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Haas Arrives at Long Last

So maybe Jay Haas has found a home after all. Hes 51 years old and has been eligible for the Champions Tour for almost 18 months, but hes had a problem really being a senior.
Until now. Last week he won the first major of his career, the Senior PGA Championship. That, friends, was his third straight Champions Tour victory. Nothing better to snap you suddenly into reality than to reel off three wins back to back to back.
Jay Haas' Senior PGA Championship victory was his third straight win.
Haas had a terrible time letting go of the PGA TOUR. And really, you couldnt blame him. After all, he finished 15th on the regular-tour money list at the age of 49, his highest finish since 1982. He won $2.5 million that year, and in 2004 when he was first eligible for the Champions Tour, he was still good enough to grab $2 million out of the regular tour coffers.
Consider that you only make about one-third to one-fourth as much money for a similar Champions Tour finish, and you learn very quickly the attraction of staying on the regular tour as long as you can. In 2004, Haas was 27th on the PGA TOUR money list with $2 mil. In 2004, the 27th man on the Champions made only $689,420. The $2 million figure would have been third on the Champions Tour. So it doesnt take a Bill Gates to decide where you need to be.
Last year, Haas got a cold dose of reality. Age finally caught up with him. He tried to play the regular tour but he could finish only 151st on the regular-tour money list while playing in 16 events. He did dip a toe into the Champions Tour, playing in 10 events and being voted rookie of the year.
This year, it has been mostly about the senior set. He did play four events on the regular tour (he has an exemption for this year thanks to his selection on the 2004 Ryder Cup team), finishing as high as a tie for 22nd at Wachovia. But he says such forays into the land of the youngsters is strictly a some-time thing now. He is ready to start acting his age.
Er ' almost. He has entered the Memorial this week, his all-time favorite tournament after the majors. While in Ohio, he will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open. And he will play in the PGA Championship in August.
Actually, Haas was searching for a tour that he could play when he was 46. He finished 144th that year, 92nd when he was 47 and 98th when he was 48. But then his game was reborn after a few lessons with putting guru Stan Utley. Maybe, he theorized, he wasnt so bad after all. And he certainly wasnt.

I didn't think I should play as poorly at 45, but I wasn't sure I should play as well as I did at 50, Haas says.
So it was just hard to let go. That's all I ever knew. That competition, those courses, those guys that I was competing against. That was what I had known. And so it was just hard to turn my back on it. And playing well. I guess to me, being in contention at Harbortown or the U. S. Open, something like that, the PGA Championship, that was an unbelievable charge. And I didn't know if I would get that same feeling.
Now since I've played Champions Tour golf and won a couple events, it's the same to me. If you're coming down the stretch with a chance to win the tournament, it doesn't seem to be any different to me than it was 20 years ago. So it's still golf, it's still low score wins, and you're competing against some quality people. But it's tough to say that's over. But I'm OK with it now. I'm ready to move on.
Haas, though, hasnt completely lost his desire to play with the young men. He has a son, Bill, who keeps banging on the door of the PGA TOUR. Jay leaps at the chance to play alongside his son, and that is a feeling that will never change, regardless of how he does on the Champions or the regular tour.
That's been the main reason that I've played this year is to just be with Bill, play practice rounds with him and just watch him a little bit, Haas said.
It never gets old, and I wish I was 42 instead of 52 and still being able to do that week in and week out with him. But he's a big boy and he's, and he can do it without me, I'm sure. He would probably just as soon do it without me, so. But that doesn't mean I'm going to leave him alone.

Haas, though, is bright enough to know that his days as a true competitor on the regular tour are probably over. Hes bright enough to know that on that tour hes probably just an oddity now, an older guy getting a chance to test himself against the young men. But against men of his generation, the situation is far different.
I don't know, I get to the PGA TOUR events and I feel like I cannot make any mistakes, Haas said. I feel like I have to play almost perfectly to be a threat. To even make the cut I really have to play well.
I come out here and where there are no cuts normally - I guess I don't feel like I can coast by any means, but it's just a little bit different mindset. I don't know what it is. It's just I feel like I'm outclassed a lot of times if I don't play well at a PGA event, PGA TOUR event, I'm down the road. No questions asked.
So he makes a final decision to play the Champions Tour and he wins a Champions Tour major. What do you think about that? If youre Jay Haas, playing with these older gents isnt half bad.
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