Lifetime of memories with Jay Haas at Charles Schwab Cup Championship

PHOENIX – Were he to ever grace the PGA TOUR world with his historical embrace, it’s likely David McCullough’s product would read beautifully, thanks to the rich flavor that resonates within the game. Alas, given that the two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning author has not gifted golf his expertise, there is an alternative: Spend time with Jay Haas.

The man is a veritable audiobook of the story McCullough might write. Makes sense, given that Haas has played in tournaments beneath the PGA TOUR umbrella for 46 years, or nearly 70 percent of his life. And if it’s not cool enough that at 65 he dug deep to make the field at this week’s Charles Schwab Championship here at Phoenix Country Club, there is the unforgettable introduction to his PGA TOUR story, the one from way back in 1973, as a 20-year-old amateur.

“I had won a playoff in a Monday qualifier to be 10th alternate” said Haas, who was then a student at Wake Forest. “Now, no one cared about being 10th alternate, but I did.”

By game time Thursday at the Greater Greensboro Open, Haas was first alternate, and the mission was simple – sit on the first tee, just in case some withdrew. It didn’t happen until mid-afternoon when Robert De Vicenzo failed to register. “You’re in,” Haas was told and with that he looked at his two playing competitors – Arnold Palmer and George Knudson.

“Knudson was a beautiful iron player, but a bit of a mystery man,” said Haas, who didn’t need to add that Palmer was whatever the opposite is of mystery man.

“That day I shot 68 and Arnold shot 69. The newspapers had fun with it. The Kid beats the King.”

The memory brings a spark to Haas’ eyes. Perhaps because he has been closely tied to two of the grandest story-tellers the game has ever known, Bob Goalby (his uncle) and Billy Harmon (his longtime friend, coach, and caddie), Haas has a reverence for the game’s history and offers this with a shake of the head: “So many think the PGA TOUR was invented in 1996.”

To prove otherwise, he opened the vault to 46 years of priceless memories.

JACK RENNER’S SHOE BAG: It’s the sort of memory that might make Vijay Singh shiver, but there was a time when PGA TOUR players showed up at venues like Phoenix Country Club and paid for their range balls.

Oh, and their food. “We’d pay like $10 for a $20 script book, so in effect we were getting our food for half price,” said Haas. “You’d get a cheeseburger for like $2 and tear off a coupon out of the script book.”

You had to be just as frugal with your range balls. Haas said you could count on this: “There was never a range ball on the ground. They had all been hit.”

So precious were range balls that Haas vividly remembers Jack Renner’s shoe bag. “If he had 10 or 15 balls left, he wouldn’t leave them on the ground. No one did that. Jack took those balls and slipped them into one of those soft shoe bags, then after his round he had those 10 or 15 balls to hit.”

CHASING TIGER, AT 49: That morning in 2003 at Olympia Fields, it was still dark, only a few minutes after 6, and you could hear the unmistakable sound of metal spikes coming along the path near the first tee. Young Bill Haas led the way, his father right behind. Their pre-arranged practice round with Tiger Woods had encountered turbulence.

“No one told us Tiger wasn’t going to the range,” said Jay, who was 49 at the time. “He went straight to the first tee.”

So, at 6 a.m., the swipe of Woods’ tee shot off No. 1 could be heard in the still of the morning and that ignited a sense of urgency with the Haas boys. They ran from the range, caught Woods in the fairway, and got a nod and a smirk. “You’re late,” said Woods.

It rates as a special memory, said Jay Haas. He had wanted his son to study up-close the regimen that was part of Woods’ genius. “I remember standing back, just watching Bill and Tiger side-by-side. Very cool.”

TOASTED BY TREVINO: He played when Jack was Jack and when Tiger was Tiger, but before you ask about those two, Haas has a Trevino story from the 1980 Michelob Houston Open.

This was an era when tee times weren’t in exact order of the leaderboard, so Trevino, who was 12-under and in second through 54 holes, played not with Curtis Strange, who was leading, but with Haas, who was 11-under and tied for third, and Bill Rogers, who was joint sixth.

Strange, who was first and six clear of Trevino, played with Mike Reid and D.A. Weibring, both of whom were 11-under and tied for third.

“I have no idea why they did it that way,” laughs Haas, “but they did.”

Anyway, Trevino. He comes onto the range, full of nervous energy, talking and chattering and basically being his vintage self. “He’s going on about how he’s going to catch this young man (Strange), how this kid (Strange, then 25) hadn’t been in this position before, and the whole time he’s talking, Bill and I are like, ‘Hey, we’re only one behind you, don’t forget about us.’

“It was as if Bill and I may as well have been his amateur partners, as if we didn’t have a chance.”

Haas laughs, “And guess what, he probably was right.”

Trevino had spent the whole round “cutting the ball into flagsticks, so beautiful,” said Haas, “until the 18th hole, he hits this low, hard draw to a back left pin and makes birdie.” With 65, Trevino indeed caught Strange, who shot 71.

Yes, Strange won the playoff, but Trevino left an indelible mark.

“He was a genius when it came to hitting a golf ball,” said Haas.

QUITE THE SPAN: So expansive has been Haas’ career that he played against Palmer and Sam Snead very early on, and Woods and Phil Mickelson at the other end.

Competitors once included Slugger White, Dillard Pruitt and Mike Shea, all of whom became PGA TOUR rules officials, and Mike Bodney and Bill Calfee, who went on to become PGA TOUR executives.

“Rocky” was released the year Haas turned professional. Since then, six sequels have followed. There have been nine different presidents during his 46-year career and this week’s Charles Schwab Championship is tournament No. 1,110 in his remarkable PGA TOUR career membership.

Along the way, great friends walked away from tour life (Rogers) or reached the top of the mountain and perhaps lost their edge (Strange). Others got hurt, became tired, lost their game, chose to design courses, or simply went the conventional retirement route. But not Haas. Forty years after he stood in the scoring area at 13-under and watched Ben Crenshaw scramble to make par at the 18th hole to beat him by one stroke in the Phoenix Open, Haas has returned to Phoenix Country Club.

When he finished with 69 at last week’s playoff event, the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Haas earned just enough points to qualify for this week, the playoff finale. After all these years, the satisfaction still tasted good, and Haas celebrated the sliver of success with his wife, Jan.

“I’ve just always loved to play, to compete, to play tournaments,” said Haas.

Simple. Admirable. The sort of character of which McCullough once wrote: Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love.