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Unknown James Hahn 'speechless' after Northern Trust victory

Ranked No. 297 before tournament, James Hahn pulls off a playoff win at Riviera with a smooth 23-foot putt

The last day of the Northern Trust Open golf tournament brought lousy weather and similar golf swings.

This was the grand finale of the PGA Tour's West Coast swing. Other than James Hahn, there wasn't all that much grand going on Sunday at Riviera. Many of the players had already left for Florida, even if they hadn't boarded the airplane yet.

But if you are a believer in master plans and things happening for a reason, then it might be understandable why some of the biggest names in the game were suddenly shanking themselves all over Hogan's Alley.

Maybe it was so we could all be introduced to the person and personality that is Hahn. And if so, we should thank our lucky stars.

He entered this tournament ranked No. 297 in the world. There was zero chance we, and readers, would get to know him unless he actually won.

When he did — with a masterful chip shot and tricky breaking putt on the second playoff hole, Riviera's No. 10, and a smooth 23-foot putt on the third playoff hole, No. 14, for the win — the initial reaction was a roll of the eyes.

Who is he? What's the story? There are enough bland golfers on the tour to fill a vanilla factory. Ones with little or no track record can make it even more difficult to portray.

But then Hahn met the press, and if it wasn't love at first sight, it became so after about the third question. No birdies-and-bogeys press chatter here. No sand edges and stimpmeters.

This was James Hahn's self-voiced summary introduction:

"[I] Just kind of look at myself in the mirror some days and tell myself I'm not even supposed to be here. Come from a small town. Didn't do well in college. Was never an All-American. Sold shoes for a living for a while. Then, one day, the putts started going in…"

His story is about coming from nowhere and achieving with wonder, humility and sense of humor. He is a 33-year-old Korean-born American citizen. He lives in San Bruno, graduated from California and is about to have his first child, a daughter.

His prize money was $1,206,000, and his first reaction was, "Do you know how many diapers I can buy with a million dollars?"

His wife drives a beat-up Volkswagen with 130,000 miles on it. He said he called her Wednesday and said if he finished in the top-five, he would buy her a new car.

"She said no," he said. "There's nothing wrong with her car. She said she got four new tires and it's perfect."

He said his reaction to winning the Northern Trust was that he was "speechless." You hear that often. This time it was believable.

After college, he couldn't make it in golf. So, much of 2006, he sold shoes at Nordstrom in Walnut Creek and Pleasanton.

"I was pretty good at it," he said. "Sold a lot."

He was asked if he is a shoe guy.

"I don't think we can afford Nordstom's," he said. "We are more Foot Locker kind of people."

He played on tour for a year in Korea, then two years in Canada before finally making it to the Web.com Tour, and now, occasionally, into PGA events.

He said he was close to being forced to quit several times because he was out of money.

"I had just under $200 going into Edmonton one week… I've got to borrow money to pay my caddie fee…I'm sitting there on my computer on Craigslist, looking for jobs. "

He finished eighth in that tournament, worth about $3,000 (Canadian).

"You might as well have given me $1 million," he said.

He knows he is mostly known for the "Gangnam Style" dance he did two years ago at the famous (infamous?) 16th hole at the Waste Management Open in Scottsdale.

"Everyone wants me to do the dance," he said. "I don't think they even know my name. A couple guys in the locker room are calling me John, like John Huh [another Korean tour golfer]."

Hahn, who said it was both amazing and "kind of cool" how many people don't know him, laughed about an incident Sunday.

"I was signing hats after the round," he said, "and I asked some guy, 'Is there a playoff?' He said, 'Yeah, yeah. It's Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and some other guy.'

"I said, 'Cool, here's your hat.' "

Seven players led at one time or another Sunday.

Johnson, among the longest hitters in the game, seemed in the best position going into the last two holes, the par-five 17th and the 475-yard par-four 18th. Stunningly, he bogeyed the 17th and missed a nine-foot putt for birdie on the 18th.

Veteran Vijay Singh, playing on his 52nd birthday, was among the leaders as late as the 14th hole, but went 5-5-6 the next three holes.

The leader starting the day, Ratief Goosen, finished, in order, with four bogeys and two birdies.

Sergio Garcia, also in great position to win — thanks in part to the miracle par he made on No. 13 Saturday after driving into a greenside bunker two fairways away — finished bogey, bogey.

While all this was swirling around him, Hahn was steady Eddie, one of only three golfers in the final top seven who didn't bogey at least one of the last two holes. The other two, Keegan Bradley and Hideki Matsuyama, made big closing rallies just to get near the title action.

"I have bogeyed so many 72nd holes in my career," Hahn said, "that I just didn't want to bogey [No. 18]. It makes the flight home a little more sour."

Sunday at Riviera, Hahn won a sweet title and followed it up with a sweet image-building press conference.

Expect to hear more from him, even when he doesn't dance.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes.

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