PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – A former down-on-his-luck shoe salesman outlasts a star-studded field to earn his first PGA Tour victory. No, this is not a rejected Hollywood script. It’s the story of James Hahn, a self-taught 33-year-old who sometimes can’t believe he really plays on the PGA Tour.
“I just kind of look at myself in the mirror some days and tell myself that I’m not even supposed to be here,” he said. “I come from a small town. Didn’t do well in college. Was never an All‑American. Sold shoes for a living for a while. Yeah, and then just one day, the putts started going in and started playing a little better.”
They fell when it mattered on Sunday. Hahn drained a 25-footer on the third playoff hole, the par-3 14th at Riviera Country Club, to win the Northern Trust Open over Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey.
Hahn’s story is one of perseverance whether it is being nearly broke, falling so close to winning his Tour card, or selling shoes to make ends meet at two Nordstom’s department stores in Northern California in 2006.
“I was pretty good at it,” Hahn said.
Hahn, best known for his “Gangnam Style” dance on the 16th green at the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open, was one of the seven players to lead during a wild final round that had more traffic on the leaderboard than the I-405 freeway.
The 54-hole leader Retief Goosen reached 9-under at the first hole, but faded on the back nine, shooting 4-over 75. Casey made bogey at 18 to drop to 6 under, and was eliminated after the second playoff hole when he made par. Jordan Spieth thought he needed a birdie at 18 to get to 7 under, gambled on his chip, made bogey and was one stroke too many. Vijay Singh, on his 52nd birthday, was attempting to become the second-oldest winner on Tour and shared the lead through 14 holes before faltering badly and dropping to T-12.
But the biggest collapse of all had to be Sergio Garcia, who squandered a one-stroke lead with two holes to go by three-putting the 17th and bogeying the last. Even Johnson had a 9-foot birdie putt at the last for the win but missed it on the left.
Hahn, on the other hand, seemingly made everything he looked at on Sunday. He took just 26 putts in 21 holes. Which is funny because up until the final round his putter was more foe than friend.
“I did a little research, statistical stats, last night, and me and Dustin were the only two players inside the top, I think it was the top 12, that had a negative strokes gained,” he said. “Talked to my wife about it. She’s like, well, that just means you’re striping it. I was like, okay, that’s pretty cool.”
So he turned to an old Jedi warrior trick that he learned from watching a DVD called “The Secret.”
“I remember one day, this is back when I was grinding on mini‑tours, that I would write down on a sticky note, ‘I will putt great today,’ ” Hahn said. “And I would just put that everywhere would possibly go for the entire day, right next to my toothbrush, on the mirror in the bathroom, put it on the toilet seat, put it everywhere, put it on the door before I left. I kind of did a little bit of that yesterday.
“I just told myself, ‘I will putt great tomorrow. I will putt great tomorrow.’ And I just kept saying it. I was watching The Matrix yesterday and in between commercials I just kind of closed my eyes and I was like, ‘I’m going to putt great tomorrow, I will put great tomorrow.’ “
Listen to Hahn describe what happened with his short stick on Sunday: “Made a greasy 12‑footer on No. 1 for birdie. Made another 8‑footer on 2 for par. Made a greasy, like 6‑footer, double‑breaker on three. Made one from off the green on four. So that doesn’t really count as a putt. I was like, ‘Wow, this stuff really works.’ ”
Hahn, who carded a final-round, 2-under 69 to earn a spot in the three-man playoff, made a 10-foot birdie at the par-4 10th, the second playoff hole, to match Johnson and stay alive in the playoff. The he ran in a 24-foot curler at 14 for birdie, forcing Johnson to make from 12 feet to extend the playoff.
“I couldn’t look. I was so nervous,” Hahn said. “My heart rate was going 120 beats per second.”
Johnson’s putt never had a chance. Moments after Hahn was declared the champion, Tour pro Danny Lee showered him with beer on the 14th green. Seung Yul-Noh waited to do so before the trophy ceremony at 18.
The day Hahn never stopped believing in had finally arrived. Hahn played a year in Korea, two in Canada, and three on the Web.com Tour. He once four-putted from 70 feet when three would’ve earned him his Tour card at the 2009 Q-School.
“It was the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said. “But being able to play three years on the Web.com Tour, I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m here today.”
Once, while playing a PGA Tour Canada event in Edmonton in 2008, Hahn said he had under $200 to his name and had to borrow money to pay his caddie fee.
“It was a little embarrassing. I was going to borrow money from my parents to get a flight home, and I’m sitting there on the computer going on Craigslist and I start looking for jobs,” he said. “It kind of just hit me, like, ‘Hey, you have an opportunity to do something with your life.’ And I was wasting it just hanging out with friends, partying on the weekends. I wasn’t putting the time in.”
He finished eighth that week and said the $3,000 he won felt like a million bucks. When a reporter asked if $3,000 felt like $1 million, what did it feel like to win $1 million now? “No, it is $1 million,” he said. It’s not like $1 million.” Actually his winner’s check cashed for $1,206,000.
All Hahn was hoping to do was buy his wife, who drives a 2005 Volkswagen Jetta with 130,000 miles on it, a new car if he finished top 5 this week.
“She just got new tires on it,” he said.
In case that anecdote didn’t make it clear that he and his wife aren’t interested in materialistic things, Hahn later said, “Yeah, I don’t think we can afford Nordstrom to be honest. That’s kind of high end, don’t you think? I worked in the Salon Shoes department, and there’s some really expensive shoes there,” he said. “We are more of a Footlocker kind of people.”
Instead, Hahn was more interested in how many diapers he now could afford. He and his wife are expecting their first child, a daughter.
“That, to me, kind of humbles myself and kind of brings me down to reality that, you know, I’m going to be a dad here in three weeks.”
They haven’t picked out a name yet. ‘How about Northern Trust,’ someone joked. “It’s a little long,” Hahn said with a laugh. “Maybe her middle name, NTO.”
Riviera has a nice ring to it.