Breakout Players of 2011: Bill Haas

Breakout Players of 2011: Bill Haas

Bill Haas collected a check worth over $11 million by winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup at East Lake.
Fred Vuich/SI

A lot of people will tell you that the golf shot of the year was the one Bill Haas played out of that pond on 17 at East Lake in the second hole of his three-hole playoff with Hunter Mahan in Atlanta in October. You remember. It was the playoff where the eventual winner didn't even realize he was playing for $11.44 million?

Anytime your shot sends your golf ball flying along with other stuff-pine needles, sand, pine cones, hot dog wrappers-it's exciting. Water is the king of that list. Splashing water makes for great photography, and when golf and water mix the stakes are so high. Mankind needs water to survive, but in golf the drink is where golf balls go to die. Bill Haas resurrected his chances with that shot, which he knocked to three feet, allowing him to save par. Never mind that that shot is NOT THAT HARD for the trained professional.

The Haases — an honest lot — will tell you that. (The Haases: Bill Haas; the golfer in question; his father, Jay Haas, Champions Tour stalwart and on the scene in Atlanta; Bill's brother Jay Jr., on Bill's bag that week.) The shot of that day and the shot of the year came on the first playoff hole, at East Lake's 235-yard par-3 finisher. Not only was Bill Haas playing for big bucks. He was auditioning for the chance to make a Presidents Cup team as a captain's pick, and his father was deputy captain.

The first shot in a short, high stakes playoff is where you really, really have to man up. Ask Tom Watson (British Open at Turnberry in 2009). Ask Bob May (PGA at Valhalla in 2000). Bill stood on that tee with all that money and prestige and honor and opportunity waiting for him and hit … the fan shot of all fan shots, a 4-iron that was 30 yards right and 15 yards short. Gulp.

And that's when he hit the single best golf shot of 2011, even if it didn't look like much on TV. That's when Bill Haas became a breakout player in 2011. As he stood over his ball, sitting on hardpan, with an open-faced lob wedge, the crisp crease on the sleeve of his out-of-the-box shirt was shaking like a leaf. Oh, but the swing was perfect. He nipped it just right-a shot that's so chunkable-and made the ensuing 10-footer for par and showed the kind of mettle that separates the dreamers from the winners. He had lost twice in playoffs earlier in the year-at the Bob Hope and at the Greenbrier-but this was the one that counted most.

He made the cut in all four majors for the first time, won the Tour Championship, then flew over to Australia with his father, captain Fred Couples and legends Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to play in the Presidents Cup. His play was fine, but he went only 1-3-1. Team play takes time to learn.

Welcome to the big time, kid. Haas is 29. He has three Tour wins, a modern and aggressive game that's strong in every regard, a good head on his shoulders and enough money that he should never play for second again. Things are solid at home (newly married and honeymooned) and in his head. He loves playing golf and the life of the Tour player. It's all good.

But the best thing about him is this: Bill Haas is not going to sit around and count his money and eat bonbons. At Tiger's event earlier this month, Haas said that his father "always taught me, good or bad, break the rearview mirror off, that you got another tournament this week and that's all you need to focus on." Excellent attitude.

He also knows he hasn't figured it all out. At the Presidents Cup, on a course that was exceedingly hard, in every sense, Haas saw shots being played you don't often see on the PGA Tour. "There's a lot I need to improve on," Haas said at the Chevron World Challenge. "And I saw that at the Presidents Cup, playing with these guys and seeing how much I need to do to get on some of these guys' levels. And that's fun to see, actually. It's not necessarily demoralizing. It's more just if I work hard, maybe I can get to this guy's level."

Bill Haas was building a house for his bride before he won the $11.4 million. After he took the biggest payday in golf, he didn't move a wall. "I don't need a big house," he said at the Sherwood Country Club. "I don't need anything extravagant."

What he needs is to play good golf, get better, win when the win is there to be had. Sounds like golf has identified its next Jim Furyk, except the new model comes with an extra 30 yards.