Bill Haas has ‘win-win’ with father, Jay, as his caddie at RSM Classic

By: Jeff Babineau

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Bill Haas stood in the 18th fairway at the Seaside Course at Sea Island Resort on Thursday afternoon, trying to figure out the strengthening afternoon winds and how they might affect his approach from 136 yards out. Haas, 35, has competed in 342 PGA Tour events, so this wasn’t exactly something new.

Nonetheless, if he needed more seasoning, and a pretty informed second opinion, he needed only to ask the man standing a few feet away – his temporary caddie and full-time dad, Jay Haas, who teed it up on the PGA Tour 799 times.

Jay is Bill’s teacher, and the two have spent countless hours on the range together, but never before had Jay been his caddie at a PGA Tour event. This being the final tournament of the fall portion of the season, and with Jay having finished his PGA Tour Champions campaign, it seemed like the perfect time.

Bill would shoot level-par 70 at Seaside, seven shots off Chris Kirk’s first-day lead at the RSM Classic (Kirk shot 9-under 63 at the Plantation Course), but the number did little to dampen the overall enjoyment of the experience. Bill’s mother, Jan, walked along, and Bill’s own family is here this week, too. It’ll be a low-pressure, fun-filled family get-together, regardless of finish.

“It was very cool,” said Jay Haas, who is 63. “I’ve been around watching him plenty of times, but it was nice to be able to hear him, and see him up close, hear some of his thoughts. We play enough together that it wasn’t any type of shocking experience for either one of us. We talk about golf when we’re playing just a casual round – ‘What are you thinking about here?’ ‘What are you going to hit here?’ It was a little bit more of that.”

Jay laughed. “I just got this ‘backpack’ on my back that makes me a little slower,” Jay said.

At least Bill met his father in the middle when it came to toting that heavy bag that his caddie usually would carry. He had a lighter carry bag. “I alerted him (Bill) to the Titleist site,” Jay said, “and told him which one to order.”

Bill, a six-time winner on the Tour, hit the ball fine, but he couldn’t get the putts to fall, and didn’t make his first birdie until the 13th hole. He still enjoyed the experience of sharing the round with his father, and talking through the shots. The last time Jay had caddied for Bill was the Western Amateur when Bill was only 15 years old. He’s been there outside the ropes plenty of times, watching Bill at the U.S. Amateur, and in college events, and at everything on the PGA Tour from Q-School to the Tour Championship. For all the golf the two still play together, this was a different dynamic.

Bill Haas didn’t have a great season in 2016-17, missing the Tour Championship for the first time in eight campaigns. He made 25 starts and had four top-10 finishes, his highlight being a tie for fifth at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Hearing a new voice on the bag, and getting some new thoughts to process as he assessed his shots, was something he welcomed.

“It’s one of those things, I feel pretty lucky to have a guy like my dad, with all the experience that he has, to caddie for me,” Bill said. “I don’t know that I was going to pull him off a club, or he was going to pull me off a club. We both know how to hit a shot. Certainly we didn’t knock the pins down today, but I played a little better than my score.”

Adds Bill, “I mean, the guy’s got more rounds played than anybody else on Tour, or close to it. His ability to know about shots and what to hit in certain situations is huge. And he clearly cares how I do. It’s a win-win.”

Jay Haas won nine times on the PGA Tour and 18 more times on the PGA Tour Champions. Being a caddie was part of his upbringing at St. Clair Country Club in Belleville, Ill., where his uncle, 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby, or Uncle Bob, as the family calls him, taught the game to his young nephews, Jay Haas and his brother, former PGA Tour pro and current Wake Forest coach Jerry Haas.

“It was $4 for 18 holes, and if you did any good, you got $5,” Jay said of his time as a looper in his early days. “That was not my idea of fun back then. I wanted to play. I was starting to play and play well, and most of the guys I was caddying for I was better than. That was frustrating. In this case, I’m not (better).”