AT LAST!

On His 90th Try, Jay Haas Finally Wins a Major At the Senior PGA Championship, During Which The Wind, a Revitalize Oak Tree and an Unexpected Playoff Livened Up the Show
June 04, 2006

The key toholding a great golf tournament is the same as the key to making a great batchof chocolate-chip cookies: You have to have the right ingredients. Last week's67th Senior PGA Championship had them all. ¶ A demanding but lovely venue. Thatmade Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla., a slam dunk for the Senior PGA.Designed by Pete Dye, Oak Tree had the highest course rating (76.9) in thecountry when it opened 30 years ago. A recent renovation tacked on 400 yards(to a total of 7,412) and upped the rating to 77.1. "It's not a golfcourse, it's an obstacle course," says Champions tour veteran Dana Quigley.Oak Tree, which hosted the 1988 PGA Championship won by Jeff Sluman, fell outof favor when the club's ownership became enmeshed in the savings-and-loancrisis of the late '80s but is now major-worthy again. Even better, Oak Tree'swinding fairways, sparkling ponds, inviting bunkers, charming stonework andblossoming trees looked great on TV.

A deservingwinner. Jay Haas was loath to give up playing on the PGA Tour, especially nowthat his son Bill has made the grade. But Haas has found a home on theChampions tour. The Senior PGA was his third senior victory in his last threestarts and has earned him the title of Senior Most Likely to Run the Freakin'Table This Year. Haas's ball striking was nearly flawless in the final round,during which he hit 14 of the last 15 greens. What won him the title, though,was his putting. He needed only 11 putts on the front nine on Sunday and cameup big when he had to. He rolled in a 12-footer on the 72nd hole for atake-the-lead birdie and another 15-footer on the third playoff hole to savepar, a stroke that turned out to be the winner when Brad Bryant missed hisfour-footer to extend overtime.

A notableachievement. The media fixated on Phil Mickelson's inability to win a major inhis first 42 tries. That was nothing. Haas was 0 for 89 until Sunday (83regular majors, six as a senior). Now, at last, he can move on. "I tried mydarnedest to win a major on the PGA Tour, but it didn't happen," Haas said."I won't say this is the next best thing--this is like one of them tome."

Adverseconditions. Oklahoma is, by Broadway's definition, where "the wind comessweeping down the plain," and it lived up to its billing. Gusts blewfiercely and irregularly up to 35 mph all weekend. "You know it's going tobe a tough day when you walk out of the hotel at 6:30 in the morning and justabout get knocked down by the wind," said D.A. Weibring, who finished 10th.How tough was it? Nineteen players were under par after the first round, butonly five finished in red numbers. Just two (Dick Mast and Mike McCullough)broke 70 in the third round, when the wind was the strongest, while CraigStadler was among the 11 players who failed to break 80. You'd figure that thewell-grounded Walrus would be impervious to any wind below tornado level, buthe shot an 84, tying the highest score of his pro career. When asked about theplaying conditions, he said, "They sucked."

A heroicturnaround. How about two of them? Haas trailed Gil Morgan by four strokes atthe start of the final round, then bogeyed the second and third holes. Justwhen you thought he was toast, Haas reversed field and reeled off five straightbirdies to roar into a two-shot lead. "There were moments today when Ithought I would be at the airport by now," Haas said, "and there weremoments when I felt as if I had everything under control." Bryant, theartist formerly known as Dr. Dirt, piled up four bogeys and a double bogeyduring a seven-hole stretch starting at the 5th and also looked to be out ofcontention. Then he birdied the 13th and holed a monster putt for birdie at the14th. "It was 60 feet or some such nonsense," Bryant said. At the par-516th, Bryant dangerously played a right-to-left tee shot, starting his ballover a water hazard and a stand of trees. When it came to a rest in thefairway, he had only a mid-iron to the green, which he stiffed. After makingthe three-footer for eagle, he was tied for the lead with Haas at four under.Both men birdied the difficult 18th, but Bryant, who went four under on thefinal six holes, did it the hard way--hitting a remarkable recovery shot fromthe right rough to force the playoff.

Agony of defeat.There was plenty. The gallery was solidly behind Gil Morgan, who in 1979 boughtthe third house built in Oak Tree and still lives in it. He's one of the OakTree Gang, eight current or former Tour players who live in the area. BesidesMorgan, there are David and Danny Edwards, Mark Hayes, Doug Tewell, Bob Tway,Scott Verplank and Willie Wood. Don't be fooled by the racy nickname--theseplain men of the plains are the quietest, least-threatening gang since theOsmond family. Morgan, 59, contended for three rounds (reminding everyone howunderrated his ball-striking skills are), but his putter betrayed him onSunday. "Dramatic, that's a good word for it," Bryant said of the finalround. "Excruciating. There were even a couple of holes that were fun. Notmany, only a couple."

A sidekick. Haasand fellow Wake Forest alum Curtis Strange bunked with Tway, whose wife and sonwere off at a junior golf tournament and whose daughter was also away. The47-year-old Tway not only cooked for his pals--ribs on the grill were a popularitem--he also recorded each day's telecast for group viewing. "We weresimply a bunch of guys feeding our faces and watching golf," Haas said."I really liked the way I was swinging, and Johnny Miller was verycomplimentary. He said my putting stroke was mesmerizing. I kept tellingmyself, Boy, if Johnny thinks my stroke is mesmerizing, it must begood."

An improbable,unpredictable break. Haas was clinging to a two-shot lead on Sunday when, at16, he went for the green with a five-wood. His ball jumped left out of therough, clipped a tree branch and appeared headed for the water. Instead, itbounced once on the bank next to the creek, then a second time off the hazard'swooden pilings and back into play. Haas took advantage of his good fortune tomake par. "Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that goes into the creek andI make a bogey for sure," Haas said. "That was a golden break,definitely."

A dash ofemotion. The significance of the victory hit home when NBC's Jimmy Roberts wenton-camera with Haas moments after the playoff and said, "Jay, finally amajor championship after all this time." Haas, holding back tears, couldn'tanswer. "I wanted to say, 'We did it, Jan,'" Haas said later, referringto his wife. "But nothing would come out."

A family reunion.This week Haas will make what he says will be his final appearance at theMemorial. Bill Haas, who missed the cut at the FedEx St. Jude Classic andcaught his dad's playoff win on TV in the Nashville airport, will join him inDublin, Ohio. "It's a pretty neat thing to have your family behindyou," says Jay, the father of five. "That's who I play for, Jan and thekids."

PHOTOSCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGESCLINICIAN On Sunday, Haas hit 14 of the last 15 greens and needed only 11 putts on the front nine. TWO PHOTOSDavid WalbergROUGH AND ROUGHER Bryant (right) made a rare birdie on the 72nd hole, while Peter Jacobsen sank to a tie for seventh.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)