Playing on the Nationwide Tour was not Bill Haas’ first choice. But it was a second chance, so to speak, for the former All-American from Wake Forest to get where he wants to go.
Haas, who came up two shots shy of his main goal at PGA Tour Qualifying School last fall, became embroiled in a controversy when he reportedly dissed the Nationwide Tour. Not so, said Haas on Wednesday as he prepared for this week’s Gila River Classic at Whirlwind Golf Club near Chandler.
“What I said at the time was I was disappointed I wasn’t going to be playing on the PGA Tour,’’ said the 23-year-old son of PGA/Champions Tour player Jay Haas.
“That’s the goal of everybody out here — to play on the PGA Tour. I was misquoted by some in the media. . . . And perhaps what I said, I said too bluntly.’’
What Haas reportedly said was: “There are some really good players on the Nationwide Tour, but it’s not where I want to be. . . . If I have to play out there for four or five years, I’ll quit golf.’’
Chances are Haas is playing his one and only season on the Nationwide. He currently sits in the No. 17 spot on the money list with $186,812, and he has been hotter than a jalapeño as of late, with four top 10s in his past six starts, including a tie for sixth last week at the rain-shortened Oregon Classic.
Another thing Haas has going for him is the Nationwide policy board has decided to award spots to the top 21 players instead of the usual 20 because Jason Gore received a battlefield promotion from the Nationwide (three wins in the same season), and then won recently on the PGA Tour.
Haas also has a pretty good track record on the Cattail Course at Whirlwind, where he finished among the top 20 last year.
“I was 11-under, finished like 18th, but it felt like I was farther back than that because the scores were so low,’’ said Haas, who is officially in his rookie season.
No kidding. Defending champ Chris Nallen won by eight shots over the next-best player, Troy Matteson. And another limbo contest is expected this week, as Matteson is back in the field along with Jason Schultz (third) and Steven Alker, Jason Buha, Scott Petersen, Tyler Williams and Brent Schwarzrock, who all tied for sixth place.
Haas certainly knows how to go low, and has the big-time game to back it up. In fact, had he not played in six PGA Tour events this year on sponsor’s exemptions, where he earned an additional $159,586, he probably would have already wrapped up his ticket to the big leagues.
“I don’t look at it like that,’’ said Haas, a mild-mannered South Carolinian who is as polite as they come. “There were only two real conflicts (schedule-wise), and had I played a little better in some of the other Nationwide events, I wouldn’t be on the bubble right now.’’
Obviously, being Jay Haas’ kid will knock down some doors for you, but Bill Haas seems dead set on getting it done on his own ball. And sure, his dad is a great player, but. . . . “My life was really no different than anybody else’s growing up,’’ he said. Surprisingly, it wasn’t being Jay Haas’ son that got Bill into the game.
“Growing up, the reason I played golf was because all my friends played golf,’’ he said. “And then when I got in high school, it was (a rivalry) between me and my older brother (Jay Jr.), who also is a good golfer.
“Then when I went to Wake Forest, where my uncle Jerry was the coach, that furthered my desire. So, being the son of a pro golfer, that wasn’t it at all.’’
Naturally, the gene pool helped. And it is a deep one, as Haas’ great uncle, Bob Goalby, captured the 1968 Masters, and uncle Jerry also played on the PGA Tour.
“As a kid, I also liked Fred Couples, and I caddied for Mike Hulbert when I was 14,’’ Haas recalled. “But my dad is my hero, and if I can do half as well as he’s done, it will be a great career.’’
In all likelihood that Haas legacy will continue, as Bill is the kind of player — and person — who seems destined to maximize his potential.