Hahn wins 'best story' with victory at Riviera

By Jason SobelFebruary 23, 2015, 3:11 am

LOS ANGELES – Here in the shadows of Hollywood, in the minutes leading up to a nearby celebration of the year’s greatest collection of storytelling in films known as the Academy Awards, an unlikely story unfolded from a crowded leaderboard filled with easier, trendier ones.

There were tales of major champions on the mend. Narratives of retribution and recovery, of experience and youth.

Names like Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth, Retief Goosen and Paul Casey. Popular players with built-in plotlines.

Spoiler alert: James Hahn won the Northern Trust Open on Sunday. Flipped the script, really. Earned his first career PGA Tour victory on a leaderboard that might as well have been draped in red carpet.

Those hoping for the clichéd Hollywood ending were probably left asking one important question:

Who is James Hahn?

Hahn was the tournament’s low-budget indie answer to those blockbuster hits. He’s never won a major, isn’t romantically linked to any starlets and didn’t jump straight to the PGA Tour from college.

No, less than a decade ago, this dude was a shoe salesman.

True story.

He was 24 years old and waiting for his golf career to take off. Before it did, he took a job working in the salon shoe section at two Nordstrom’s stores – one in Walnut Creek, the other in Pleasanton.

“I sold a lot of shoes,” he says now with a smile. “I was pretty good at it.”

Who is James Hahn?

A few years later, Hahn was playing the Canadian Tour. His career still hadn’t taken off.

His bank account was so depleted that he started looking for real work. Something completely out of golf that wouldn’t depend on him dropping numerous birdie putts to get paid.

“I had just under $200 going into Edmonton that week,” he recalls. “I've got to borrow money to pay for my caddie fee. Like, it was a little embarrassing. I was going to borrow money from my parents to get a flight home. And I'm sitting there on the computer going on Craigslist and I start looking for jobs.”

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He found one, but it wasn’t on Craigslist.

Hahn finished in eighth place that week, bankrolled a cool $3,000 and kept playing professional golf.

“At that point, like $3,000, you might as well have just given me $1 million. I could keep playing golf."

Who is James Hahn?

He’s the guy who did that dance.

Poor Hahn. Two years ago, in an effort to get into the spirit of things with the frenzied crowd at TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole, Hahn punctuated a birdie by doing the “Gangnam Style” dance, which has been immortalized forever in a YouTube video that has now been clicked more than 338,000 times.

Forget the three years as a PGA Tour regular, forget the nine previous top-25 results. Most fans know him as the guy who did that dance.

“Everyone wants me to do the dance,” he laughs. “I don't think they even know my name.”

That was still true on Sunday, even as he was preparing for a three-man playoff at Riviera.

“I was signing hats after the round,” he says. “I asked some guy, I was like, ‘Hey, like is there a playoff? Like, what's going on?’ He's like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and some other guy.’ I was like, ‘Yeah? OK, cool. Here's your hat.’”

Who is James Hahn?

Following the third round, he checked his tournament statistics and found that, along with Johnson, he was one of only two players in the top-12 who was in the negative in strokes gained putting.

So he called his wife, Stephanie, and told her this news.

“She's like, well, that just means you're striping it. I was like, OK, that's pretty cool.”

During that same phone call, he made Stephanie a promise. She’s been driving a 2005 Volkswagon Jetta for a decade, but he promised he’d replace it with a strong finish.

“This thing is a piece,” he says. “I mean, this thing has 130,000 miles on it. I said, ‘If I finish top‑five, I'm going to buy you a new car.’ … So I think I need to go buy a new car when I get home.”

Stephanie is pregnant with the couple’s first child, a baby girl due in three weeks. They don’t have a name picked out, but in the afterglow of his win, he offered an impromptu suggestion.


Who is James Hahn?

He’s the guy who matched each of his competitors’ pars on the first extra hole, then matched Johnson’s implausible birdie on the second – getting up-and-down from the left rough on the mystifying 10th hole.

On the third playoff hole – the par-3 14th – Hahn hit his tee shot to 25 feet, but Johnson was 10 feet closer. Still playing the part of unlikely hero, he holed his putt, then looked away as Johnson attempted his to keep the tournament going.

“I couldn't look; I was so nervous,” he recalls. “My heart rate was going 120 beats per second.”

When Johnson missed, the guy who’d been a shoe salesman, who once had less than $200 in his bank account, became a PGA Tour champion.

“Just kind of look at myself in the mirror some days and tell myself that I'm not even supposed to be here. Come from a small town. Didn't do well in college. Was never an All‑American. Sold shoes for a living for a while. Yeah, and then just one day, the putts started going in and started playing a little better. Won a couple golf tournaments, and now I'm here.”

Who is James Hahn?

As it turns out, here at Riviera, in the shadows of a night reserved for celebrating the best storytelling, he was the best story around.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

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The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

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As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.