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.

Riviera.

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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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.