passed them around and it was like the plague going by under everybody's noses. A few people tried them.



How old is Uncle Bob Goalby these days? Bet he's got some good stories.


What's the most amazing shot you've ever seen?

One that comes to mind was Jack's. You might have read about the day that Watson shot 69 when the chill factor was like 17 degrees at Muirfield. People were in gloves and ski caps and full rain gear and still freezing. Anyway, I was paired with Jack. On 17, he drove it in the left bunker. He's got 185 yards or so, but because of the rain and all that he's got to hit a 2-iron out of there. There was a thin film of water in the bunker, and the crack of this thing coming off his club — I've always remembered the sound. And he hit it in there about a foot and a half. [Laughs.]



What's left for Jay Haas to do?


Did you ever dream about doing something else?


THE BOOK ON HASS

Height:
Weight:
Age:
Birthplace:
Residence:
Joined PGA Tour:
PGA Tour victories:
PGA Tour earnings:
Joined Champions Tour:
Champions Tour victories:
Other accolades:

THE SON ALSO RISES

Bill Haas, 24, on struggling on Tour and his dad's snoring

You're 98th on the money list. Are you content to just keep your card?


Compare you and your dad.


You guys ever trash-talk?


Most kids get hand-me-downs, but you got them from major winners — your dad's buddies.


What would you be doing if your dad wasn't Jay Haas?


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