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

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

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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.