Twenty-two years after Jay Haas captured the Hope, his son Bill was able to celebrate his first tour win with his father in the gallery.
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- There was a nice little gathering on Sunday night of the Hope at Billy Harmon's house down the road in Indian Wells. The Harmon Brothers were there, which meant there were pockets of laughter filling up the kitchen, where everyone seems to gather at these family parties.
The deal is that once a year, the Harmons host a golf school. This is something that Dick Harmon started five years ago, just before his shocking death, and so in Dick's tradition, the Harmons meet at Billy's house in the desert for a little golf instruction wrapped around a reunion of the Harmon's various clubs.
Lucas Glover dropped by on his way to San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open. Lucas was working with Dickie at his passing, and has been part of the Harmon family ever since. There was the Winged Foot contingent, where the brothers grew up while their father, Claude, was the longtime pro. And a bunch of guys from Carnegie Abbey, the Rhode Island club where Billy teaches in the summer. On the walls were photos going back to the days when Claude and his wife, Alice, were based out of Thunderbird in Palm Springs during the winter.
There in the corner, taking it all in, with a shaved head and a set of designer glasses, was 27-year-old Billy Haas. The Saints had just won the NFC Championship with an overtime field goal. Sitting next to Haas was 81-year-old Bob Goalby, the former Masters champion, and his great uncle.
The week started with a Monday afternoon session on the range at Toscana, where Billy is teaching. Goalby was there along with Billy, his brother Jay Jr., and his father, Jay, who was on his way to the Mitsubishi Championship in Hawaii. Billy Haas was just off the plane from Hawaii, where he opened the season with a missed cut.
Those two rounds at the Sony seemed to speak more about young Bill's career than any other round leading up to his first career victory. Lack of focus was the reason he got together with Billy Harmon last year, around the time of the Texas Open, and he made headway to enjoy a strong finish to the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Jay was in the gallery the last nine holes on the Palmer Private Course. He flew the red-eye from Hawaii into Los Angeles, took a limo and was on the tee at Toscana for clinic and pro scramble -- which he won. It was a twist of fate that there was a rainout of the Hope on Thursday, and that he'd be there for his son's first win. "Yeah, it was a big day for the Haases," Billy Harmon said Tuesday morning as he drove to pick up Butch and Craig on the way to Day 3 of their soiree. "Jay got a sleeve of balls and Billy got $900 grand."
Billy Haas never saw his dad in the gallery. He was too busy trying to look straight ahead with his foot on the gas. After all the critiquing of the Hope field, a Monday shootout had developed between some of the game's best young players, and none of them -- not Haas, Matt Kuchar, Tim Clark or Bubba Watson were backing off. And neither was Mike Weir, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 37 in the world, after a double at No. 13. Adding to the drama were the questionable decisions by Watson (at 14) and Clark (at 18) to lay up, but they were still trying to win the tournament right down to the very end. And in the middle of it all, there was Bill Haas, standing from almost the exact yardage that his dad faced in 2003 at the Hope. It was a desert thriller after all.
Billy Harmon was caddieing for the elder Haas that day. Jay caught his 4-iron a little thin. Billy says the wind shifted a little on them. "Caddie error," he says. And the ball never really had a chance, splashing short of its target, giving the tournament to Weir.
Seven years later, Billy Haas had 206 yards and a 3-iron. He looked cool over it, made a great pass, and then watched as it settled pin high, 27 feet from the cup, locking up his first tour victory. Behind the ropes, father Jay could finally breathe. "It was funny," Billy Harmon said Tuesday morning. "I was teaching at the golf school and the phone rang. I didn't pick up the phone, but it was Jay Sr. He said, 'I don't care who you're teaching. You've got to call me, man.' "
Billy was more than Jay's long-time caddie. He was a brother.
Before driving back to the hotel on Sunday night, I had Billy Harmon take me back to his office, to see the photo of his win with Jay at the Hope in 1988. All Jay had to do was two-putt from 13 feet for the win. But for the first time in 72 holes, he called in Billy for the read.
"Little Billy could two-putt this," the caddie said to Haas at the time.
Haas made the putt and hoisted a mustachioed Billy Harmon, age 37 at the time. "My Tom Selleck look," Harmon says.
At that ball-beating session on Monday, Billy Harmon suggested that Haas turn out the toes of his right foot. In Harmon's eyes, Haas' right foot was toed-in like Hogan's. Harmon's father, the former Masters champion, was famous for his five-minute fixes at Winged Foot. From that little tweak, Haas found his groove, enduring through adverse conditions early and pressure to win late, finally producing the type of victory long expected of him.
"All I know is when I turn the right foot out, I don't shoot 30 under, so there's a little talent in the deal," says Billy Harmon.
There was a dinner scheduled at Toscana Monday night, so the Haases showed up and were greeted by a standing ovation. Mary Lester, wife of Williams-Sonoma founder Howard Lester, baked a cake with the Bob Hope logo on it and Billy Harmon moderated a Q&A. By morning, Jay was going down the runway at LAX while Billy was driving around the mountains to San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open.
"It was a very, very special evening, to say the least." Harmon said. "Sometimes the circles in life connect."
They seem to connect more around the Harmons. Butch is 66, Craig, a former PGA Professional of the Year, is 63; and Billy is 59. For Billy Harmon to have an influence in Bill Haas' first career victory is only part of that circle, but it goes back another generation, to the black and white pictures of their father, always cracking a smile, usually after fixing somebody's swing.
"I get very sentimental about it," Billy Harmon says. "This isn't a story about coaching and shaft angles. This is story about love and family and friendship."