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For James Hahn, from golf to selling shoes and back again

jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Asked how he would approach Sunday at Quail Hollow Club after a 4-under round on Saturday, James Hahn joked that “tomorrow is a new day” and hopefully he shows up with his shoes on.

Replicating one of Saturday’s best rounds won’t be easy, but Hahn shouldn’t have a problem with the shoes considering his background.

More than a decade ago, he essentially gave up golf and was working as a shoe salesman at a Nordstrom in California. Now he’s tied for third at the Wells Fargo Championship and looking for his second PGA Tour victory.

Hahn, 34, is almost as good a storyteller as he is a golfer. He remembers well the events of the early 2000s that took him away from golf and into a department store.

“I had just graduated college and I told myself I was going to play well, and then eventually turn pro and then just kill it on the PGA Tour,” Hahn said. “Well that didn’t happen.”

Soon after leaving the University of California, Hahn entered his hometown’s annual Alameda Commuters Golf Tournament. He’d always made the cut and competed there since he was 14. That year, when Hahn was about 22, he missed the cut.

“I remember sitting in my car just devastated,” he said. “I was supposed to turn pro that summer and I can’t even make a cut. It seemed like I got worse over the years. I told myself if I wasn’t committing myself 100 percent I would just quit.

“I wasn’t ready to put in the work or make the sacrifices. I said I was wasting my time and everyone else’s time, so I just quit.”

He decided to put his degree to work and joined an ad agency. After a year, he gave golf another try and asked his friend, a manager at Nordstrom’s shoe department, if he had any extra part-time shifts.

“Having a scholarship to UC Berkeley, I took that for granted,” Hahn said. “Having all the resources as a junior golfer to be really good at this game, I took that for granted. And when I quit golf I knew that I would have regretted not giving it another shot.

“I owed it to my parents, friends, all the supporters that I’ve had growing up as a kid, I owed it to them to give it another shot.”

That winter it rained heavily, forcing him to make the shoe gig a full-time one. After six months and having saved about $8,000, Hahn returned to playing golf full time.

Born in South Korea, Hahn returned to Korea to play for a year. Then he played in Canada for two years. He joined the Web.com Tour for three years, and now he’s in his fourth year on the PGA Tour.

His lone tour win was in 2015, and he’s within striking distance at Quail Hollow. His new driver is putting him in contention on the longer holes, and his putting is keeping him in red numbers.

Hahn sank a 31-foot putt on the third hole for his first birdie Saturday. He rolled in three consecutive birdies on 14, 15 and 16 before a bogey on 17 to eventually card a 68.

Two shots behind leader Rickie Fowler entering Sunday’s final round, Hahn is grateful for the success he’s had since giving golf another shot.

“I knew if I didn’t (put in 110 percent) then I would always have that regret in the back of my mind,” Hahn said. “Whether or not I became successful after the shoe-selling business, that was irrelevant. I could go to bed at night knowing that I have no regrets. Every day for a year I couldn’t sleep. I was always thinking about what could have been.

“I was young enough to make mistakes, but I was also young enough to learn from them and mature and eventually get here.”

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