James Hahn won his first Nationwide Tour event Sunday in North Carolina. Twenty-seven hours later, he qualified for his hometown U.S. Open by winning a Northern California qualifier.
“I have so many thoughts going on in my head,” Hahn said. “I can’t stop smiling.”
His cross-country adventure had its share of close calls. He arrived at the Raleigh, N.C., airport at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, just in time for his 7:45 flight. He – and more amazingly, his clubs – arrived in San Francisco at 12:30 a.m. local time. He got home around 1 a.m. but couldn’t fall asleep until 2:30. His brother, Tom, an assistant pro at Callippe Preserve in Pleasanton, Calif., arrived about three hours later to pick up James for his 7 a.m. tee time, the first of the day. James was medalist by a stroke after shooting 66 at Lake Merced and 70 at TPC Harding Park.
Hahn was ready to leave TPC Wakefield Plantation, site of last week’s Rex Hospital Open, in time for an earlier flight, but then Scott Parel birdied the 71st hole to force a playoff. “I had my tennis shoes on, my hat on backwards, my shirt was untucked and my clubs were in the car,” he said. “I was ready to crank the ignition.”
Time was getting tight by the second extra hole, so Hahn decided to put fate in his own hands. He hit hybrid from 240 yards to a par-5 green protected by water, with hopes of ending things, for better or worse.
“It was about 5 p.m.,” Hahn said. “I thought the cut-off might be 5:30 or 6 to make it to the airport on time. If I didn’t get that 7:45 flight, then I was stuck in Raleigh.
“I said, Let’s just go for it. If I hit it in the water I’ll lose the playoff, but at least I can make my flight, and if I hit it on the green, I can make birdie and I can win. I needed the playoff to be over with.
“I just wanted to get home as soon as I could because the U.S. Open for me is the biggest event that I probably will ever play in.”
His “cold-shanked” hybrid was so bad that it missed the water. He won after getting up-and-down from approximately 20 yards. Now he’s in good position for his first PGA Tour card, ranking fifth on the Nationwide Tour money list ($158,395). The top 25 at season’s end earn PGA Tour cards.
Hahn will return to that tour after playing his first major in his hometown.
Hahn was born in Seoul, South Korea, but his family moved to the Bay Area when he was 2. He attended Alameda High School and Cal-Berkeley; his parents once owned an Oakland driving range. He was granted membership to Lake Merced in March, the reason he chose that qualifying site over a more convenient one.
“I wanted to show my support,” Hahn said. “I was there to represent Lake Merced.”
The 30-year-old is in just his third Nationwide Tour season after a unique path through pro golf.
After graduating from Cal in 2003 with a degree in American studies, Hahn played professionally for three months before burning through his savings. He played just a handful of pro events over the next three years. He worked at an advertising agency, sold shoes at Nordstrom’s and worked in the pro shop at Richmond (Calif.) Country Club to save money while deciding whether he wanted to pursue a pro career. He played the Korean Tour in ’07, then spent the next two seasons on the Canadian Tour. While playing that circuit in 2008, Hahn was in an Edmonton hotel room, $288 in his bank account and a hefty balance on his credit cards, and looking for jobs on his laptop. He finished eighth, his best finish of the year, to keep his career alive. He earned his first Nationwide Tour card at the 2009 Q-School.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” Hahn said. “I practice and play as if I had $288 left.”
Now, he is headed for one of golf’s biggest stages.
“It’s been an incredible 24 hours,” he said.