Kohler, Wis. - It belies reason. The complexities of how he's gotten where he has, or why he's doing what he's doing at 53, is lost on Jay Haas.
Haas, 53, is tearing it up on the Champions Tour, having won four times in 16 starts this year. He leads Denis Watson by more than 600 points in the Charles Schwab Cup race.
Since becoming a full-timer on the tour, Haas has won 10 times through his first 50 tournaments. That's one more victory than he won in 796 PGA Tour events over 30 years. So what gives? This clearly must be the best he's ever played, right?
"I've had a lot of people ask me that - if I thought this was the best I've ever played - and I will say I've been pretty consistent and I feel as confident as I've ever felt playing in my career," he said Tuesday.
Only one player of recent memory can relate to what he's been doing. After joining the revamped 'Senior Tour' in
|Jay Haas has won 10 times in his first 50 events on the Champions Tour. (John Mummert/USGA)
1995, Hale Irwin reeled off 10 wins in his first 50 tournaments too. He felt a sense of rejuvenation after laboring so many years on the PGA Tour. When he started winning early on the Senior Tour, it bred confidence and a steely resolve. Irwin was feared, clearly the best player atin a time when former superstars like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer had one step into retirement.
Irwin felt the best golf he ever played was during that stretch, when he was about 52.
"It could just be coincidence," said Irwin, winner of 45 career Champions Tour events in 285 starts. "It could be something in the water when you turn 52, I don't know.
"But I found that when I played, I hit the ball almost as I wanted to. I made putt after putt. I just played great golf, reminiscent of the way Jay is playing right now."
Currently Haas ranks eighth in putting, averaging 1.73 per hole.
Denis Watson marveled at Haas while the two played together at Kiawah in the Senior PGA Championship thatin which Watson won.
"Jay plays better than I ever saw him on the regular tour," said Denis Watson Tuesday.
"I'd like to putt like he does, I'll tell you. I guess that could do wonders for your self esteem."
In some ways, what Haas is doing is bringing awareness to a sometimes attention-starved Champions Tour. Irwin, like Tom Watson, has reiterated that the window of opportunity on the senior circuit is roughly between the ages of 50 and -55 years of age. After that, the yearsage starts to rob the body of its vitality.
"As you get older â€¦ whether it be physically, you just can't compete the way you once did because of strength or injury or whatever it may be, or it could just be interest," said Irwin.
When amateur George Zahringer teespegs up his ball Thursday morning, he'll do so with few designs on another USGA national championship titlecrown. After all, he's trying to be a realist.
"Anything's possible," said the 54-year-old Zahringer with a laugh Tuesday. "It's highly unlikely. I'm just thrilled to be here."
The 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion joins 33 other hopeful amateurs when play commences. Yet chances are slim that any of them will be raisinglofting the Francis D. Ouimet Memorial Senior Open Championship Trophy when Sunday arrives. That's laregely because in the 28-year history of the championship, no amateur has claimed the top spot in the 28-year history of the championship. In fact, amongof the U.S. Open, Women's Open and Senior Open, only Catherine Lacoste (1967 Women's Open) has won as an amateur since John Goodman captured the U.S. Open in 1933.
Last week at the Women's Open, Lacoste - now known as Lacoste de Pinero - shared her foremost reason why it's so tough for an amateur to be successful in a USGA major championship.
"The players today, they turn pro so early," she said.
More than that Zahringer, who has made one cut in four Senior Opens, offered his two cents.
"First, it's a national championship. It's probably what sets a USGA event from any other tournament. Two, it's the quality of the field," he said.
Add Seve Ballesteros to the growing list of player withdrawals. Ballesteros, making a comeback attempt on the Champions Tour this season, pulled out Tuesday because of unspecified injuries. He'll be replaced by 52-year-old Ron Streck of Tulsa, Okla.
Since June 28, Jim Colbert (knee); Raymond Floyd (back); Scott Hoch (hand); Gary Player (hamstring and back); Don Pooley (unspecified) ; and Dana Quigley (unspecified) have pulled out.
Mark Bemowski (2004 USGA Senior Amateur) of Mukwonago and Jim Rollefson of New Berlin are from Wisconsin. Two-time Senior Open champion Hale Irwin hasn't met them but had perhaps the line of the day Tuesday at Whistling Straits.
"They're great players and terrific personalities," said Irwin. "Cheeseheads, mind you, but they're all the same."
Line Of The Day Part II
Asked Tuesday about how the course sets up, Haas scored points for honesty.
"If it didn't set up good for me, I wouldn't tell you because I wouldn't admit it. I'd say, 'Oh, it's just great,'" he said to laughter.
Nineteen percent of the 156-player field is made up of USGA champions. That's 29 players. There are nine competitors who have won a U.S. Open, 10 Senior Open champions and fivesix whom have won other majors. That's until Ballesteros bowed out of the field Tuesday.
Ken Klavon is the USGA Web Editor. E-Mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.