Sixty-five-year-old veteran PGA Tour player and current PGA Tour Champions winner Jay Haas took a break from swinging the clubs last week to loop for his son, Bill, at the RSM Classic.
In what’s becoming a fall tradition that began two years ago there at St. Simons Island, Jay decided to trade a cozy week at home for a week of calculating yardages and giving feedback on the greens for Bill.
The two made the five-hour drive down from their homes in Greenville, S.C., and stayed at a cottage next to the two tournament courses.
For Jay, spending more time around his son in the caddie role is important because he knows father time’s clock continues to tick and opportunities like this won’t always be there for them both.
“I’m running out of time because I’ll be 66 soon (December 2), I’m not as spry as I used to be, so I don’t know if he’ll have me much anymore, but I still want to play and by the time I get done playing I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it 18 holes with a bag on my shoulders,” Jay said. “But this has been a bunch of fun though.”
As a father, Jay knows how special these week-long work trips are for them, especially because there were so many weeks in his 798 career PGA Tour starts where he didn’t get to see his kids.
“I think as any parent, as kids get older you’re just so proud of them and love to see them do well in whatever they try to do,” Jay said. “If they like doing something, you like them to succeed at that. Bill’s been on the grandest stage, basically, and been successful at it (six Tour wins).”
Bill finished the RSM Classic tied for 35th at 8-under par.
“This is my first cut made as a caddie, so I’m excited about it,” Jay laughed. “He’s been playing great, it’s been fun to spend time with him and watch him perform on the golf course.”
Though Bill’s distance abilities admittedly remain in another category than Jay’s, the elder Haas defers to his son during the week with club selection.
“I look at his (upcoming) shot and it looks like I couldn’t reach it with two shots, and he’s hitting a 6 iron,” Jay laughs.
But even without club selection, Jay has a variety of roles he brings to the table when he straps on the bag for Bill, and he wants to do his best with each.
“I’m wearing a few different hats: the dad hat, professional golfer hat, the teacher hat, the caddie hat, the sports psychologist hat,” Jay said. “I think I may be want to be the dad last and let him do what he usually does. I’m trying to keep him positive and pumped up and I think that’s the way I’ve been with him and his brother Jay (a teaching pro now). I’ve always tried to talk about the positive of any round they play — good or bad — just try to bring out the good shots that they hit, and understand that you’re going to hit bad ones because I’ve done it so many times.”
That upbeat mentality carries over into the way Jay helps with green-reading for Bill.
In most cases he wants Bill to make the decision on the read because he’s found it’s often best to let his player go with instinct on a read.
“With green reading, I don’t add much to it but it’s more of an agreeable thing too just to get him positive,” Jay said. “I think putting is such a mental thing. So, if you believe you’re doing the right thing, you’re going to make a much better stroke.”
There was one putt Bill had on Friday that Jay didn’t think was going to break as much as Bill thought, “but I didn’t want to end up confusing him, so he ended up pulling it and it went right on line and ended up going in. But at the same time, I don’t like to be disagreeable out there because he’s the one that’s got to hit it.”
Jay sees a lot of similarities in how they both putt, not surprisingly because Bill grew up playing with his dad.
“He putts a little more aggressively than I do,” Jay said. “I’m more of a die putter, just get it around the hole and he hits them a little firmer than I do. But we see pretty much the same thing (in reads) and it’s more of just a confirmation that he’s reading it right and that there’s no surprise in them.”
As Jay looped around the Sea Island Resort, he got all kinds of funny comments from friends and observers.
Everything from “high-priced caddie” to “you going to make it old man?” prompting a “yeah, I’m going to try,” Jay laughs, “I just kind of chuckle a little bit.”
According to Jay, Bill doesn’t have a regular caddie but he does work with veteran looper Tom Lamb who’s caddied a bit for him the last couple years. And Lamb has caddied for Jay off and on for 25+ years.
“So we’ve texted back and forth (last week) and he’s glad that Bill’s playing well,” Jay said.
Jay wasn’t the only former player looping at the RSM. Former PGA Champion Mark Brooks was on the bag for J.J. Henry.
“Mark has the most starts in PGA Tour history (803),” Haas says. “He and I are one and two all-time. Between the two of us we’ve got 1,600 starts on the PGA Tour and we’re out here caddying.
“You could probably add 90 percent of the players in the RSM field, add up their starts together and they might be 1,600,” Jay said. “We’ve seen a few flags placed in and out of the hole and seen a few bunkers raked over the years, so we know what we’re doing.”
After a slow start, 2 over through his opening nine holes, Haas bounced back and went 11 under through his next 45.
“That’s pretty good shooting and it says a lot about him,” Jay said. “He never gives in. He’s grinding from the first shot to the last shot, he never throws in the towel, so I think I’m most proud of that when I’m watching him play.”
Golf is a game of constant ups and downs. Some fathers who watch their Tour sons in competition like Brent Watney (Nick Watney’s father) live and die with each shot and joke each missed putt adds a gray hair as Brent does. This is not exactly the case with Jay.
“I’m not nervous for him because I feel very confident in what he can do and I’m way more nervous when I’m playing and trying to make a 3-foot putt than when he is,” Jay said. “I know he’s trying as hard as he can. I know how hard tournament golf is and I’m pulling hard for him (during his shots) and then waiting for the next hole to do my yardage and stay out of everybody else’s way.”
History of caddying
The 2017 RSM Classic was the first time Jay caddied for Bill on the PGA Tour.
He remembers one other time caddying for his son as he was busy with his own pro career that lasted in the regular pro ranks from 1976 to 2004 and continued on the PGA Tour Champions from 2004 to the present. That other time was when Jay looped for a 15-year-old Bill at the Western Junior Amateur in Michigan. If memory serves Jay correctly, it was at the Treetops Resort.
Bill has looped plenty of times for his pops, especially during his teens before going to college at Wake Forest. Bill got to loop a couple Masters tournaments at Augusta National and also at the Memorial. It was a loop there at Muirfield Village that brings a smile to Jay’s face.
“The caddies couldn’t wear logos on their hats, I think they had to wear the Memorial cap or visor,” Jay said. “Bill didn’t wear a cap or visor at that time (age 16) so someone said to him ‘why don’t you want to wear a cap?’ And he said he doesn’t wear one. Then the guy said, ‘well we’ll give you $50 a day to wear it,’ and he goes, ‘sure, can I get a visor?’ and that was his first time being paid for something on the golf course.”
Thirteen years later, Bill took home $11.4 million in one day when he won the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup against Hunter Mahan in 2011 at Eastlake Golf Club.
Bill Haas’ earning potential on the course has increased immensely to say the least since that day at Muirfield Village, to the tune of six PGA Tour wins.
In 2012, the year after his FedEx Cup win, Haas birdied the second playoff hole at historic Riviera Country Club to win the Genesis Invitational over two red-hot stars in Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
Mickelson had just dusted off Tiger Woods in the final group at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am the previous week and Bradley had just won his first major six months before and was in the midst of nine straight top 25s.
That summer at the U.S. Open in San Francisco, the author of this article asked Jack Nicklaus after his pre-tournament press conference what he thought was the biggest key for a young player like Bill Haas to win a U.S. Open and Nicklaus answered that patience is the ultimate thing.
One of Jay’s friends, (golf reporter) David Marr, heard that Nicklaus had said something about Bill and texted Jay. Of course, pops wanted to hear what the GOAT had to say about his son. Which father wouldn’t given that situation?
Jay was the 2015 U.S. President Cup captain when the team beat Nick Price’s International squad in South Korea. Bill clinched the winning point in the final match against Sangmoon Bae.
The former captain plans on watching the matches this year, even with the 16-hour time difference from Greenville.
“I’m excited for it, I love the team events,” the three-time Ryder Cup and two-time Presidents Cup team member said. “It will be tough. I think the International team has a great squad this year and it will be tough for the U.S. because the International players are all playing pretty well.”
In a testament to how well both Haas and Tiger Woods have played well into their 40s, it’s cool to realize that this 65-year-old vet played on two U.S. teams with this year’s playing captain, and he’s pumped for the 43-year-old to lead this group.
“Losing Brooks (Koepka) but adding Rickie was a good move,” Haas said. “It looks like Tiger’s doing everything he needs to do, he’s very prepared. It will be interesting to see how much he does play.”
Haas was on the team for the last playing captain, Hale Irwin, in 1994’s inaugural Presidents Cup. And Haas’ uncle Bob Goalby played for the last Ryder Cup playing captain Arnold Palmer in the 1963 Ryder Cup.
“Yeah, I was on that team, we didn’t think much of it, Hale was one of the best players; we all knew how to play,” Haas said. “I don’t think it’s like planning for the Super Bowl or anything like that. The guys are all great players on both sides and you want to put them in the best position possible.”
Jay and his wife Janice will host Thanksgiving this week at their Greenville home.
“Everybody’s coming to my place. Janice loves to cook and she cooks a good spread,” Jay said. “We’ll have upwards of 22 of us. It’s a pretty good time. We’ve got 10 grandkids who will all be there so it’ll be lots of fun.”
Jay especially appreciates the moments he gets when his grandkids are all together.
“I guess I missed so much of my kids growing up because I was playing golf and gone on the road,” Jay said. “Just get to see these grandkids and be around them as much as possible is great for me.”
And the 10 grandchildren have got their own names for grandma and grandpa.
“I’m ‘papa’ and my wife is ‘mama’. When any of them say ‘papa’ I turn and tell them, ‘yes, I’ll do whatever you want me to do.’ It’s fun to spoil them.”
Closing caddie observations
“The caddie profession has sure changed over time from back in the 60s, 70s and 80s,” Jay said. “It’s a different type of person caddying out here now, they’re mostly college graduates whether they played golf or not. A lot of the caddies are friends with the guy whether they know him from home, went to college with him.”
The opportunities for caddies to travel for the whole Tour season was something Haas didn’t see much in his early years on Tour.
“There were very few ‘Tour caddies’,” Haas said, “Most each week were ‘local,’ or in the case of the Masters, were caddies strictly from ANGC. And Western Open caddies were from a pool from Chicago area clubs. The players weren’t making much back then, so the caddies weren’t making much at all, thus not a lot of guys were traveling from week to week trying to make a living… Now, it’s a pretty cool existence.”