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An interview with Jay Haas

Haas talks about his team, the course and how he is preparing for this week Ryder Cup Matches.
September 15, 2004

JULIUS MASON: Jay Haas, ladies and gentlemen, joining us at Oakland Hills Country Club. Jay, how about some thoughts on what happened yesterday on the golf course and we'll go to Q&A.

JAY HAAS: Well, obviously the course is one of the great championship courses in the world. It's set up beautifully. I think the greens will continue to get faster as the week goes on. I think as you -- for me, not playing here but once every ten years, I forget about the slopes and how many different pin placements are on each green and how difficult the course can be with just the pin placements. But it will be a great match-play course the way it's set up. I think you're going to see lots of birdies. I think with the speed of the greens, I think that will allow the guys to run at the putts a little bit more. I was kind of thinking they were going to be much, much quicker, but they seem to be allowing us to run at the putts a little bit so far.

But it was a great day. The weather is great. Crowds are wonderful. It's great to be here.

Q. Bill, your son had a pretty good run here a couple of years ago at the Amateur. Is this the kind of thing where you're asking him for some advice?

JAY HAAS: Actually he's coming up tonight. I know he's excited about watching. Yeah, sure, I've thought about, you know asking him what he thought and how he attacked the course and things like that. I've never played a match-play event on this place, so it's maybe a different mindset.

His mindset is 40 yards in front of where my mindset is, so that might change his outlook on some of the holes. I watched his match against Ricky here in the semi finals, and I thought, man, this course is much shorter than I remember it, but it's still -- after yesterday, I realized it wasn't quite that short.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about Mickelson's decision to change clubs a couple of weeks before this thing, just wonder what some of his fellow players think about it, is it something you personally would have considered doing?

JAY HAAS: You know, I guess I'm not a real changer. In my career, I've probably only changed -- I've probably only had eight or ten sets of clubs in almost 30 years now. So I would say that, no, I personally don't like to change. I guess I won't say afraid to change, but the unknown factor just doesn't make me comfortable.

I played with Phil yesterday, though, and he didn't seem to be struggling with that change. I don't think he would change just to be changing. I think he would change to think that it's going to be better for him personally.

I don't think it's been the talk. I haven't really heard the talk in the locker room at the hotel amongst the other players or anything like that. It doesn't seem to be a big issue. He played awfully well yesterday.

Q. You had some important decisions to make, whether it was a year ago or 18 months ago about how you even got here. Can you take us through that entire process and how you feel now that you're actually here?

JAY HAAS: I guess my mindset maybe two or three years ago was to play well enough at age 48 to be exempt when I was 49 to play that whole year going into the Champions Tour when I turned 50. That all being said, I obviously wanted to play well in that moment when I was playing at 47, 48, and then in 2003, I just came out playing well, almost won the Bob Hope tournament, continued to play well throughout the year, and maybe midway through that year, the points, there was a list that came out and I was close to the Top-10 or in the Top-10, something like that. So it got me thinking, you know, that along with remaining exempt, and I had done that, I had accomplished that goal early in the year in 2003 or 2002, and so I just, I felt like, hey, this is something to shoot for.

I always said, and it was true in my mind that it kept me going to the practice tee, it kept me going to the gym working out and kept me focused on trying to improve and not just try to go through the emotions and so-called remain competitive leading up to the Champions Tour.

You know, people have asked me what I'm going to do from now on. I don't know. I didn't really know my game plan leading up to now. I was just kind of winging it almost, and I continue to play well, I continue to play well in a lot of tournaments. Guys on TOUR, they kept saying, "Don't leave." The guys on the Champions Tour that I talk to, I talked to Tom Kite maybe a year or so ago and he just said, "Play as much as you can for as long as you can out here. Once you leave, you can't go back almost." It's just once I've turned that page, I don't know that I can be as competitive as I want to be.

I know it's going to end sometime soon. But I've enjoyed doing it. I've enjoyed being competitive at this time in my career. Not so much I try to shy away from the fact that "at my age", you know, that line. I think for me it's been most satisfying because in the year 2000, I was 144th on the Money List and I played my way out of that slump and became in my eyes one of my best -- played the best of any time in my career, as consistent as any time in my career. So if I was 30 and I had that slump and four years later I was on the Ryder Cup Team, I would have still felt as satisfied as I do right now regardless of what age.

Q. When you were asked about changes in equipment, you said you didn't do a lot of that. I don't think the recreational golfer would understand that because that person would just love to get a new club and go to the first tee. Could you explain that for us as to the difference between that type of player and a professional?

JAY HAAS: Well, I guess we are all trying to find a better game or buy a better game, and that's what keeps the club companies in business, obviously.

I think for me personally, I'll try different stuff. I'll go on the range and I'll try different drivers and 3-woods and wedges, putters, things like that. But I've always got my steady in the bag and that -- I don't know, I guess I've realized over the course of 25-plus years that it's not so much the arrow as it is the Indian, as we all say. You can progress. Technology does help obviously. I look at my wooden drivers at home, I couldn't imagine hitting one of those right now or some of the early metal woods we used play well, and they are quite different and archaic compared to what we are playing right now. So you can progress your game along with equipment but I guess I've been one that's hesitant to change. I'm not a real -- I don't experiment that much, I guess. Maybe one or two shots and I go, "Yeah, I don't think I like that."

Q. Have you ever been on a team before in which you haven't been told with whom you're going to play until the 11th hour? And may I just, as a follow-up to that, may I be rude and say, what is your reaction to that particular style of play or captaincy?

JAY HAAS: In '83, when Jack Nicklaus was the captain, that was my first team, I don't recall him saying or giving us any indication early on in the week who we were playing with. I think that maybe happened more and more after that. Some of the guys, some of the captains wanted to get the players' input more, who they like to play with, who they didn't like to play with, things of that nature.

But I think years ago, the captains just paired them up how they saw fit and went with that. I think Hal is a little bit of an old school guy. I think having Jack Burke along as his assistant captain, he's getting some great input from him.

But I love the fact that I don't know. I don't think it would affect me positively, negatively, one way or the other if I knew, if I didn't know. But I love the way Hal is handling everything so far. I think he's been a great leader. I think he's somebody who is not afraid to say things, to make a change, to call us out. I think I like the way things are growing.

Q. Speaking of '83, can you talk about how you felt on the first tee, your first Ryder Cup, and how has this evolved, does it feel any different than it did then?

JAY HAAS: I think that the matches, if anyone was there in 1983, I don't see many faces that were old enough to be there, but it was kind of a non-event for the public, for the media. Not for the players. I think the players felt very passionate about it. That was kind of the -- that was the second team that the Europeans were allowed on the team, so I think they felt like they were going to win that match, and it was going to be very competitive. We felt that same way as a player.

I can't really recall how I felt on the first tee. I don't think I knew what to expect. I don't think I -- I don't think I was as nervous as I was in '95 or will be this year because I guess I know how, what to expect almost. I know how important it is, how badly we want it, how badly I want it. Back then I was 29 probably. You know, I don't think I really appreciated how important the Ryder Cup is and has become. It is way, way different than it was in '83. I think it's even grown since '95.

I remember walking out of the locker room in '95 at Oak Hill on Tuesday morning for a 9:00 AM practice round and there were probably 20,000, 25,000 people right around the club there for a practice round. And I don't think there were eight or 10,000 for the week at PGA National. And then 75 percent of those were European fans, I think.

So it was quite a change from '83 to '95, maybe not quite as great from '95 to now, but still, growing every year, just an incredible event that this has become.

Q. We've seen some terrific images over the years of Sam Torrance when he makes the winning putt and Davis and McGinley last time. Just from your side, we asked this of Furyk yesterday, can you explain what the feeling is like when the other guy has that feeling and you're in that match?

JAY HAAS: And you see the guy raise his arms and you're the other guy -- yeah, it's not fun. As I said, when you want something so badly and it doesn't happen, it's very, very disappointing. I can't tell you how badly I felt after '95, personally, for the team. I don't know that I felt totally responsible. I didn't put it all on myself or anything like that, but, you know, I think when it's so close and when you see the other team jumping around and you realize that it's over and that's not what we want, that's not what either team wants.

In '83, we had the opposite. Lanny stuffed it in there a foot and a half and we ended up winning by a point. That was a pretty neat experience there.

But I guess I just relate it to anything that you want so badly and you don't get, it's pretty devastating.

Q. How much of a feel do you have already on the foursomes and which holes might -- you're obviously considered a guy who is a perfect foursomes partner because you're so consistent, do you have a feel yet on which holes might work best for you, whether they are going to be the odd or the even?

JAY HAAS: Yesterday I didn't really play with that in mind so much. Hal has pretty much instructed us to play, prepare like we would any week out of the year to prepare as individuals and that he would pair the guys up as he saw fit. So today, I think I might feel a little bit more that way. I know that all of the par 3 holes are odd-numbered holes and that certainly has not escaped us, we're pretty sharp on that.

I don't know where I will play. I haven't had great success in the foursomes. I've won some matches in the four-ball. I don't know where he's got me. I've told him, I'll play one match, I'll play five, I'll play two, whatever's best for the team, that's where I want to stand.

Q. Being considered a natural for foursomes, do you have an explanation why that may be the case, where you have not had as much success in foursomes, as opposed to best ball?

JAY HAAS: Not necessarily. I think the matches are so even, they are so -- it's a toss-up whoever is playing well that day. I think that's the only reason you can look at why Tiger doesn't have a winning record. I mean, my goodness, he's been the best player for such a long time now. It's such a short series, a short 18-hole match, I mean, anything can happen. I don't really -- I haven't dwelled on the fact that I don't have a winning record there, no.

Q. In '95, that was the start of a run where Europe has now won three of the last four and even in '99, it took a seeming miracle, a comeback for the U.S. to win. Why has Europe won three of the last four and is it to the point where the U.S. is the underdogs?

JAY HAAS: I guess I have never thought of us as the favorites or anyone head and shoulders above the other team. As they say, on paper, the American team has usually been on average the highest in the World Ranking and things like that. But I don't think the players take any stock in that at all. They realized that the European players are all world class players. The pool that they are choosing from now is much deeper than it ever was and has been for the last 15 or 20 years. So, you know, I don't know -- again, the players -- I don't feel like go into it thinking that this is a walkover by any means or any of the guys feel that way. It's just such a short series, you know, anything can happen. I don't know why that we're batting .250 here the last four times, it's just the way the matches have gone. They have been very, very close. Like you said, we made a great comeback the one time to win. They made a great comeback in '95 to win. It's just the way the flip of the coin has gone, basically the last four or five times.

Q. As the oldest member on the U.S. Team, do you have younger guys, inexperienced guys come to you? Do you feel like Uncle Jay of the tee?

JAY HAAS: A little bit. Chris Riley, I think he's the one who labelled me Uncle Jay. That's great. I try to help the guys without trying to sound like a know it all, without trying to sound like I'm lecturing my kids. It's been kind of a tough balance. I'm not somebody to voice my opinions too much. But I've tried to pull them aside, some of the younger guys, the first-timers or whatever, to just be prepared. I think the hardest thing for me has been wanting to play too soon. I think we all want to get going, you know, today; tomorrow, definitely. And we've got another day in there to get ready, to talk about it. So I think that's been the most difficult thing for me personally, so I've tried to help them with that, tried to get them to kind of calm down the first part of the week.

As far as the matches go, the old saying, expect your partner to do -- expect your opponent to make every shot. Don't be surprised when he holes a 40-footer or chips in or holes a bunker shot, it's going to happen. I think we all know that. But some of the outside things, like the start on Friday, you know, I know that this year, I've done a little bit better on trying to down play everything leading up to Friday's matches.

Q. How disturbing was it to you personally to think that maybe '95 would have been your last experience in the Ryder Cup and how rewarding is it to get another chance and do you look at it as any motivation for yourself?

JAY HAAS: You know, I've been asked that, and I'm not seeking any extra motivation or don't have any extra motivation because of what happened in '95. I've kind of let that go.

For a long time, I remember seeing the replay six months after that and I turned it off. I got sick to my stomach, just recalling what I felt like walking off that green on Sunday and at the closing ceremonies.

You know, I've let that go and I don't feel like I'm trying to prove anything, I'm not trying to pay back or anything like that. But yeah, just to get another opportunity at any time in my career, you know, playing in '95, that was a great thrill for me. I can recall in the team room saying, you know -- and I used that line, at my age, I don't know how many more times this is going to happen. And so, it was very special then to be included in that group of 11 players and the captain.

And so today, sitting here is awfully special. I think what I've thought in the last couple of years is where I came from in 2000, and like I said earlier, just to have improved enough to be included in this group is awfully gratifying.

JULIUS MASON: Uncle Jay Haas, ladies and gentlemen.

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