Q&A with Paul Haley
July 15, 2020
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Georgia Tech alum Paul Haley finished runner-up at last month's Utah Championship and currently stands No. 23 on The 25. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
It appeared Paul Haley was born to play a professional sport – turns out, it was golf.
His father was a high-level baseball pitcher, while his sister is a competitive equestrian. His high school golf team featured five guys, including Haley, who went on to play NCAA Division I. And in sixth grade, Haley played on a baseball team that featured Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
At 18, Haley won the storied Texas State Amateur before going off to Georgia Tech, where, in his senior season, he capped his college career with a victory at the ACC Championship.
Now the 32-year-old has a win on the Korn Ferry Tour plus a season on the PGA TOUR under his belt.
After some lean years, Haley has retooled his game with an eye on a PGA TOUR return. Propelled by two top-three finishes in the last three weeks, he currently stands No. 23 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List.
Haley spent a few minutes with PGA TOUR Digital to chat about his sporting life, his time in Dallas, and where you can find him when he’s not playing.
Everyone got up to different things during the COVID-19 break, but you’ve come out of that time off playing some really good golf. What did you get up to?
I was back home in Dallas and my golf course … it was closed for a decent amount of time – at least a month-and-a-half. It was one of the last ones to open. We have a group of guys who I play with out at my club, and when we were able to, we’d go out to Rangers Golf Club or Cowboys Golf Club, like some public golf courses, and we’d literally pay to play. That’s what I was up to. Besides that, gosh, like most people, there wasn’t much to do. Once it opened back up, I started practicing and playing a lot more.
So you, a winner on the Korn Ferry Tour and a guy who has played the PGA TOUR before, was just out paying for tee times like a regular guy during the break?
That’s exactly what happened (laughs). I probably spent $1,000 playing (public) golf in Dallas.
Did you tell anyone what you did for living? Or did anyone look at your swings and think, ‘Man, those guys are pretty good?’
Every time we’d play, we had guys from Royal Oaks, where I play at in Dallas, so I didn’t get paired up with any random people, if that’s what you mean (laughs).
Dallas is known as a bit of a hotbed for TOUR players. Did you play at the tournaments hosted at Maridoe Golf Club (won by 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year Scottie Scheffler)?
I played both of them. It was nice to play ‘something’ before we got back. There were a lot of really good players out there, which was awesome.
When you were younger, did you know you wanted to be a professional golfer?
I was really into baseball. Baseball was my first love. My dad starting playing and I would go out with him, and I fell in love with it. By the time high school rolled around, I told my parents I just wanted to play golf. I quit baseball and I just focused on golf through high school.
Was there a moment when you knew you had to leave baseball? Did you get injured?
I didn’t get hurt or anything, but it was more the timing of when I was going right into high school. All these kids were playing select baseball and it was 60-70 games per summer and I realized I would rather be on the golf course instead. I’d play tournaments. My mom would drop me off at the golf course at 7 a.m. and pick me up at dark, so I’m sure they enjoyed that (laughs). It was something to do in the summer.
When did you get really good at golf and think colleges might be willing to take a chance on you?
I was a good junior player and we had a really good high school golf team. Like, one year, all five of us ended up playing (NCAA) Division I golf. It was really competitive. I had a pretty good high school career, and when I was a junior in high school, that’s when I started looking seriously at schools for golf and I decided on Georgia Tech.
There were five guys on your high school team who played D-I golf?
Yeah (laughs), it was really competitive. Needless to say, we had a really good high school team!
Why did you decide on Georgia Tech?
Two of my best friends played on the Texas golf team, but I never grew up a Texas fan unlike most kids in the state. I never felt like I was drawn there, just because my best friends went there. To be honest, I wanted to do something different. Georgia Tech is a great golf school and they put a bunch of guys on TOUR, so that was a big reason. I wanted to get out of state and do my own thing somewhere.
But you returned to Dallas after school. Why?
I was born and raised there. I thought about staying in Atlanta for a minute after college because I love Atlanta and have a lot of good friends there, but my coach, the only one I’ve ever had, is in Dallas. It just made sense to move back. It’s easy to travel out of, I love it, and I didn’t have any interest in living anywhere else.
Just the one golf coach your whole life, even when you got to the TOUR?
Just one! I was lucky – he was the head professional at my home golf course. He was there for about 35 years. He was PGA Teacher of the Year in 2002 (Randy Smith, Haley’s instructor, is also a member of the PGA of America Hall of Fame) and he’s worked with a ton of high-level players, so I lucked out in that sense. He knows my game and it’s usually really easy. He’s pretty old school. There’s not a lot of TrackMan or technical thoughts. If I’ve got a problem, he can fix it really, really quickly for me.
Dallas is a big food city. What’s your favorite restaurant in town?
Bandito’s is my favorite Tex-Mex spot; it’s really good. Then there’s a great burger place, it’s called Chip’s Old Fashioned Hamburger, that’s probably my second favorite.
What was it like growing up in such a big sports family?
It was great. My dad loves sports, so it was just natural for me to grow up with a ball in my hand, pretty much. I loved sports, too. My sister is a competitive equestrian rider. I don’t think my mom played anything, but my dad would have me in all the sports and I loved it growing up. It was easy for my dad and I to go out and do something, sports-wise, and that’s how I grew up. I didn’t really know anything else.
Have you ever ridden a horse?
I have. But I’m not very good at it (laughs). I haven’t been on a horse since high school, but I have access to a horse if I ever need one.
What do you like doing away from the golf course?
Playing video games is definitely one. College football is another. My friends and I are very passionate about college football, so we’re going to watch that and have a couple beers. I watch a lot of movies, a lot of sports with my girlfriend. I keep it pretty chill – I’m not doing too much when I’m not playing golf.
Which video game do you play?
I’m a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare player. Me and (PGA TOUR winner) Cody Gribble will play and we’ll get after it a lot when we have time. But we’re not that intense – we don’t have the headgear. If he’s playing at his house and I’m playing at mine we’ll put our phones on speaker; I guess that’s a makeshift headset (laughs).