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Jay Haas is happy to have so many friends, family and fans pulling for him this week at the Ocean Course. (Photo: John Kim, PGA.com)
Jay Haas is happy to have so many friends, family and fans pulling for him this week at the Ocean Course. (Photo: John Kim, PGA.com)

Homestate hero Haas already enjoying special week

Winning the Senior PGA Championship last year at Oak Tree in Edmond, Okla., for his first major title meant a lot to Jay Haas. But having the chance to defend his crown in his home state of South Carolina means just as much.

John Kim, Coordinating Producer

KIAWAH ISLAND -- What could be more storybook than a triumphant return home by a conquering hero? How about a successful defense by the hero in front of the home folks?

Such is the case with Jay Haas, the long-time South Carolinian who will begin defense of his Senior PGA Championship tile tomorrow at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

It was last year at Oak Tree in Edmund, Okla., that Haas broke through for his first major championship victory. He defeated Brad Bryant in a three-hole playoff and finally earned the title of major championship winner in his 90th attempt to do so.

Obviously, it was quite a thrill. But Haas wouldn't go as far as to call it a relief.

"I don't know that one tournament can make all that much difference," Haas said. "If I had not won a major championship, I don't think I would have been disappointed or devastated or anything like that.

"Would I be satisfied? No. I don't think any golfer is ever satisfied with what he accomplishes. But I don't think it's changed me or changed my outlook or anything like that."

Is he being a bit coy? Perhaps. Actually, there is no dispute that Haas has changed over the past few years -- and for the better. He joined the PGA TOUR in 1974 and in a successful career amassed eight victories. In three-plus years on the Champions Tour, he has already totaled nine.

"Maybe I'm expecting more out of myself," he reasons. "But the tournaments I've won, non-majors on the Champions Tour, I've felt the same as I did last year. I wasn't over shots thinking this is for the PGA (Senior PGA Championship), this is a major, you know, nothing like that. I think in the moment, I'm just trying to hit good golf shots, trying to win the tournament."

Haas is certainly not trying to diminish his breakthrough major victory. Actually, he's trying not to think too much about it, especially this week -- in front of this crowd.

"I guess in the back of my mind, I know it's awfully special winning a major tournament at any stage," Haas said. "Here I've got a ton of people that are pulling for me and some from Greenville that are going to be down. But I guess I'm trying not to let myself go there. And even ... certainly not try to talk about it, but trying not to think about it."

Though a mid-westerner by birth, Haas attended school at golf powerhouse Wake Forest and then, while competing at the Heritage Classic in 1977, met his future wife. The two married a year-and-a-half later and lived in Charlotte for five years before settling in her hometown of Greenville. They have been there ever since.

"By the end of the week, my entire family will be here with boyfriends and girlfriends and all that," Haas said. "And we have a friend of ours who has been kind enough to let us use his house this week. It's not too far from here, it's a huge house, a great beach house. So even if I don't play well, it will be a fun week in that regard. But a lot of members of my club, they're planning on having a cocktail party here Saturday night. They have hats made up with my signature on them.

"So, yeah, all week there should be a steady trickle of people coming in and I think that just in general South Carolina has adopted me."

So as Haas tees it up as the defending Senior PGA Champion, he has successfully removed one monkey off of his back -- and replaced it with a couple of extra pressures. But the interviews, the expectations, and the friends and family that will be making their way to Kiawah won't be too problematic.

"Once I'm in between the ropes and concentrating, it's just me and the golf course."

It's a philosophy that has served him well, no matter where he is playing.

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