RALEIGH, N.C. – James Hahn stood on the 18th green in disbelief, his hands still shaking as he waited to hear his name called. What awaited was a trophy presentation of the unlikeliest kind. Moments earlier, the 30-year-old had tapped in a short birdie putt on the second playoff hole and beat Scott Parel to win the Rex Hospital Open, his first career win on the Nationwide Tour.
“This is amazing,” he said. “I can’t believe I won this golf tournament.”
Coming from five shots off the pace to start the final round at TPC Wakefield Plantation, Hahn inched steadily up an increasingly packed leaderboard on a pressure filled Sunday. When he missed a slick, downhill 15-footer for birdie on his final hole of regulation, he signed for a 4-under 67 and a 13-under total of 271.
“I did not look at a single board all day,” he said. “I didn’t even know my own score. They told me I was at 13 under and I should stick around.”
With three groups to finish behind him, Hahn figured somebody would beat his total. In fact, he had already changed into tennis shoes in the parking lot to head to the airport for a 5:55 p.m. flight to go back to California for Monday’s U.S. Open Qualifier.
Several players had chances down the stretch to alter the final outcome, but couldn’t. Parel missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole that could have given him the outright win.
Third-round leader B.J. Staten (72) also lipped out a birdie putt to tie the leaders. Jim Renner (71) finished with three straight pars to miss the tournament’s fifth playoff since 1994 by one. Jin Park had been in the clubhouse for a while, waiting to see if his final-round 67 wound merit some extended play. That group had to settle for a tie for third.
Will Wilcox (66), Monday qualifier Dustin Bray (66) of UNC fame and UNC-Charlotte’s Jeff Curl (69) shared sixth place, two shots back.
So, with Hahn’s mind wandering to the West Coast and a 7:00 a.m. tee time, he managed to refocus long enough to change shoes again and head out in search of a win he wasn’t expecting.
“I kept thinking about the qualifier all day. I guess it freed me up today,” he said. “I’ve dreamt my whole life of playing in a U.S. Open. I’ve never been in one. I can’t tell you what it would mean to play at Olympic. I grew up on that course.”
Back to the present and the first playoff hole, where Hahn short-sided himself on the par-4 18th, but got up-and-down from a mangled lie for par while Parel, who has never won in his career, missed a 15-foot birdie putt that was nearly on the same line as the one he’d missed in regulation.
The pair moved to the up-and-down, par-5 ninth hole, where the tees had been moved far enough forward on the final day that anyone with enough gumption could attack the green in two.
Parel laid up to a reasonable distance and hoped he’d get close with a wedge. Hahn, a laid back Berkeley grad with plenty of California cool, decided to let it ride on his second from the right rough.
“I looked at my caddie and said it’s just another day in the park. I thought of what I would do if it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday and I said I’d go for it, so that’s what I did,” he said. “It was an awkward lie but I just went for it, there just happened to be a tournament on the line but I have that shot. I can pull it off.”
His hybrid from 240 yards out sailed high and wide right but was far enough right to miss the creek that guards the front of the green. He wound up staring at a big chip shot with plenty of room to run the ball up to the cup.
“I hit one of the worst shots I’ve hit all week and ended up getting really lucky,” he said. “Then I hit one of the best chip shots I’ve ever hit.”
His third stopped close enough to the hole that when fans yelled from the skyboxes it was inside the leather and to pick it up, Hahn gave it a semi-measurement with his putter as he marked his ball.
Parel, meantime, had wedged his ball to about 18 feet but faced a sliding, downhill breaker.
“Late in the day, greens a little slower,” Parel said. “I just didn’t hit it hard enough.”
His birdie slid by and the 47-year-old Georgia resident tapped in for par, leaving the stage to Hahn.
“That was the longest one-foot putt I’ve ever had in my whole life,” he said, unable to clear the smile from his face. “I wanted to make sure I took my time and hit it nice and firm. It went in.”
In addition to an oversized crystal trophy, “Cal Cool” also pocketed a check for $99,000, which should be more than enough to cover the cost of changing his plane ticket.
“This week is probably one of the best weeks I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I won a golf tournament. To be out here and considered a Nationwide Tour champion, it definitely had a good ring to it.”
--With his win, James Hahn becomes the eighth first-time winner in 10 Nationwide Tour events this year. He also becomes the ninth player in 19 years to earn his first Tour win in Raleigh. The last to do it was Kyle Thompson in 2007.
--The winning score of 13-under 271 was the highest since 2004, when Chris Anderson needed eight holes to defeat Brendan Jones, Jason Buha and Paul Gow in a playoff.
--In the tournament’s 19 years, the winning margin has been larger than two strokes only once – in 2010 when John Riegger won by five shots in a 54-hole event cut short by rain on the final day.
--Scott Parel’s runner-up finish was his first top-10 on Tour since since a solo fourth at the 2008 South Georgia Classic – a span of 53 starts.
--Jin Park’s third-place finish was his best on Tour since a tie for second at the 2010 Melwood Prince George’s County Open.
--The Nationwide Tour will head to Leon, Mexico for next week’s Mexico Open at the El Bosque Country Club.