Jay Haas: Making the hard look easy

Jay Haas. So many flattering things have been said about him, the latest by fellow competitor, Michael Allen. Allen had just come off the Cochise course at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona, with a nifty 4-under in the second round of the Charles Schwab Cup.

It began with Allen’s surprise at lower scores than his, particularly Freddie in at 6-under and Haas already at 5-under through 13.

And that segued nicely into Haas setting a new record of 38 consecutive rounds of par or better since May 24th. Allen didn’t even know:

Really? Wow. Well, you watch him, that’s what he is. He’s a true professional. I mean, he’s a consistent true professional. He just takes the game one shot at a time. I don’t know how to put down in historical terms or whatever, but that’s kind of him. He’s Mr. Consistent, and now that he knows it, going out and doing it every day has got to be a little in his thoughts and make it even harder. That’s kind of Jay Haas, that’s been his career. He’s a consistent solid professional, always has been. Good professional golfer? Jay Haas would come to mind.

Couples had the same sense of his good friend: 

I think Jay is capable of playing great golf for another — I don’t want to put a time frame on it but he’s just kind of timeless. He hits the ball I think further than he thinks he hits it. I’ve played a lot of times with him and there are days where I drive it just a little bit past him. But the putter and the short game and the wedges are what make Jay really, really hit the ball solid all the time. To be 60 or 58, I don’t think there’s much difference, but when you get to 62 or 63, when I see people play, they lose length. Jay Haas not lost any length.

Tom Pernice, who’s 2nd, four strokes back had an even more comprehensive view of Haas. It was delivered with deadpan, tongue-in-cheek respect:

Obviously he drives the ball extremely straight. He’s always been a great iron player and his putting’s fantastic, and always he’s had a good short game. So when you have no weaknesses, you kind of get in a groove. It’s pretty amazing really.

Haas wasn’t quite so impressed with himself. Isn’t that always the way?

Well, as I was saying when we were walking over here, I wish I hadn’t come in here yesterday because all I was thinking about was having not shot over par since May 24 or whatever, and it was a tough day. I thought much harder today than yesterday. The wind was difficult, the greens are still very firm. I honestly said if somebody was giving me even par before I played, I would have said okay, that sounds pretty good, I’ll take that.

In all of 2014, Haas has only had that one round of 73 over par. He’s only shot par three times. Every other round has been under par. Amazing.

So that’s who we’re talking about. I wanted to follow him Friday because the wind was supposed to be a little more blustery, he was paired with Kenny Perry (he of prodigious length) and I wanted to see how the two of them handled those conditions.

Well, it was pretty unequivocal, Haas shot 8-under 62 without a bogey and Perry shot 68, a very respectable round in normal circumstances. Haas was asked to compare this round with the 60 he shot in the second round two years ago:

I actually think I played better today. I think it was a much harder day today. The greens were not holding at all. I think I had closer putts today maybe than I did two years ago. I chipped in at No. 10 two years ago. I think probably tee to green it was probably a better round today ball-striking wise.

But it was just nice to — gosh, I kept saying, “Well, that was the best shot I hit today, that was the best shot I hit today,” but probably the best shot I hit was the fairway bunker shot at 15. [I have been in that very same bunker on more occasions than I care to count.]

What you are about to read is not possible…for us mere mortals. Incidentally, we are talking about the same 262-yard carry bunker that Bernhard Langer flew in yesterday’s post.]

I don’t remember that bunker being so tough to carry for me two years ago. I was trying to go right of it and I cooked it a little bit, but I hit a 7-iron probably as far as I could have hit a 7-iron from that lie and everything and hit an 8-iron to about 15 feet but didn’t make the putt.

Now this next comment is in this same stream, but I thought it was important to break out and highlight because of a very subtle point that he made. He was going through a contingency plan in his mind, laying out the possible consequences of not getting that 7-iron out of the bunker (as I have failed to do with a 9-iron). And the point he makes is that with all of those contingencies running through his mind, his mind wasn’t fully on the 7-iron shot itself. That’s how cunning this whole mastery problem is: can you just intently focus on one shot and not let your mind wander?

I was trying to think if I don’t get this out very far, I’ll lay up and maybe get a putt at a par. I’m already a couple shots ahead of myself, and then I hit, like I said, probably the best shot of the day was that second shot from the fairway bunker to give myself an opportunity there. And then I turned around at 17 to hit the prettiest 6-iron just left of the flag about six or seven feet and I hit a ton of shots like that today. It was a fun day, without question.

So given what I saw all day long, I was truly surprised when he came into the media room and said that it was a very tough day. Speaking of letting your thoughts get away from you, I remember rehearsing what I felt should be my first one as soon as his round was over: “How did you make it look so easy?” But because he thought it was so hard, I had to ask it a different way:

Q. I was really surprised to hear you say how hard it was because I watched every shot and it looked easy. I mean, it just, everything was right on the button, you were flighting the ball right. So in the moment, how much harder did you have to work at it to get it to look that easy?

Well, I won’t say I had to work any harder, but like we’ve said or like I’ve said, I played extremely well all year long, kind of the same idea. I was going out there today just trying to, you know, to put the ball in the fairway on the first hole, hit the green on my second shot on the first hole and go forward from there, try not to get too far ahead of myself.

Honestly, was coming to the course thinking I wish I hadn’t known that I was — I mean, as records go, this is a nice record to have, for sure. And Loren sure played well and in many stretches so I’m not making light of that, but I’m thinking to myself at the same time, you’ve still got a tournament here, you’re in great shape in this tournament so let’s just keep being aggressive when you can.

But you’re right, I hit many solid shots. I miss-hit an iron at No. 3, kind of hit it a little heavy but it worked out okay, came up 20 feet short And then No. 4, my hybrid club off of kind of a hanging lie, kind of necked it a little bit but it was the shot I kind of had to play, and it hit in the upslope there and came on the green to keep it on that green. But other than that, I hit pretty much everything right in the mouth today. That’s just fun when it is a difficult day like this. You know, Kenny shot 2-under and he played awfully well, too, but the wind got him a couple times.

Q. I was going to say the measure of how great you played is the difference between your two rounds. He looked like he was working at it and you just hit every shot right on the button.

It was nice. Every time I kind of got over the ball and looked up, it seemed like I was looking at the flag. I felt comfortable, I felt like I was going to hit a good shot. But I kept waiting for this 25-mile an hour wind. I saw on my phone it was going to be gusting to 20, 25 today. I don’t think it ever got to that point. I thought it was a little gusty at times, but thankfully it didn’t get too bad.

Q. So on that tee shot on 15 that led [big smile] to the glorious 7-iron out of the bunker, did you pull the trigger early on that? Did the swing feel okay?

Yeah, the swing felt pretty good. I was aiming up the right side of the fairway and trying not to leak it to the right. There’s more room do that, but my flight was a little bit low there, a little pull. I was trying to kind of hit just a draw off the right side of the fairway up that gap, and if I didn’t hit it great, I thought it was still going to be okay. But just pulled it a little bit and just didn’t have enough air under it to carry it.

I did notice there were some rake marks in there, so I wasn’t the only one that hit it in that bunker today. I just don’t remember that being such a difficult carry last time. I remember hitting hybrid club in there a couple times and maybe having an opportunity another time to go for it. So that would have had to have been 210 or 215 to the hole or to the front there and I think Tommy in the bunker — Kenny knocked it on. He smashed a drive and hit some kind of hybrid club right on the middle of the green there.

Q. It was into you.

Oh, yeah, it was blowing pretty good. And then I said maybe I should lay up to that bunker in the heavy wind, but it looks very narrow short of the bunker so I don’t need to be thinking of that. I just need to stick it up in the air a little bit more and get some more carry on it, I’ll be okay. Hopefully it won’t be too bad tomorrow.

Because I had surrendered the mike to hear this last response, I mouthed the words, “great round,” with a simultaneous thumbs up.

“Thank you,” he said, a flicker of prideful satisfaction flashing across his face.

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