It had been a difficult three months for James Hahn. Then the Wells Fargo Championship happened.
Breaking free from a slump that included eight consecutive missed cuts and numerous soul-searching conversations with his wife and caddie, Hahn knocked in a 4-foot par putt on the first playoff hole late Sunday afternoon to beat Roberto Castro at Quail Hollow Club.
Hahn’s playoff victory came after he and Castro finished at 9-under par after 72 holes. Hahn’s 2-under 70 on Sunday helped him tie Castro, who shot a 71.
Justin Rose, who spent much of the afternoon within a shot or tied for the lead, was third at 8 under after a 1-under 71. Four players tied for fourth at 7 under, including Phil Mickelson, two-time winner Rory McIlroy, 2012 champion Rickie Fowler and Andrew Loupe.
It took Hahn just one hole to subdue Castro, who forced the playoff when he made a 6-footer for par on the 18th green, minutes after Hahn three-putted for a bogey.
Playing the first playoff hole on No. 18, Castro, whose younger brother Franco is a former Charlotte 49ers player, hit his drive into the creek that winds down the left side of the fairway.
After taking a drop, Castro’s second shot hit a spectator in the head and then managed to land in a shoe – a brown loafer that was sitting vacant on the ground – on the far side of the green. He managed to bogey the hole.
Meantime, Hahn had already hit what he called the best drive of his life, down the middle of the fairway. His 7-iron landed 34 feet from the cup. Two putts and he was a winner on the PGA Tour for a second time.
But what Hahn, 34, had really accomplished was more than that: the eight-tournament stretch without making a cut had made him doubt that he even wanted to continue playing golf. He’s been in similar straits before. He once left the sport and became a shoe salesman at a department store for six months.
Last week, after he missed the cut at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, he had another soul-searching talk with caddie Mark Urbanek, something they had been doing regularly for much of the season.
“The mind is a powerful thing and it was going bad for a while,” Hahn said. “I just didn’t have the confidence, didn’t believe in myself. I felt like I was putting in the work but wasn’t getting any reward for it, so it made me not want to put in as much work because it’s not gratifying.
“You’re playing bad and you’re missing cuts and there’s nothing funny about that. So (Urbanek) and I, we just kind of had a talk that, hey, look, you just have to keep believing in yourself, keep grinding because it’s not always going to be like this.
“So I constantly remind myself that I’m good enough, that I belong out here. I was kind of chanting to myself that I can do this, I will do this and I must do this.”
Hahn’s most important shot of the day, indeed of the tournament, might have come on the seventh green, when he holed a 51-foot putt for an eagle.
“It sparked some energy, to be honest,” Hahn said.
Playing immediately after Hahn and Rose were Castro and Fowler, who entered the final round with a one-shot lead. But things went awry for Fowler quickly. He lost the lead with a bogey on the first hole and followed that with another on No. 5. Fowler’s hopes were probably ultimately dashed with a double bogey on the par-5 seventh hole.
“I didn’t get out of the gate swinging well off the tee, kind of fought that a little bit through the round,” Fowler said. “It’s disappointing knowing where my game was at coming into (Sunday). I felt really good about being in the final group and getting the job done.”
Two other big-name early finishers had an impact on the final round.
McIlroy played his way to within a shot of the lead through 17 holes. But he couldn’t master the 18th hole, which had sunk Mickelson with a quadruple-bogey 8 on Saturday.
McIlroy hit his second shot to the left of the green and over the creek that guards the left side of the hole. He then chunked is third shot onto the bank on the other side of the creek. Two shots later, he was in with a 66.
McIlroy had looked at the scoreboard as he walked to the 12th green and noticed that, at 6 under, he was just two shots off the lead.
“I’m thinking if I could post 10 (under), that would be a really, really good number,” he said. “It might not win but it would make the guys think a lot about it.”
Mickelson also shot 66. His round included an eagle on No. 7 and a bogey-free back nine, no small feat considering he has always been flummoxed by the three finishing holes dubbed the Green Mile.
“I just thought I’d come out and play the way I’ve been playing and hitting shots the way I’ve been hitting shots,” said Mickelson, whose last victory came in the 2013 Open Championship. “My game feels very good, but you still need that little something to win, and make a mistake like I made on 18, that’s the kind of stuff you can’t do.”
Hahn’s wife Stephanie and their 14-month-old daughter Kailee flew to Charlotte from Phoenix on Saturday, more for Mother’s Day than for golf.
The Hahn family – with one more victory and $1.314 million richer – will rent a car Monday and drive 6 1/2 hours to Jacksonville, Fla., site of this week’s Players Championship.
“It’s something that I look in my daughter’s eyes and say, hey, I can’t give up on you, I have to do this,” Hahn said. “So having family like that, my wife supporting me, it really gives me that extra fire to keep going.”