A natural progression

By John FeinsteinSeptember 27, 2011, 7:15 pm

When Bill Haas was in college, his unofficial nickname on the Wake Forest golf team was, “The Natural.” His teammates were in awe of his ability to hit range balls for 15 minutes and then go watch a football game while the rest of them kept grinding away.

“And then when it mattered he’d outplay all of us,” Chad Wilfong, one of his teammates at Wake, said several years ago when Haas was still trying to make it to the PGA Tour. “Bill almost never hit more than 20 or 25 balls at a time. He’s the most talented player I’ve ever been around. We used to joke that he never met a range that he liked.”

After Sunday, Haas can afford to build himself a range that he likes. Or never hit another range ball again. Whichever he prefers. He earned a total of $11.44 million by winning the Tour Championship, which included a $10 million bonus for also capturing the FedEx Cup.

Haas had some shaky moments, but in the three-hole, sudden-death playoff with Hunter Mahan, his nerves – the one thing that had seemed to keep him at arm’s length from stardom – held up when they most had to.   

As easy as Haas can make it look at times, it hasn’t always been that simple. He flunked Q-School the first time he tried it in 2004 and it took a birdie-birdie finish on the last day in 2005 to get him onto the Tour. If you watched on Sunday and thought his dad looked nervous the last few holes, then you should have seen him coming down the stretch at Orange County National in December ‘05.       

Jay Haas won nine times on the PGA Tour and 15 times on the Champions Tour. He has always said the most nerve-wracking moments he’s ever had on the golf course came watching Bill at Q-School. This past Sunday was all gravy for the father. He was thrilled to see his son win, but proud just to see him contend.

Bill, on the other hand, wanted very much to win. After six years on Tour he knows just how difficult that is to do if your name isn’t Tiger Woods and the year isn’t 2000 or 2001. Going into Atlanta he had been a solid money-winner ever since surviving the six-round torture test six years ago, but had just two victories: the 2010 Bob Hope and Viking Classic.       

Twice in 2011 – at the Hope and at The Greenbrier – he had lost in playoffs. He had talked candidly in the past about needing to control his nerves better when he was in the hunt on Sunday.       

“That’s what the best players do,” he said late last year. “I still get nervous sometimes on the back nine on Sunday. If you’re going to be a consistent winner out here you can’t do that. You aren’t going to win every time you’re in contention but you have to keep yourself in the ballgame when it gets close because most of the time you’re going to have to win. You can’t wait for someone else to lose.”     

There weren’t a lot of birdies flying around on the last few holes at East Lake on Sunday. The golf course was difficult and the money at stake clearly was affecting the contenders. Haas bogeyed two of the last three holes to give up what had been a three-shot lead. But he recovered in the playoff, especially on the second hole when his second shot found the edge of the lake left of the 17th green and he was able to use the sand just beneath the ball in the water to spin his shot to within 3 feet.

“It really played just like a bunker shot,” Haas said. “I was very fortunate.”      

Fortunate perhaps that the water level in the lake was down but extremely skilled to play the shot the way he did. Haas didn’t win the Tour Championship because he got lucky; he won it because he is a lot closer to figuring out how to close now than he has been in the past.

If he was fortunate in any area it was the fact that he walked away with the $10 million bonus. It can’t make PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem happy to know that for the second consecutive year the guy who won golf’s biggest check didn’t know he’d done so when he walked off the 18th green.

As Haas went to claim his Tour Championship trophy, he noticed the FedEx Cup trophy next to it. “Is that mine, too?” he asked his wife. “They’re both yours,” replied Finchem.

To make things easier to comprehend, Finchem would be best served to implement a true playoff, where everyone who qualifies for postseason play begins at zero points and those who play best go to Atlanta and start at zero again. Match play (32 players) would also be far more exciting, but TV isn’t going to go for that, so at least create a scenario whereby the guy who makes the winning putt doesn’t throw his arms in the air, look around and say, “Did I win?”

In the meantime, Haas’ victory, combined with Keegan Bradley’s win at the PGA Championship, helped to salvage the year for American golf which limped away from Royal St. George’s in July without a victory in a major or the Ryder Cup since Phil Mickelson’s win at the 2010 Masters.

Nick Watney is 30. Haas, Mahan and Brandt Snedeker are 29. Dustin Johnson is 27. Bradley is 25. All have won multiple times on Tour and Bradley has a major title on his resume. They’re all quite wealthy and will continue to be big names in golf for a good, long while. There are other young Americans well under 30 – Rickie Fowler, Gary Woodland, Kyle Stanley, Spencer Levin, and a spate of amateurs who played well this past summer – who also have great potential.   

The question is this: Will any of them become true stars – guys who win multiple majors and go well into double-digits in tournament victories? Only time will answer that question. For the moment, though, the two players who made genuine breakthroughs this year were clearly Bradley and Haas.        

Stay tuned.

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Lewis says she's expecting first child in November

By Randall MellApril 27, 2018, 2:18 am

Stacy Lewis is pregnant.

The 12-time LPGA winner confirmed after Thursday’s first round of the Mediheal Championship that she and her husband, University of Houston women’s golf coach Gerrod Chadwell, are expecting their first child on Nov. 3.

Lewis learned she was pregnant after returning home to Houston in late February following her withdrawal from the HSBC Women’s World Championship with a strained oblique muscle.

“We're obviously really excited,” Lewis said. “It wasn't nice I was hurt, but it was nice that I was home when I found out with [Gerrod]. We're just really excited to start a family.”

Lewis is the third big-name LPGA player preparing this year to become a mother for the first time. Suzann Pettersen announced last month that she’s pregnant, due in the fall. Gerina Piller is due any day.

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Piller’s husband, PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, withdrew from the Zurich Classic on Thursday to be with her. Piller and Lewis have been U.S. Solheim Cup partners the last two times the event has been played.

“It's going to be fun raising kids together,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, they're best friends and they hang out. But just excited about the next few months and what it's going to bring.”

Lewis, a former Rolex world No. 1 and two-time major championship winner, plans to play through the middle of July, with the Marathon Classic her last event of the year. She will be looking to return for the start of the 2019 season. The LPGA’s maternity leave policy allows her to come back next year with her status intact.

“This year, the golf might not be great, but I've got better things coming in my life than a golf score.” Lewis said. “I plan on coming back and traveling on the road with the baby, and we'll figure it out as we go.”

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Coach scores in NFL Draft and on golf course

By Grill Room TeamApril 27, 2018, 1:47 am

To say that Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had a good day Thursday would be an understatement. Not only did his team snag one of the top defensive players in the NFL Draft - Georgia outside linebacker Roquan Smith, who the Bears took with the eighth pick of the first round - but earlier in the day Fangio, 59, made a hole-in-one, sinking a 9-iron shot from 125 yards at The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wis.

Perhaps the ace isn't so surprising, though. In late May 2017, Fangio made another hole-in-one, according to a tweet from the Bears. The only information supplied on that one was the distance - 116 yards.

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Gooch chooses 'life over a good lie' with gators nearby

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:31 pm

AVONDALE, La. – A fairway bunker wasn’t Talor Gooch’s only hazard on the 18th hole at TPC Louisiana.

Gooch’s ball came to rest Thursday within a few feet of three gators, leading to a lengthy delay as he sorted out his options.

Chesson Hadley used a rake to nudge two of the gators on the tail, sending them back into the pond surrounding the green. But the third gator wouldn’t budge.

“It woke him up from a nap,” Gooch said, “and he was hissing away and wasn’t happy.”

The other two gators remained in the water, their eyes fixed on the group.

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“I’m sure we would have been fine, but any little movement by them and no chance I would have made solid contact,” he said.

A rules official granted Gooch free relief, away from the gator, but he still had to drop in the bunker. The ball plugged.

“I chose life over a good lie in that situation,” he said.

He splashed out short of the green, nearly holed out his pitch shot and made par to cap off an eventful 6-under 66 with partner Andrew Landry.

“It was my first gator par,” he said. “I’ll take it.”

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Koepka's game 'where it should be' even after injury

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:18 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Brooks Koepka didn’t look rusty Thursday while making six birdies in the first round of the Zurich Classic.

Making his first start in four months because of a torn ligament in his left wrist, Koepka and partner Marc Turnesa shot a 5-under 67 in fourballs at TPC Louisiana.

“It felt good,” Koepka said afterward. “It was just nice to be out here. I played pretty solid.”

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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The reigning U.S. Open champion felt soreness in his wrist the week after he won the Dunlop Phoenix in the fall. He finished last at the Hero World Challenge in December and then the following month at the Tournament of Champions before shutting it down.

He only began practicing last week and decided to commit to the Zurich Classic after three solid days at Medalist. He decided to partner with one of his friends in South Florida, Marc Turnesa, a former PGA Tour winner who now works in real estate.

Koepka hasn’t lost any distance because of the injury – he nearly drove the green on the 355-yard 16th hole. He’s planning to play the next two weeks, at the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players.

“I feel like I’m playing good enough to be right where I should be in April,” he said. “I feel good, man. There’s nothing really wrong with my game right now.”