In April 1995, when Bill Haas was a month shy of 13 years old, his father Jay recorded one of the highlights of a long, distinguished PGA Tour career when he tied for third at that year’s Masters. Two months later, the elder Haas again came close in one of golf’s premier events, tying for fourth at the U.S. Open, played at iconic Shinnecock Hills on Long Island.
Looking back on that time on Sunday at the 117th Open at Erin Hills, Bill Haas said he probably didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of Jay’s accomplishment then. “I think it was late in high school and in college before I really understood how good my dad was,” he said. “Contending in majors isn’t easy.”
Few current players know that better than Bill Haas. In his own PGA Tour career dating back to 2006, he’s won six tournament titles and, in 2011, captured the FedEx Cup and its $10 million payday. But his record in golf’s majors doesn’t come close to his father’s – or it hadn’t, until Sunday.
Starting the final round on a brutally long Erin Hills course made its toughest all week by winds gusting up to 25 mph, Bill Haas turned in easily his best closing round in a U.S. Open. When he pitched his third shot on the 637-yard par-5 to eight feet and sank the putt for the last of four birdies in his 3-under par 69, the 35-year-old wrapped up a 10-under 278 and a tie for fifth – his best finish not only in the U.S. Open (previous best: tie for 23rd), but in any major, period.
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This was no small feat. Despite a world of talent, in golf’s top moments, Haas had always failed to compete. Golf observers noticed, in 2015, a Golf Digest article asked: “Is Bill Haas the best player never to contend in a major?”
Haas wasn’t thrilled by the question, but he understood it. “I’ve never done great in the majors,” he said. “So I can take a lot of good away from this; I’m not getting any younger, so I’m going to have to capitalize on some opportunities here these next few years.
“I’ve been able to win some tournaments, but to not do well in the big tournaments shows you how difficult it is to perform under extra pressure, under more difficult conditions. I think that gives me a little more respect for my dad – not that I didn’t before, but it just shows how good he was for so many years.”
While never in position to win Sunday – he began the day five shots off the lead and wound up six shots behind winner Brooks Koepka – Haas turned an admittedly so-so day driving the ball into about as good a round as possible. He was particularly crisp down the stretch, recovering from a poor tee shot at the par-5 15th hole with a 3-iron third shot to set up a par, and then birdied two of the final three holes.
“I would’ve liked to have played better (Sunday), but I’m pleased with the way I scored,” he said. “I had no business shooting 69 the way I drove the ball. So I’ve got to take the positives in that and know maybe if I don’t have it in the future on Sunday, I can still do it if I grind it out.”
That wasn’t the case in past majors for Haas, whose best finishes were ties for 12th in the Masters (2015) and PGA Championship (2011) and a tie for ninth at last year’s British Open at Royal Troon. That last one came with an asterisk: after rounds of 68-70-69, he melted down with a closing 75.
Erin Hills, despite giving up a 16-under total to Koepka and a long list of under-par scores, was demanding most of the week. “I played my tail off the first three days to be 7-under,” Haas said. “So to be five back going into today (and still get a top-five finish) was impressive golf.”
His best performance in a major reminded him of his second major, in 2004 – also a U.S. Open, also at Shinnecock Hills – when he made the cut and tied for 40th. That was also when Jay Haas led the tournament, with his son getting to watch it all from a group behind his dad on Sunday.
“Yeah, it was a cool (day): my second major, the first one I made the cut,” Bill Haas said. “I think he beat me by about 10 (shots) on Sunday, so he put me in my place.
“I have really good memories from that place, and I think this (his top-5 finish) gets me guaranteed in the tournament next year. ... This could really be a springboard, who knows?”
Haas knows a lot of memories – of poor play in majors past, but also of this year’s potential breakthrough – will be palpable 12 months from now. After all, the 2018 U.S. Open will be played at ... Shinnecock Hills.
“I’m really looking forward to going back there,” Haas said.