2005: Newsmakers - Chips off the old block?
There is no science to sequels. Second editions are more often than not secondary, and treading in the footsteps of legends can be difficult when the steep path leads to such historic heights. Especially if said legend shares the same surname.
That Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Hale Irwin and Jay Haas have sons that at one time or another wanted to follow pop into the family business is no surprise. As all of their progeny discovered, neither are the weighty expectations that come with having a famous father.
Consider the plight of Gary Nicklaus, the fourth of the Golden Bear’s five cubs. There may never have been a more prolific set of genes in all of golf, and from an early age Gary wanted one thing – to play as a professional.
“It’s taken nine years to get to this point, and here I am, ready to go, to start a new chapter,” Gary Nicklaus said following his Tour-card earning performance at the 1999 Q-School Tournament. “It’s been a long grind.”
Gary Nicklaus’ PGA Tour career was respectable enough. He lost in a playoff against Phil Mickelson at the BellSouth Classic in 2000. Yet five top 25s and $693,571 in earnings doesn’t rate much dinner table conversation when the “old man” at the other end has collected 18 major bottle caps. Comparisons to kings can be crushing.
“Everybody talks about Gary (Nicklaus) not having a successful career, but he’s been on Tour,” said Bill Haas, son of Tour veteran Jay Haas.
“He’s been one of the top 200 players in the world. That’s pretty successful to me. It’s not a Jack Nicklaus, but he’s successful. He’s not shoveling snow or something.”
Bill Haas is no stranger to the external pressure that comes with following a high-profile pater familias to the PGA Tour.
Haas, the 2003-04 college player of the year at Wake Forest, seemed poised to join Jay on Tour until two bad swings during the first round at last December’s Q-School cost him his Tour card. Following his disappointing finish, the younger Haas openly lamented letting his father down.
“I don’t understand that. I certainly didn’t say, ‘You better come home with a Tour card or else,’ ” Jay Haas said. “I think he was just very disappointed. I felt bad for him, personally. I don’t know where he got that from. I felt so terrible. I couldn’t hardly sleep the last couple nights of Qualifying School.”
As a general rule, apples don’t seem to fall very close to the legendary tree.
Gary Nicklaus carved a decent niche for himself for three seasons, but lost his Tour card in 2002.
At least he made it to The Show. Wayne Player, Steve Irwin and Kyle Coody toiled on lesser tours before giving up on their pro dreams.
“When you’re younger and maybe not as mature, it’s somewhat of a mixed blessing,” said Steve Irwin, Hale’s son, of following a famous father. Steve Irwin is a reinstated amateur who now works for his father’s golf course design firm.
“But as soon as you learn that if you take it on a positive note . . . people are going to watch me, and watch Kevin (Stadler) and watch Bill (Haas) more than they’re going to watch other people. If you can take it for what it’s worth, and realize you’re very lucky to be in that position in the first place, then it’s a good thing.”
Brent Geiberger, the son of 11-time Tour winner Al, has been one of the more prolific sons. Geiberger has played the PGA Tour since 1997 and has two victories and more than $6.4 million in career earnings.
And now there’s a younger crop of high-profile offspring who appear poised to end what has been a tough run for sons.
Bill Haas has earned $159,586 in six PGA Tour starts this season and is 66th on the Nationwide Tour money list with only one missed cut in seven events. Despite his Q-School misstep, most observers agree he has a sound swing to go along with his parental pedigree.
Kevin Stadler – the pudgy mirror image of his father, Craig – earned his PGA Tour card with a 13th-place finish on the 2004 Nationwide Tour money list. At the Nationwide Tour Championship, Craig looked less the major champion and more the doting father during the Tour card presentation ceremony.
“I told him he really didn’t need to bother coming, but he just really wanted to be there,” Kevin Stadler said. “I think he was probably happier for me than I was for myself.”
Yet Kevin Stadler and Bill Haas are the exceptions. Most sons of famous golfers find the success their fathers enjoyed elusive and the pressure that comes with the surname as burdensome as a shag bag full of rocks.
“You want to make your father proud no matter what you do,” said Kyle Coody (son of former Masters champion Charles Coody), who gave up on his pro dream after seven unsuccessful trips to Q-School. “It got to the point where dad wouldn’t come to golf tournaments because he felt like he was putting to much pressure on me. He felt like I was out there trying to play like he would play.”
There are, of course, advantages to being the son of a famous golfer. Advantages that can ease the transition to the play-for-pay ranks.
Kevin Stadler’s earliest memories are of tournaments and practice ranges.
“At the British Open they’d dump me on the putting green and my dad would go play and I’d still be there when he came back,” Stadler said.
Bill Haas tagged along with Jay before he could walk, a history that some say helps fuel an unwavering confidence in himself and his game.
“Being around golf his whole life and being around Fred Couples and Billy Andrade and Jeff Sluman and being in the locker room with them . . . not being intimidated, just being around them, I think that helped,” Jay Haas said.
For Jay Haas and Craig Stadler, the advantages of having their sons join them at the office can’t be quantified.
The Stadlers both were briefly on the leaderboard during the 2004 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and played a practice round together at this year’s Sony Open. It was a rare opportunity for father and son to renew a life-long, yet often one-sided, rivalry.
“He knows he can still beat me very handily,” Kevin Stadler said. “That’s probably part of what’s driving him right now. He likes beating up on me.”
Bill Haas joined Jay this year at the MCI Heritage and the two vied for family bragging rights at last year’s U.S. Open where Jay tied for ninth while Bill finished 10 shots back in a tie for 40th.
Finishing ahead of Bill at Shinnecock Hills kept the family order in place. Having his son join him at a major championship, however, was better than any Father’s Day gift Jay Haas could have imagined.