Championship golf is a strict meritocracy. For all the acclaim the sport derives from its history, tradition, sportsmanship and playing by the rules, the essence of its appeal also comes from its singular nature, down the stretch on Sundays.
There is no nepotism inside the ropes. Nothing is bequeathed. No judges deduct points, no umpire calls balls and strikes, fair or foul, no flags are thrown or whistles blown. You prevail or fail on your own, depending on what you learned, to paraphrase Ben Hogan, by digging it out of the dirt.
Golf heritage might help, but no one is born on third base. And rarely has there been a better illustration of this basic truth than during the final round of the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club, where Bill Haas drew on all he had learned – from experiences good and bad – to forge his way from a five-way tie for the lead to victory in his fifth PGA TOUR event in four years.
Haas and his victory are instructive, not merely because he shot 66, birdied five of the final 11 holes for a total of 25 birdies for the week and won by three strokes. And not just because he became one of four TOUR players to win in each of the past four seasons, joining Phil Mickelson (10), Dustin Johnson (6) and Justin Rose (4).
The 31-year-old Haas is quietly establishing himself as the most successful son of a PGA TOUR winner in history. His father, Jay Haas, won nine tournaments on the PGA TOUR, another 16 on the Champions Tour and five other pro events, played on three Ryder Cup teams and two Presidents Cup squads. His son is following directly in his footsteps, and as natural as that seems to both father and son it is not the norm in golf.
Only three other sons whose fathers won on TOUR have been able to do so themselves: Vance Heafner, son of three-time winner Clayton Heafner, won the 1981 Children’s Miracle Network (with teammate Mike Holland in the Walt Disney Team Championship); Guy Boros, son of Hall of Famer Julius Boros, won the 1996 Air Canada Championship; Brent Geiberger, son of Al Geiberger, won the 1999 Travelers Championship and the 2004 Wyndham Championship.
Jack Burke Jr., who won 16 times on the PGA TOUR, including both the Masters and PGA Championship in 1956, won more than any son of a prominent player, but his father, Jack Burke Sr., who competed in 24 U.S. Opens and finished tied for second at the 1920 Open, did not win on TOUR.
There are multiple theories about why the sons of famous golfers, while often able to advance to the rarified air of PGA TOUR membership, are unable to break through for a victory. They range from simplistic – a son raised in comfort provided by the successful dad never develops the competitive edge – to esoteric – sons either want too much to beat their fathers or are too intimidated by them to compete with them.
For whatever reason, Bill Haas has been able to overcome the trend by taking each step as it comes. Maybe the answer is that simple. He invariably shrugs off comparisons to his more famous father, always defers to him as the better player, and always credits him for teaching him everything he needed to know to succeed.
In other words, he says many of the same things that other sons of TOUR players say about their dads, but does what they haven’t been able to do. And so far, Bill’s record has been close to his dad’s. His fifth win came at age 31 (Jay was 29), in his 229th start as a pro. His father won his fifth in his 181st start, but had a gap of five years until his sixth.
It will be interesting to see how soon Bill is able to win his sixth. If his current form holds, it surely will come sooner than five years from now. He shows no desire to get into a head-to-head competition with his dad, which should work in his favor because he has all the tools he needs to continue to improve.
At 6-foor-2 -- four inches taller than Jay, he is able to create a wider arc with his swing, leading to more distance off the tee. He is plenty long enough, in other words, to compete with today’s bombers and has shown flashes of the solid iron play that differentiated his father during his prime on TOUR, and even to this day, at 59.
The way he won on Sunday also demonstrated an ability to self-correct, sorting out what went wrong during Saturday’s round, during which he suffered a triple-bogey at the 11th hole, and taking care of business in the final round. When things were bunched up, with five players tied for the lead after seven holes, Haas stepped on the gas, birdieing Nos. 8 and 9 to take a lead he built on with three more birdies on the back nine.
Moreover, as his confidence continues to grow, Bill isn’t afraid to face his dad’s shadow, embracing the challenge of succeeding where many others have failed. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t think about it.
“There’s a lot of kids that go into their father’s business and don’t succeed, or don’t get the deal done that their dad got done,” he said. “It’s hard. And certainly, a sport that you get a lot of people watching you, and at any moment it could go astray and go wrong, those thoughts creep into your mind.”
Interestingly, when that happens to Bill Haas these days, it helps when he starts to think about his own son, William, born to his wife, Julie, on the Monday after THE PLAYERS.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “There was a couple times today, I was going over a couple balls, and I said, ‘You get to go home and see William this week. This drive is not that big of a deal.’ Maybe that helps. Maybe just that one little thought keeps you in perspective.”
Could be. Sounds like something William will find out in a couple decades, if the trend continues.
Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.