In your fifth year on the PGA Tour, you have broken into the winner’s circle in 2010 in a big way, winning the Bob Hope Classic in January and the Viking Classic last week.
The Bob Hope feels like last year because it was so long ago. I’ve been disappointed the way I finished off the year and not making the Tour Championship. It’s great to be able to use this Fall Series as a way to cap off the year in a good way. I would have been happy with a couple of Top 10s or a Top 5 to go into the off-season with a good taste in my mouth, but to go out there and win is pretty cool.
What’s the difference between a Top 10 and a getting a win in terms of how you play? What are the little intangibles? This year you only had two other Top 10s outside of your wins.
There have been weeks where I have played better than when I have won. It’s not making a certain mistake here or there. Losing a shot a day to the field is a big deal over the course of a week. I’ve lost a few times by four. It sounds simple, but a few shots mean a little on Sunday.
Coming out Wake Forest you had the weight of a solid college career and also being the son of Jay Haas, a very accomplished Tour player. Did you put any pressure on yourself?
I think you learn pretty quickly out here that, with the depth on Tour, you’re not going to be up on the leaderboard every week. There aren’t many guys out on Tour who come out of college and win right away.
Looking ahead, what are your goals for next year?
The Presidents Cup is on my radar. But that’s a bonus if you play well. The Ryder Cup was on my radar earlier this year, but I just didn’t play well in the summer. I think next year, if I can go out and have a solid season and maybe compete a little bit more on Sunday, my chances of making one of those teams will get better. Missing out on the Tour Championship by one makes me want to work that much harder to get there next year. Let’s say I don’t win next year, but I have six or seven top 10s, I would almost consider that as good a year as 2010 just because you’re competing week in and week out.
That was the key to Matt Kuchar’s success this year. He had 11 Top 10s.
For just that reason it would be hard for me to vote for anyone other than Matt for Player of the Year. It seemed like every day he was on the board at 5- or 6-under. He was the one guy that you could count on every week to play well. I think that’s what everybody wants to be—consistently good.
This year you’re going to play four or five fewer tournaments than you have averaged over the last five years. Typically you play around 30 weeks. Does better play make it easier to sit home more weeks?
Thirty weeks is a lot. Ideally, you like to play a little less so that you can be fresher for those weeks that you do play. Though I’m definitely one of the guys who looks at it both ways. When I’m home, I’m wishing that I was out there playing and competing against these guys. And when I’m out there and I’m tired after playing four or five weeks in a row, I can’t wait to get home.
How do you spend the off-season?
I try to get away from it pretty good. I try to get in the gym a little bit more than I do during the season because I’m not a big gym rat like some of these guys. I can’t go on the golf course sore from lifting. I try to do a little fishing if it stays warm enough. Toward the end of the off-season I go out to Palm Springs and work with Billy Harmon. For the last three or four weeks I have gone out there to gear up for the West Coast swing.
What kind of things you do to try to get back into Tour shape after a break?
It’s impossible to get into Tour shape without competing. That’s why I was surprised to win my second event this season because at the time my game wasn’t in Tour shape. Hitting balls on the range does nothing for you if you have to make a birdie on the last hole to win a golf tournament.
You live about 20 minutes from your parents in Greenville, S.C. How often do you get to play with your dad?
Not as much as we used to. When he’s home, sometimes I’m on the road. But we try to get out there when we can. I think I’ve followed his footsteps a little when it comes to his off-weeks. Having five kids he was always doing stuff with us and trying to get away from the game. If I need to work on something I’ll say “Dad, why don’t you come watch me?” For some reason that always makes me feel better about my game.
How old were you when you first beat your dad?
It was New Year’s Day at the Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards in South Carolina. I was 15. Unfortunately my dad is a hard one to beat. But that was the fun of it. Probably every time we played he was just going through the motions, but I was grinding from the first hole.
What did you learn most about Tour life from your dad?
I just watched him and the other players. Growing up I realized how good they were and that it wasn’t going to be easy for me to make the transition from college to the pros. In theory every PGA Tour player was the best college player.
What aspects of your game need improvement?
I would say my chipping and putting. Everybody out on Tour hits it pretty good. The best players know they’re going to get it up and down from anywhere around the green. Also—to be honest with myself—I get nervous out there when the pressure is on. I can feel myself sometimes cracking under the pressure. I don’t know how you overcome that other than through experience. You can’t really say “I’m not going to be nervous today,” because your body takes over and your mind starts racing.
Speaking of nerves, you had to feel for Hunter Mahan at the Ryder Cup.
I think I know a little bit of what he was feeling, but I can’t imagine the pressure and the nerves that you have in a Ryder Cup. Hunter is one of our best young players in the world. It was very hard to watch him because I know he was feeling it. But that’s the reason we play. I think he’ll say that he was a little nervous, but that the next time he gets in that position he’ll be able to handle it.
Are you in the Masters next year?
Viking didn’t get me into the Masters because it’s a Fall Series event. So the only way that I can get into the Masters and U.S. Open is if I make the top 30 on the money list at the end of the year. Going into this week at Sea Island I’m 26th in the standings, but there is definitely a chance that I could get knocked out of the top 30.
After this week, are you going to play the rest of the Fall Series events to protect your position?
No. I have committed to play in Malaysia at the end of the month and I’m still waiting to see if I get into the HSBC event in China in early November. Right now I’m an alternate. Everything is up in the air. Hopefully playing in Malaysia doesn’t hurt me for top 30, but I feel like I have to honor that commitment.
How is your brother, Jay Jr.? Is he still pursuing a career on the PGA Tour?
He’s still playing. He’s going to Q-School in a couple of weeks. He’s shooting some good scores, he just needs to put it together when it counts.
You’re getting married next June.
The wedding is the week before the U.S. Open. Hopefully I won’t have to qualify for it.
Who buys dinner to celebrate your win at Viking? You or your dad?
After he comes home next week from the Senior Players I told him that we’d have to go out and do something. Maybe I’ll buy that one. But he still takes me out a pretty good bit.