Jay Haas: Forever Young

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 I've withdrawn from tournaments before, thinking that I couldn't hit a shot on the clubface.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.

Well, I holed out of a bunker at 16 to get it to 17, 2-down with two to play. I somehow hit this squirrelly 5-iron out of the rough through some trees that ran up to 15 feet from the hole. Philip was short of the green and pitched it up to seven or eight feet. And I missed this putt, and I really thought I'd lost right there, but Philip missed. And when he missed that I got to feeling, "Okay, I'm going to do this." I started thinking about what was going to happen, not the fact that I was going to tie this match, but that this could happen. I guess it finally hit me that I could really do this.

So I got on the tee, and to this day I wish I'd just stepped up there and swung as hard as I could and not really aimed it. Just whaled at it. And I didn't. I calmed myself down, took deep breaths and all that kind of stuff, and I tried to be too cute with it, too perfect. I hit this pop-toe hook to the left in the trees. Philip ended up making a bogey, but I had an eight-footer for bogey and he gave me my putt, so I just puked all over myself there.

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?

I guess because it wasn't close, 2004 was easier to take. We felt like we were in control at Oak Hill and got steamrolled there at the end.

But you shared the blame.
Curtis Strange lost the last three holes to Nick Faldo and got a lot of criticism that was unwarranted. There were a lot of guys who didn't perform there. Curtis and I probably talk more now than we ever did.

Your son, Bill, is trying to follow in your footsteps on Tour. How's that going?
Bill's impatient, like me. I see a lot of myself in him, wanting every thing right now, wanting to shoot a good score every single day. Bill wants to birdie the first four holes on his opening tee shot. It's easier said than done to let it come to you, all those cliches about being patient. He needs experience and the only way you get it is to live it. He's very much unlike me in that he's 6'2" with broad shoulders and hits it a mile. I never did.

Did your father play?
My dad could shoot in the high 70s, low 80s. He was a working guy. Until I was maybe 14 he worked in a meatpacking plant for a company called Swift in East St. Louis. He was up at 4:30 every morning and home at 4:30 in the afternoon, so we'd play a little bit on the weekends on a par-3 course.

Your first coach was your uncle, Bob Goalby.
He was traveling a lot playing the Tour, but he would be home and I'd practice with him, and he'd give me a tip. He'd say, "Try this, and I'll be back in a month." That's how I learned.

You credit your marriage for a lot of your success.
To me, my wife and my family being supportive and her being a single parent all that time, that's the reason that I've been able to do it for all this time.

She didn't travel with you?
Once we had our third child, you just couldn't. Nobody but Jack and Arnold had private planes back then. My best year I won two events and like $220,000. That was a huge amount of money, but if you finish 13th on the money list this year, you're going to win $2.5 million. There's a huge difference. Who had a nanny back then? Nobody.

Some people argue that money has hurt the game, that few guys still have the burning desire to win.
I disagree because money is relative to the times. Jack told me a story the other day about him and Arnold battling it out for the money title and winning $117,000 for the year. In the '60s that was a lot of money. So why did those guys keep playing?

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?
Scott Hoch was up at the top for a while. He actually sat down and figured it all out. I have not.

How many zeroes will it have?
I don't know. Things like that — I'm not a businessman. I understand finances a bit but I've never played tournaments based on the biggest purses.

So you've got it all salted away in an index fund?
See, you're talking stuff that I have no idea what you're talking about there. I have some people who do that.

You do spend on cars, like your 1994 Mustang that was the pace car at Indy. How much did that set you back?
I think the sticker on it was 26 or 27 thousand but I did an outing for a Ford guy in Grand Rapids and my fee came out of the price of the car. It's a red convertible, tan interior, tan top, with only 3,300 miles on it. It's covered. I wash it myself. But I'm in the process of getting a new Shelby Mustang that they're coming out with again. This is a GT500, which is kind of the tag they had in the late '60s.

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?
That's probably the best gift I've ever gotten. My wife gave me a surprise birthday party at Sage Valley Golf Club, which is in Graniteville, S.C., near Aiken, and very close to Augusta. I think there ended up being 40 guys there. They all walked into the grill over a span of about 45 minutes after I'd gotten off the course with a few friends. I was shaking. Jan had done a tremendous amount of work — for a stag weekend.

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.
He's 78. He used to play with Ben Hogan quite a bit. They were playing a practice round at an Open at either the Olympic Club or Olympia Fields, and Bob was just hitting it all over the map, and Hogan would say, "Hit another one, Bob." There are people just lining the fairways, and he's bouncing shots off their legs, and Hogan says, "Hit another one, Bob," and Bob goes, "No, I don't want to hit another one." "No, hit another ball. Try this." You didn't miss when Mr. Hogan was around, I guess. When they're finally finished Bob is so excited he doesn't have to endure this anymore. But as they're walking off the 18th tee, Mr. Hogan says, "Bob, we'll be playing at 11 again. I'll see you tomorrow." So he had to go through it all again! But he ended up beating him. He felt so bad that he ended up beating him after the way he'd practiced.

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?
I'd like to watch my kids' lives, see them be happy with what they're doing. I guess people say grandkids are a lot of fun. We love the activity, the kids and their friends. We don't like it to get too quiet in the house.

Did you ever dream about doing something else?
I played basketball in high school but I wasn't going very far in that. I guess I'm living my dream. I would have never thought that I'd play competitively at 52. No one did, except for Sam Snead. Art Wall won when he was maybe 51. But other than that no one did. If I can be competitive until I'm 60, that might be enough. But it's like any job that you love; do you really want to retire? Do you really want to stop?


Height: 5'10"
Weight: 185
Age: 52
Birthplace: St. Louis, Mo.
Residence: Greenville, S.C.
Joined PGA Tour: 1976
PGA Tour victories: 9
PGA Tour earnings: $14,276,918
Joined Champions Tour: 2004
Champions Tour victories: 5,including the 2006 Senior PGA Tour Championship
Other accolades: 2005 Champions Tour Rookie of the Year; three-time member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team; 1975 NCAA individual champion


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?
Sure, I'm on Tour, and that's a goal I've achieved. But shooting 4-over for three rounds-that's failure. I haven't played to my full potential yet, but I'm working hard. I get too frustrated. I don't enjoy it enough. But it's easier to enjoy when you're shooting 68, not 72.

Compare you and your dad.
He's better. He's got experience, he's straighter, and he putts better. But I'm longer off the tee by 15 yards. We both burn hot, but he's better at controlling it. I get negative, which hurts me. I don't know how to correct that.

You guys ever trash-talk?
What's he made-989 cuts? He's played on Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups. You don't trash-talk a guy who's done all that.

Most kids get hand-me-downs, but you got them from major winners — your dad's buddies.
Yeah, Jeff Sluman would send me shoes and shirts. Then I grew and got some of Davis Love's stuff.

What would you be doing if your dad wasn't Jay Haas?
I'm not sure, but I know one thing: It would be easier to fall asleep on the road. When he and I room together, I have to fall asleep first-he snores something fierce.