AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bill Haas’ history at Augusta National began long before he rounded Amen Corner in 1 under par on a breezy spring day, before he signed for an opening 68 that left him a stroke clear of the field, before he needed just 28 putts on greens that were looking more like Sunday than Thursday at the Masters.
Haas has been making the trip down Magnolia Lane ever since he can remember, attached to his father Jay’s hip for some 20 years and his family’s heritage at the game’s most iconic of golf courses.
In short, Bill Haas grew up at Augusta National and on Thursday, when swirling winds turned the damp course into a surprisingly demanding test, Jay Haas’ youngest son matured even more.
Standing behind the clubhouse after following every step of his son’s round, Jay Haas’ mind raced back to all those trips to the year’s first major with Bill, like in 1995 as he turned onto Magnolia Lane and his 13-year-old asked, “Dad, do I need my ticket today?”
“I’m like, oh boy. Let’s go back to the house,” Jay Haas laughed.
And in 2003 when Haas’ oldest son, Jay Jr., turned up ill on Day 1 and had to be replaced on his dad’s bag for the week by Bill. “He looked at Jay Jr. and said, ‘You’re done for the rest of the week,’” Jay Haas recalled.
Jay Haas would finish tied for third in ’95, his best showing at Augusta National, and would go on to play in 22 Masters with Bill, along with the rest of the family, there for every peak and valley.
“I remember like it was yesterday, he said it was 20 years ago he finished third and it does not seem that long ago,” Bill Haas said. “I remember a lot of the shots he hit coming down the stretch. It was probably the age, too, I was starting to play golf, and so I think I enjoyed it more. I appreciated it probably.”
Haas also remembers his great uncle Bob Goalby who won the green jacket in 1968, and his uncle, Jerry, playing the event in 1985 and his uncle, on his mother’s side, Dillard Pruitt tying for 13th in 1992.
The Masters is in the Haas DNA, so it was no surprise that the next generation would excel on a day when Augusta National was playing so perfectly like, well . . . Augusta National.
Haas birdied No. 2 after hitting his second shot on the par 5 short and right, just where he knew to hit it.
“Over the years we’ve talked about certain holes. I’ve been in all these places and he’s asked, ‘Why was I left at (No.) 2?’” Jay Haas said. “He misses that shot right every time, just where you need to be.”
If experience is passed down from generation to generation, Bill Haas has a combined 56 starts at the former fruit nursery, from his father’s 22 to Goalby’s 27 and his own four trips to the Masters.
Haas made mistakes on Day 1. Not sure there’s ever been a perfect round played at Augusta National, but he rebounded from bogeys at Nos. 1 and 17 with birdies each time, including a towering 8-iron to birdie range at the last.
Despite his lineage, Thursday’s 68 was Haas’ first round in the 60s at Augusta National and his father’s history at the Masters isn’t much better, with just five top-10 finishes to show for more than two decades of effort.
It’s not a mystery what has held either player back at the Masters and when asked what his issues at Augusta National have been the younger Haas didn’t pull any punches.
“Putting, golf shots, nerves, all of the things that get you,” but he pauses and adds in signature Haas style, “tomorrow, it's a new day.”
In many ways, Bill Haas’ career has mirrored that of his father - sneaky consistent with bouts of stellar play but perhaps lacking a high-profile exclamation mark like a major championship.
Haas seemed to inch toward loftier status in 2011 when he won the Tour Championship down the road in Atlanta to claim the FedEx Cup.
He also made an interesting, if not difficult, team change last month when he split with his brother Jay Jr. who had caddied for him. It was the same week (Valspar Championship) that John Peterson parted ways with longtime looper Scott Gneiser.
“Jay (Jr.) gave me Bill’s number and said he thought we’d be a good fit,” said Gneiser, who began working for Haas two weeks ago at the Valero Texas Open.
The change likely helped Haas temper some of his aggressiveness on a course that rewards experience above all else, and he has plenty of that. Before teeing off on Thursday, Jay Haas reminded Bill that the hole location on No. 6, back right, was “the kind of shot that there is no bailout, you just have to hit a shot.”
But then Haas knew that somewhere deep within his genetic code. When asked if the Masters is in his blood he said, simply, “I guess so.”