Haas charts own path to early Masters lead

Bill Haas during Thursday's first-round 68 that took the early lead at the 2014 Masters at Augusta National.
Bill Haas during Thursday's first-round 68 that took the early lead at the 2014 Masters at Augusta National. ( Getty Images )

Thursday, April 10, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bill Haas’ great uncle, Bob Goalby, won the Masters in 1968. Bill’s father, Jay, played here 22 times, finishing tied for third in 1995. Bill’s uncle Jerry, head coach at Wake Forest, played in the Masters a couple times and another uncle, Dillard Pruitt, tied for 13th in 1992.

Talk about family tradition.

“I got such a rise seeing (dad) on the leaderboard,” said Bill, who now finds himself at the top of the board at Augusta after an opening 4-under 68.

Nine-time PGA Tour winner Jay Haas walked outside the ropes Thursday, shaking hands, signing the odd autograph and watching one of his sons play on a sun-splashed afternoon. Jay doesn’t live or die with each shot. He claims he was more nervous when he had to hit the shots himself at the year’s first major.

This he enjoys.

Jay, a 16-time winner on the Champions Tour, only gets to see Bill play a handful of times each year. At dinner tonight, dad won’t dissect what he saw out there today. Only the good parts.

“Usually I talk about all the great shots he hit,” Jay said.

For example, Bill hit a poor iron shot into the par-4 11th. Jay said he would only mention the terrific chip his son hit there to save par.

“I would never question his club selection or anything like that because I know how hard it is out here,” Jay said. “I’m just a proud dad and try to remain positive.”

Bill remembers his dad’s run at Augusta in 1995 like it was yesterday. He remembers the second-round 64 that gave Jay a two-shot lead going into the weekend. He remembers the ball moving on the third hole from the wind Sunday, costing dad a stroke. He also remembers Jay going for it in two on No. 15, only to watch it land on the green and roll back into the water.

Growing up, Bill never went out to watch marquee groups at the Masters. The great shots he remembers came from his dad, because that’s who he followed from the moment he stepped foot on property until the moment he left. When it came to golf, dad was his idol.

“I wasn't interested in the Masters,” Bill said. “I was interested in my dad's score at the Masters, if that makes sense.”

Now the roles have reversed, with Jay, who last played the Masters in 2005, doing the following. Bill said a key difference between the two is that in all the years he watched his dad, not once did he wish he could step inside the ropes and hit a shot for his dad. Oh, but there have been plenty of times a grown-up Bill has wished Jay could step in and hit one for him.

Father still knows best.

The first time Bill played Augusta National, he was in high school. A member invited Jay and his two sons out and they played 27 holes as well as the Par 3 Course.

“We got our full day's worth, for sure,” Bill said.

At 31, Bill is playing in his fifth Masters and Jay has watched every one. While Bill has made the cut each time, he has never finished higher than 20th. Today’s round marked the first time he has broken 70 here.

Uncle Jerry is here this week, as is Bill’s wife Julie, who gave him a quick hug after the round before going back to the house to see the couple’s 11-month-old son, William. Bill’s mom, Jan, babysat Thursday but no doubt saw the leaderboard.

Jay and Jan have five kids and five grandkids, with William being the youngest. Bill is good about “turning the page” after a round, Jay said, putting bad shots behind him as he gets down on the floor to play with his son. Golf is not the most important thing in Bill’s life.

“It’s not all-consuming for any of us,” Jay said. “It’s what we do.”

Bill is often asked why there aren’t more father-son duos on the PGA Tour, and he said it’s purely numbers. The odds of getting on Tour are small. Then factor in the number of players who have sons. Then the number of players who have sons who actually like golf.

“The best part about this game is that you have to earn it,” Bill said. “Kevin Stadler and myself, and other players that followed in their father's footsteps, they didn't get to have their father hit shots for them.”

After his post-round interviews, Bill headed out to the range where he expected to find his father waiting to watch him take a few more swings.

“Hopefully he hasn't left,” Bill said, laughing. “He’s my ride home.”

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