Haas Comes Full Circle


04 Ryder CupBLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The Ryder Cup is a renaissance for 50-year-old Jay Haas, although redemption also comes to mind.
This isn't just about his age, which makes Haas the second-oldest player in Ryder Cup history.
Nine years ago was one of the lowest moments in his career, when Haas trudged off the 18th green at Oak Hill with a conceded bogey on his card and a European celebration ringing in his ears. It was his match Sunday in the '95 Ryder Cup - his loss - that allowed Europe to go home with the trophy.
'It didn't look like my match was going to mean anything,' Haas said. 'I was the 11th match. We had a two-point lead, and it looked like we'd have won it by then. Then all of a sudden it came down to my match. I wasn't playing very well. I wasn't ready to hit the last shot, to win the last hole.'
The 18th hole is still a vivid memory.
Haas had to win the final hole to earn the half-point the United States so desperately needed. He popped up his tee shot left and into the trees, had to carve a wedge around the trees and into the fairway, then came up short of the green. He chipped his fourth shot 8 feet by the hole and never had to putt.
Philip Walton rolled his 10-foot par putt to within inches, and Haas graciously conceded the putt, conceded the bogey, conceded the Ryder Cup.
'I choked,' he said.
Haas was 41 and headed to the twilight of his career. He wondered if he would ever return to a Ryder Cup.
'I remember saying in the team meeting how special it was to be on the team at my age,' Haas said. 'You just never know out here when it's your last win, when it's the last top 10, the last cut you make. Someday, it's going to end.
'And at that stage,' he said, 'little did I know I'd go south - and come back again.'
Haas went south, all right.
One of the steadiest players in golf, he missed out on the Tour Championship the following year and began to slide into obscurity. He fell out of the top 125 on the money list in 2000 for the first time since turning pro in 1976, and spent the next season begging for sponsor's exemptions to play a full schedule.
'I thought maybe my run was done,' Haas said. 'But I didn't want it to be.'
That's where the renaissance comes in.
Maybe it was that putting tip he got from Stan Utley in his driveway a couple of years ago. Maybe it was rejuvenation with his son, 22-year-old Bill Haas, having a stellar career at Wake Forest and now on the cusp of earning a PGA Tour card without going to Q-school.
Haas turned heads with his runner-up finish at the Bob Hope Classic last year, then at The Players Championship. By the end of the year, he finished 15th on the money list, played in the Presidents Cup as a captain's pick, and when he turned 50 a week later, had no reason to play with guys his own age.
The Ryder Cup was in range.
'My only goal,' Haas said.
Some believe he was a sentimental pick, and there certainly is no more congenial person in the game. Haas wanted to make the team on his own, but being 12th in the final standings - Chris DiMarco and Chris Riley knocked him out of the top 10 at the PGA Championship - showed he was a worthy selection.
'I'm pretty sure Jay wasn't sure he could do what he's done the last two years,' U.S. captain Hal Sutton said. 'It's been an exciting ride for him. I feel sure that the Ryder Cup, making it as a 50-year-old, is something he'll look back on his career as one of the highlights.'
It was only fitting that the one tournament that made the Ryder Cup a realistic goal for Haas was his tie for fifth last year in the PGA Championship - at Oak Hill, of all places.
The situation wasn't quite the same when he got to the 18th hole in the final round, although Haas couldn't help but think about the Ryder Cup.
'The last time I stood on that tee I tried to squeeze it into the fairway,' he said. 'This time I said, 'Screw it. Just hit this as hard as you can.' I think I can learn from that.'
He split the middle of the fairway and made par, and chalked that up as a lesson learned.
'The last couple of years, I've played more aggressively in my mind - not hitting driver on a tight hole, but being committed to what I was doing,' he said. 'If I'm in that same position, I might not hit a great shot, but I'll be committed to it. If I go down, I'll go down in flames, instead of going down tiptoeing.'
Whether Haas gets another shot to help win the cup won't be known until Sunday. But at least he's got another chance, and that's something he never expected the last time he was in a Ryder Cup uniform.
And maybe this is where redemption comes in.
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