jay haas

Jay Haas found an old friend in the gallery en route to taking the early lead.

Local knowledge propels Haas to early lead

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

ST. LOUIS – It wasn't exactly a home game, but Jay Haas felt right at home in the first round of the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid at Bellerive Country Club on Thursday.

Haas, 59, was born in St. Louis and raised in nearby Belleville, Ill. Though he has spent much of his adult life in Greenville, S.C., Haas estimates he’s probably played more rounds at Bellerive – 30, give or take a few – than most of his fellow competitors in the field this week.

That local knowledge proved beneficial Thursday, as Haas snagged the early clubhouse lead with a fantastic, bogey-free round of 5-under 66 with less than his best stuff. Haas’s mark was one better than Kiyoshi Murota and PGA Professional Sonny Skinner, who were also early starters.

Kenny Perry, Dan Forsman and Fred Funk were all among a group of early finishers to shoot 2-under 69.

“I’m certainly very excited about shooting 5 under here,” said Haas, a two-time Senior PGA Champion. “It’s probably my lowest score ever at Bellerive, no matter what age I was. I didn't expect it going out. I wasn't very sharp today, but managed to keep my misses in the correct spots and I took advantage of a few good iron shots and just kind of kept it between the ditches, I guess you would say. But very, very pleased with that.”

Haas said the first time he played at Bellerive was at 16 or 17 years old for a sectional qualifier. 

“I shot a couple 80s or something,” he said. “It was a man's course. And the ball didn't go very far back then. And so I've always thought of it as that course. And when I come here, anything par or under I feel like I've stolen something kind of.”

Skinner, playing in his fourth Senior PGA Championship, avoided what could have been a disaster with an incredible par at the par-3 sixth hole, his 15th of the day. Measuring 206 yards, Skinner unleashed a 4-iron from the tee that came up short and found a greenside bunker. Faced with a horrible lie and the ball some three feet below his feet, Skinner bladed the ball and sent it through the green about 40 yards from the hole.

Remembering that it was a good spot to miss and realizing he could still salvage bogey, Skinner played an aggressive pitch shot that somehow fell into the cup for an unlikely par. 

“That helped out quite a bit,” Skinner said. “I just trying to make a four and it rolled in the hole for a three.”

Thursday has been the coolest this week with temperatures in the low 60s under overcast skies. It rained a little during the morning, but picked up in intensity as the afternoon wore on.

Torrential rains on Monday softened the course significantly. As late as Wednesday afternoon, players like Bernhard Langer wondered whether it would even be possible to play the first two rounds without lift, clean and place because of the mud balls.

Thanks to dry conditions overnight Wednesday, competitors were able to play it down in the first round with few issues.

“I thought that the course is remarkably drier today,” Haas said. “It's not by any means running fast, we picked up a little bit of mud, I was a little surprised, because yesterday we were picking up a lot of mud on our tee shots. And it drained quite well today. Hopefully it's not going to rain, if it does, not too hard and it will kind of continue to speed up as the week goes on. The greens, even through the monsoon that we had Monday night and on, the greens have been pretty good.  What I mean by that is the firmness of them.  They have not ever been soft.  But they're not rock hard either.  So just the texture of them is really nice.  But, yeah, the course was remarkably dry.”