By Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM Columnist
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – It was an electric performance that Bill Haas put on Saturday at the Riviera Country Club, an air-tight, bogey-free mini-masterpiece of a 64 that included five birdies and an eagle and was four strokes better than all but one other player in the field at the Northern Trust Open.
On a rare warm February day, it was a hot round in front of a large crowd in a big tournament by a young guy – the kind of combustible mix that can often generate some fist-pumping, chest-thumping histrionics.
Except that’s not the way Haas was brought up. Here he is, on the verge of winning his fifth tournament in four years, one good Sunday away from joining the short list of seven players to win back-to-back at The Riv, and Haas went about his business in a manner as understated as his ensemble – gray slacks, blue shirt, white Titleist golf cap and white golf shoes.
“Just kind of was plugging along out there,” he said. “And all of a sudden made a nice putt at 9, chip-in at 10, good up-and-down at 11. Then made a couple of nice par saves.”
That’s not a bad impression of the fellow named Hogan who first won back-to-back here in 1947-48. His statue looks down at the 18th hole, where Haas just missed adding another birdie onto his 12-under-par total of 201 for a 3-stroke lead over Webb Simpson (68), Charl Schwartzel (68) and John Merrick (70) going into Sunday.
Another stroke back at 205 are Luke Donald (70) and second-round co-leader Fredrik Jacobson (72). The other co-leader, Sang-Moon Bae of South Korea, shot 76 and fell into a tie for 13th, eight strokes back.
Haas has been around golf long enough to know that a 3-stroke lead going into Sunday on the PGA TOUR is about as safe as a three-point lead in the NFL at the end of the third quarter. He’s been around the game all his life, descendent from a golf family that has roots in the game as deep as the sycamores and eucalyptus trees that line the old fairways at The Riv.
His dad Jay won nine times on the PGA TOUR. His great uncle Bob Goalby won the 1968 Masters and 10 other TOUR events. His uncle Jerry Haas coached young Bill when he was at Wake Forest University on the Arnold Palmer Scholarship. His uncle Dillard Pruitt is a former TOUR player and now a TOUR rules official.
It’s not difficult to understand why Bill Haas talks about being old school, loving the great traditions of the game, dressing conventionally and playing the great old courses. Flashy is OK, but not for him.
“I try to live up to my mom and dad’s expectations as much as possible, and my dad’s expectations through golf and what he’s taught me,” Haas said. “He always told me, ‘Let your clubs do your talking, work hard.’ That, in a sense, means, ‘Don’t wear bright colored shirts, and I always try to wear slacks and just a normal shirt.’”
Not to say his outfits aren’t stylish, in a conservative sort of way. His golf clothier, Peter Millar, does offer a variety of vivid colors, and Haas suggested the light-aqua shirt he wore Saturday is an example of “sort of a bright color.”
Well, maybe for him. Some players would beg to differ. But we digress. The point is that Haas isn’t really concerned about drawing attention to himself with externals. He is about doing his job, something he currently does as well as any of the young U.S. stars on TOUR. In the process, he has already distinguished himself by bucking one trend.
He already has succeeded in the sport at which his father excelled. He hasn’t yet made a Ryder Cup team, which Jay did as a captain’s choice in 2006, but he has, like his dad, played on a Presidents Cup team and is on the verge of twice winning a tournament his father couldn’t win in 25 tries.
It’s tough for the sons of highly-skilled performers to escape the shadows of their famous fathers. You can ask Frank Sinatra Jr. about it. It does happen from time to time in team sports: Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr., Bobby Bonds & son Barry in baseball; Archie Manning’s two boys, Peyton and Eli are among the most prominent in football.
But examples in individual sports are tougher to come by, particularly in golf, which is more inward-looking than any of the other major pursuits. The more celebrated the father, the tougher on the son. This doesn’t concern Bill Haas, who still doesn’t think of himself as a better player than his father and isn’t trying to be.
“Growing up I knew how difficult it was and how hard my dad worked and how good he was,” Bill said. “My whole life, even though I thought I was pretty good, I was never as good as he was and/or his peers were. So that always motivated me just to play more.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why aren’t more sons out here?’” he continued. “I just think it’s purely numbers. There’s only 100-something guys out here. So of them, which ones have sons? Of that, which ones have sons that even play? Then which ones are any good?”
Bill and Julie Haas will soon have a son of their own. Some 21 years from now, when Bill is on the Champions Tour, we’ll see how much deeper the Haas Family roots are embedded in the game.
Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.