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This Hope Will Be Different for Jay Haas : As Defending Champion, He’ll Be Center Stage With Celebrities

Times Staff Writer

In other years, Jay Haas had the feeling he was playing practice rounds in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

He wasn’t paired with celebrities and he and his playing partners virtually had a course to themselves.

“It’s kind of nice not to be at a course where the celebrities are, because when you play other courses you don’t have to worry about traffic,” Haas said. “It doesn’t even seem like a tournament. Nobody is watching you.”

Haas will be a prime-time player, though, starting today. As defending champion of the Hope tournament, Haas will be paired with the celebrities, Bob Hope, former President Gerald Ford and Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the House. That combination should be a test of his concentration.

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However, he has some momentum and confidence going into the tournament. He finished in a tie for second with David Frost in last week’s MONY Tournament of Champions at La Costa, getting a check for $67,000.

After an opening round of 75, Haas lowered his scores to 67, 72, and 68 the last 3 days of the tournament.

Now he and other touring pros will be shooting for a first prize of $180,000 from a total purse of $1 million.

It’s a 90-hole tournament with 128 pros playing the first 72 holes with their amateur partners at Bermuda Dunes, the host course; Eldorado Country Club, Indian Wells Country Club and the Palmer Course at PGA West.

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A 5-time winner here, Arnold Palmer will be making his 30th appearance in the tournament. Steve Jones, who won the Tournament of Champions by 3 strokes over Haas and Frost, is also scheduled to play.

Haas got off to a fast start last year with his victory in the Hope tournament. He shot a 9-under-par 63 in the first round at Indian Wells. That gave him only a 1-shot lead, but it held up.

He went on to finish second in the Shearson Lehman Hutton Open at San Diego and a tie for sixth at the Nissan Los Angeles Open.

Haas said he then lost some momentum and never really regained it.

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“I was disqualified from the Players Championship for using a bent putter,” he said. “I was playing as well as I ever have. I tossed my putter in the bag and it bent. I didn’t know that you couldn’t play with an altered club like that.

“Then I missed the cut at the Masters. I tried to guard against complacency and keeping the fires lit, but . . . “

Even so, the 35-year-old Haas finished 20th on the money list, earning $490,409.

“It’s better than I’ve done in recent years, but I still feel like there is plenty of room for improvement,” he said.

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Haas was asked to comment on the escalating purses, which will be in the $40-million range this year.

“Put it this way,” he said. “In 1981 and 1982, I finished 13th and 15th on the money winning list and I didn’t win as much combined as I did last year. I won $220,000 in 1982 ($229,746) and, if someone said you’ll win $400,000 6 years later, I wouldn’t believe it.

“It used to be that winning $100,000 was something.”

Haas is playing well now and he is hopeful that he’s on as hot a streak as he was at the start of 1988.

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“Golf is such an emotional game,” he said. “When you get on a hot streak, it’s hard not to play well. You’re so confident, and confidence produces good golf.

“Where it goes bad, you never really know.”

Haas said he likes the format of the Hope tournament.

“You’re guaranteed to play 4 rounds, and I feel in 4 rounds I’m going to play well enough to make the cut. The courses aren’t back breaking. You have opportunities for good rounds. I’ve always liked the tournament, even more so now.”

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Haas has won 6 tournaments since joining the PGA Tour in 1976. He had won the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship the previous year while competing for Wake Forest.

He said he’s cutting back on his schedule this year.

“Maybe I’ll be better off if I play less and will be more excited about playing,” Haas said.

Just the same, he is mindful that his income in 6 West Coast tournaments last year was $287,392, or $17,045 more than he made in 1987 while playing in 29 tournaments.

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As for playing in the Hope tournament with his renowned partners, Haas just smiled and said, “It will be interesting.”


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