Haas Has It All, Except a Major

Golf is a game that likes to deal in “bests.” Even negative ones.

For instance, it concerns itself with such quasi-stats as, “Who is the best player never to win a tournament?” That would be Bobby Wadkins, hands down.

Then the game would concern itself with “Who is the best player never to win a major?” That, for years, was Tom Kite. Then, he won the U.S. Open in 1992 and the mantle descended to Corey Pavin. Then Pavin won the Open last year and the title was vacant.


Now, by consensus, it belongs to Davis Love III, the leading 1996 candidate for the never-on-Sunday title.

But hold on a minute! Before we close the polls, I would like to propose another contender.

What about Jay Haas?

Every time you turned on the television at a “major” last year, it seemed there was Jay Dean Haas solidly in the hunt. He got more air time than Barbara Walters.

Haas has won nine tournaments, exactly as many as the Love boat. Of course, Love may yet make the world go round and beat Haas to the trophy presentation at a major tournament but last year at the Masters, the year’s first major, Love came in second with 275. And Jay Haas was third with 277.

At the U.S. Open in June, Love tied for fourth with 284. So did Haas. Then came the PGA, where Haas finished eighth, with a third-round 64 and a total of 274. Love missed the cut. The British Open enriched neither’s credentials. Haas finished 79th with 296. Love couldn’t break 300 and finished 96th.

Head to head it’s a horse race. Haas, 42, has been playing a decade longer than Love, 32, and money won is almost the same--Love, $5,623,890, Haas, $5,428,703. But although Love’s fortune has been amassed in a shorter time, it is well to remember it was grossed in more affluent times. Haas played in the era before the million-dollar tournaments. The total purse in Haas’ first year, 1973, was $8,657,225. For 75 events. Last year, it was $62,250,000--for only 44 events.

Haas’ problem is, he’s as easy to overlook as a busboy. For years on the tour, his claim to notoriety was, he was Bob Goalby’s nephew.

If Haas plays as well in ’96 as he did in ’95, Bob Goalby has a chance to be remembered as Jay Haas’ uncle.

Haas doesn’t draw attention to himself. He has never been known to throw a club, cuss a caddie, snub an autograph seeker, refuse to sign a scorecard or criticize a golf course. He just goes out and shoots birdies. Last year, he finished 10th or better 11 times in only 18 tour events. He averaged 1.7 putts a hole, seventh best on the tour.

That still doesn’t shake the label “Best never to, etc.” Haas is not sure he merits it, but like everyone who ever did, he would like to shake it.

It was Uncle Bob who turned him onto this way of life. Goalby was a Masters winner and a multiple tour winner when he brought his nephew down to the Heritage for a tournament.

“I was 13 and I thought, ‘Boy! What a life! Travel all over. Eat out all the time. Never have to make your bed or do the dishes.’ ”

He was hooked. Still is.

“I thought, ‘Imagine getting paid to play golf--to do something you enjoy so much!’ ”

It was Uncle Bob, too, who solidified his career. In that Heritage, won by Goalby, a young amateur named Lanny Wadkins finished second. Lanny was a Wake Forest undergrad and Uncle Bob saw to it his nephew got enrolled there.

The game fell into place at once. The Wake Forest teams Haas played on won two NCAA championships.

The pro venture was a little slower.

“When you’re young, you want to make everything happen right away,” Haas says. “You can’t do that in golf. I always had this sense of urgency. I had no patience. Golf doesn’t respond well to impatience.”

He next had to learn accuracy.

“I was not one of the big hitters [he ranked 96th in driving distance last year]. I needed to be straight all my career. The long hitters can afford to be crooked. I couldn’t.”

No one oohed and aahed when Haas drove off a tee. But when they got to the pin it was usually Jay saying, “I believe you’re away” to the John Daly-style swingers. When the ball landed, the grass was short. No one had to go look for Haas’ ball. It was usually in a fairway. Or in a cup.

Haas is four under par after two rounds of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. He matched par Thursday at the testing Indian Ridge host course. At 42, he wishes he could take dead aim on shedding any “Best never . . . " handle. Gift-wrap it and send it “To Davis With Love.”

It may be an unworthy ambition. In view of what’s been happening to major winners, it may be better to be “The best never to win” than to be “The worst who ever did.”