Haas Not Over the Hill at Shinnecock Hills

By Mercer BaggsJune 15, 2004, 4:00 pm
Jay Haas cant find much to complain about these days. Yeah, the pace of play is a little slow. And kids are blowing it by him 30 yards. And not having won in over a decade is a little annoying. But when youre 50 years old youre a little more philosophical about things like these.
I have a hard time believing people (on the PGA Tour) complain about anything, Haas said. You know, we show up here, we get a new car, food in the locker room, great range, wonderful golf course, and people love us.
Hey, the man just gets it.
Hes a professional golfer, playing for tons of money. Hes respected by peers, admired by fans. Hes 50, for Petes sake, and hes so good that he doesnt have to play with people his own age.
Jay Haas is an optimist.
Asked two weeks ago at the Memorial if it gets frustrating that hes come so close to winning over the last couple of years and yet cant seem to secure that victory that has eluded him for going on 11 years, he responded:
In a way it does, but I look at it as a positive, that Ive played well and Ive been in contention.
Im just very appreciative and blessed to be able to do it this long and play as well as I have at this stage of my career.
It wasnt too long ago that Haas was on the other side, as he calls it. In 2000, he was in the gray area of professional golf, the mid-40s ' stuck between an inability to compete on the regular tour and ineligibility to compete on the senior circuit.
He finished the Year of the Tiger outside the top 100 on the money list for the first time in his career, dating back to his first full season in 1977. Even worse, he finished outside the top 125 on the money list, meaning he lost full exempt status.
That could have marked the beginning of the end for Jay Haas competitive days on the PGA Tour. He could have just traded on his name and his nine past tour victories and waited until he turned 50 and looted the Champions Tour.
Instead, it just marked the beginning.
In 2000 I played very poorly and didnt want to go out like that, he said at this years Masters, sounding more like his 20-something kids than a tour veteran of 28 years. I felt like if I worked hard at it, practiced hard, got in shape, that I could play better.
Haas did all of those things, and took a couple of lessons from former tour player Stan Utley, whose legend as a putting genius was multiplying exponentially about that time.
In 2000, Haas ranked 164th on tour in driving distance, 80th in driving accuracy, 161st in greens hit in regulation and 111th in putts per round. Last year, he was still 149th in distance, 115th in accuracy and 116th in greens in regulation., but he was 12th in putts per round. Consequently, he had eight top-10s (the same amount he had in the last four years combined), including a pair of runner-up finishes. He also ended the campaign 15th in earnings, with over $2.5 million ($1.74 million better than he previous best season total).
I felt like I was a good putter, not a great putter. I wasnt consistent. When it mattered I couldnt handle the pressure, and I felt like I needed to make a change, he recounted at the Memorial.
We (Haas and Utley) made a few changes, and this thing just seemed to click with me, it just seemed to work. I think by putting better Ive relaxed the rest of my game. Theres not so much pressure on my long game now. If I dont hit 15 greens a round, then I can still manage to score and stay in the tournament, whereas I couldnt a few years ago.
A few years ago -2000 to be precise - Haas was tied for 149th in the tours scrambling category, which counts the number of times a player makes par or better after missing a green in regulation.
This year he is third on that list.
Haas will need all of his scrambling abilities this week at Shinnecock Hills.
Its the third time hes played the layout under Open circumstances. He missed the cut in 1986 and then tied for fourth in 1995. If he could somehow improve upon his most recent performance there, he would become not only the oldest winner in the 104 years of the U.S. Open, he would become the oldest ever major champion.
You look at the two winners (at Shinnecock in 86 and 95), Raymond (Floyd) and Corey (Pavin), both beautiful shot-makers. I think it allows anyone to be competitive there, he said.
I think a lot depends on the weather there. When Raymond won in 86, the weather was miserable the first couple of days. I think I shot 162 or something, missed the cut ' it just overwhelmed me.
The last time, the weather was just normal, I think, and a little bit of wind, a pretty steady breeze. And I played well.
Despite a missed cut at last weeks Buick Classic, Haas has played well once again this season. He has five top-10 finishes and is currently 10th on the Ryder Cup points list.
The top 10 after the conclusion of the PGA Championship will earn automatic spots on the team. U.S. captain Hal Sutton will select the other two team members.
Making the Ryder Cup has long been a goal for Haas. He qualified for the team in 1983 and was a captains pick in 95. If he again qualifies for the team, hell be the oldest player on either side to do so (Floyd was 51 years, 20 days when he played as a captains selection in 93).
Haas, however, isn't trying to set records with his age; hes just trying to prove that he still belongs.
Its not so much about being 50, saying that I would be one of the oldest players on the team or anything like that, he said. Its about making the team.
I guess the fact that to be on a team consisting of 12 players from this tour, from the United States, to be in that elite group is something thats very special to me. Ive done it twice, and to just be in that room and listen to those players and to watch them play and realize that Im one of them, is something that I really look forward to and strive to achieve.
A good performance this week will immensely help his cause. Points (which are awarded based on finishing inside the top 10 in PGA Tour-sanctioned events) are already double during a Ryder Cup year. And they are quadrupled for at a major championship.
Im going to play the three majors between now and the time when the team is picked, Haas said. And if I play well enough, Ill make the team, and if I dont, I wont.
I wont say that Im obsessed with making the team, Id sure love to do it, but Im not obsessed with it. But Im definitely driven by the fact that if I work hard at it, Ive got a chance to do it.
A win this week and he would lock up a spot.
He certainly wont be the favorite, as he was when he made his Champions Tour debut a few weeks ago in their first major of the season, the Senior PGA Championship ' where he just happened to notch another second-place finish. But an aging Floyd won at Shinnecock in 86. And a scrambling Pavin did the same in 95.
Why not an aging, scrambling Jay Haas in 04?
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