In picking son Bill, Jay Haas chose the right guy for more than one reason
It felt right for Jay Haas to choose his son for the U.S. Presidents Cup team.
Not because it was vital competitively. Any of the other candidates for captain's picks could have ended up being assets or liabilities. In the recent history of team golf, the effort to piece together some kind of magical mosaic of chemistry is overdone (sorry, Phil). The best formula will always be getting the very best players and simply letting them go at it.
On the merits, I thought Bill deserved the pick. Big in his favor was ending up at 11th in the qualifying standings, and there is a whole history of players in that position making the team.
But there wasn’t much more to his case. Let’s face it, Bill Haas is not known as a fearsome competitor, or as a leader, nor has he got that great a Presidents Cup record (3-5-2), nor has he ever finished top 10 in a major. If intangibles were the priority, others would have made more sense.
Regardless, I was afraid Jay’s selfless personality would keep him from taking Bill. It’s the quality that has always made Jay so popular with his peers and administrators, why he has been a valued confidant of other players like Fred Couples well before he began serving as assistant captain. Along with a disarmingly wicked sense of humor, he is always the voice of reason, the adult in the room.
On the flip side, he lacked the ruthlessness that is vital to being a star. Jay won nine times on the PGA Tour, and 17 more times on the Champions Tour, but he had an underappreciated all-around talent for more. He and Curtis Strange have been close friends since they played together at Wake Forest. Curtis was a pure killer, but a player who could be hard on himself and those around him -- the opposite of Haas. Jay summed it up neatly by saying, “Curtis would like to be a little more like me, and I’d like to be a little more like Curtis.”
Yesterday was a time for Jay to access his inner Strange, or at least lean toward emulating Greg Norman when he picked his “adopted son” Adam Scott, for the 2009 Presidents Cup.
Jay’s relationship with Bill is a close one, the lack of dysfunction validated by the fact that, among the sons of PGA Tour winners, Bill -- with six victories -- has had the best career by quite a bit.
As his uncle Bob Goalby was to him, Jay has always been a rock for Bill, but he’s never hovered. When his son asks, Jay is a fountain of wisdom. “When Bill won his first tour event [the 2010 Bob Hope Classic], he told me how he wasn't sure he could get it airborne on the 72nd hole," Jay said a few years ago. "I told him, 'That's just how it is.' You learn how to get the ball in the fairway and on the green when you don't even know whose arms are connected to your shoulders."
I won’t pretend any close knowledge of the Haas family dynamics, but my intuition tells me such good a relationship would have been unnecessarily hurt if Jay had gone away from his son. There would have been no good answer to the question, “Dad, I was next in line. Why didn’t you believe in me?” The moment would have remained a regret for the rest of their lives.
Having his son play for him will provide a well-deserved thrill for Jay, no matter the outcome in South Korea. If Bill is the hero, all the better. If he’s the goat, so be it, it’s golf. Nepotism wasn’t a factor, he made it on merit. Probably, there was nothing ruthless or selfish in Jay’s decision. I’m just glad he didn’t follow his tendency to err in the other direction.