Gold Rush: The Next Level

May 19, 2003

By Jay Reddick

The Wachovia Championship in Charlotte is one of the most prestigious new tournaments on the PGA Tour.

But for Bill Haas, it was a warmup.

Haas, a junior at Wake Forest, received a sponsor's exemption to the Tour event, played at Quail Hollow Country Club May 8-11. He enjoyed playing and hobnobbing with the PGA's elite, including his father, veteran Jay Haas. But the event fell one week before the Deacons competed as a team in the NCAA East Regional, and that held much more sway with the young Haas.

One year after WFU barely missed out on advancing from the regionals into the NCAA championship field, Haas helped the team break through to an sixth-place finish at the regionals in Auburn, Ala.

Haas shot 76-75 to miss the cut at the Wachovia, his second PGA Tour event. He blamed his putting, which also betrayed him during a final-round 76 at the ACC Championships at Uwharrie Point.

"Going into (the Wachovia), I was trying to make the cut, to compete with the best out there," Haas said. "I felt comfortable, but I putted pretty poorly. Any 8-footer, 5-footer I had to save par, I didn't make any of them. In order to score, you have to make some of those."

Haas said his latest PGA experience - he missed the cut by one stroke last year in Greensboro - was a big help when he returned to college golf the following week.

"I've definitely enjoyed (my PGA tournaments)," Haas said. "I feel a little bit different than the rest of these (college players) when I come back, because I've had the experience of playing against the pros. Even though I'm making a few bogeys, I'm still making a few birdies, and people see I can do this somewhat."

Haas is certainly not lacking in confidence, but he has earned the right to feel like the best, because he is certainly among the best. In the last 15 years, only three players have shot par or better in eight or more consecutive rounds for Wake Forest - Haas, Haas and Haas. His longest and most recent streak, of 13 straight rounds of par or better, stretched from February to the ACC Championship on April 19.

His play has attracted the attention of not only college golf aficionados -- for the second consecutive year, he's a finalist for the Hogan Award, golf's Heisman - but the pros as well.

"There are a lot of 'can't-miss' kids that do miss," Curtis Strange told The Associated Press. "But from what I know of Bill, he can't miss. He's full of potential. He has a natural swing, and he seems to want it."

Haas will wait a year to test his "can't-miss" pro label. He's faced the question on several occasions, itself a tribute to his play, but insists he won't leave Wake Forest this summer to try out the PGA Tour full-time.

"(At the Wachovia), I showed that I still have plenty to work on," Haas said. "I enjoy college golf, and I'm enjoying college outside of golf, too. One more year can only help. I have plenty more years to play professionally."



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