ORLANDO, Fla. – Bill Haas attended Wake Forest on an Arnold Palmer Scholarship and after shooting a bogey-free 66 on Friday morning, he’s in position to become the first scholarship recipient to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the 35 years it has been played at Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
Haas is in the clubhouse at 9-under 135, but sounded just as excited about his afternoon plans, which consisted of spending time with some of the important female protagonists in his life. He was headed to a local theme park with his mother, Jan, and youngest sister, Georgia.
“I’ll be petitioning for the sitdown rides,” he said.
You’ve heard about the Haas family and its deep family roots in the game. There great-uncle Bob Goalby, a Masters champion; uncle Jerry, the men’s coach at Wake Forest; father Jay, a nine-time Tour champion and Champions Tour mainstay; and uncle Dillard Pruitt, a former Tour winner and current Tour rules official. There’s no doubt all have had big roles in making Bill Haas the player he is today. Haas called Jerry “the cool uncle.” He remembered the time in 2010 when Goalby suggested he turn his right toe out a bit. Haas won the Humana Challenge that week.
“I think he mumbled to my dad to tell me to do it,” Haas said.
It is his father with whom Bill conducts a post-round analysis.
“I would say everything that I do is through my dad,” Haas said. “I’ll call my dad first about everything in the golf game, especially my golf swing.”
But on Friday, his gallery consisted of three of his favorite women in his life. Wife Julie, who is due to give birth on May 17, walked all 18 holes – for the second day in a row. On Wednesday, the wives of 22 Tour pros threw her a baby shower for the boy they are expecting (to be named William Harlan Haas Jr.).
“I got out of it,” Haas said. “I had to play in the pro-am.”
His youngest sister Georgia, a junior at Clemson, and his mother, Jan, represented the family. Georgia is on spring break this week. Last year, mother and daughter went skiing at Aspen, Colo., during Georgia’s spring break instead of going to Florida with her friends. “We were lying in our beds and I said, ‘Where do you want to go next year? And I expected her to say somewhere with her friends and she said, ‘Let’s go to Disney,’ ” Jan recalled.
Jan used to take her five kids there while Jay competed in the Walt Disney World Classic, but Georgia, who is the youngest of the bunch, was too young to remember it.
“She was the kid in the stroller,” Bill said.
Not anymore. After spending 12 hours on her feet at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot on Thursday, Georgia said her legs were sore. She’s not the only Haas in pain. Bill has been battling an injury of his own. He said he tweaked his neck while picking up a towel out of the shower during the Northern Trust Open, and nearly withdrew. Good thing he didn’t because he held the 54-hole lead and finished T-3.
“We should call it a sore neck, not an injury, because it’s not really an injury,” he said. “It’s just sometimes when I look to the left it kind of tightens in the back of the neck. It’s not anything that’s a big deal.
“When you’re playing poorly, it hurts. When you’re playing well, it doesn’t hurt. . . . Today it felt good, obviously.”
Haas was 6 under through 12 holes Thursday but finished poorly. His approach at the 17th flew long into the back bunker, and then he three-putted from 8 feet at the 18th. He settled for 69.
Haas set out to get those strokes back in the second round. Mission accomplished. He rolled in a 31-foot birdie putt on the 13th and a 9-footer for eagle on the par-5 16th hole (his front nine).
“It was a perfect number for my 5-iron,” Haas said of his second shot from 217 yards.
Through 36 holes, Haas has hit 80 percent of his greens in regulation, and credited his ball striking to a swing thought that has clicked. He said he was attempting to keep his head from going backwards in transition.
“It makes me go underneath it and get a little ‘flippy,’ so I just feel like I need my head to stay still, if that makes sense,” he said. “It’s as if I’m pretending my head is in a box and it can’t touch the walls.”
Haas is making his sixth straight appearance at Bay Hill. It’s one of the regular stops he pencils in at the beginning of every year. Such loyalty has been earned, Haas said.
“Mr. Palmer always gives the (Wake Forest) guys a sponsor start here when you first get on Tour,” Haas said. “Even if you’re a rookie. It’s not a week you’d get in, but he gave me one.”
Yet for all his affection for Palmer and his tournament, Haas has not fared well at Bay Hill. His best finish is T-17, which is one reason why he didn’t know where the media tent was located.
“I’ve never been here,” he said.
One of the highlights of the week that Haas knows all about occurs on Sunday after holing out at 18. That’s when he sees Palmer, who greets players as they finish their rounds and thanks them for their support. Haas would just like to improve on the timing of their meeting.
“He’s there early when I’ve finished,” Haas said. “I’m always saying, ‘I really would like to play better and see you later.’”
If Haas has his way, Palmer would be greeting one of his scholar recipients with a victory salute and helping Haas slip into the winner’s jacket. Now that would be something for the Haas family to cheer about.