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The temptation for Jay Haas

Posted: March 16, 2008 2:58 a.m.
Updated: May 17, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
There's always that question for certain golfers on the Champions Tour of whether or not they can pull double-duty and also compete on the PGA Tour.

Jay Haas, the most decorated golfer on the Champions Tour for the last three years, answers that question with humility.

The 54-year old is in second place at 5-under after two rounds of the AT&T Champions Classic at Valencia Country Club.

Haas is currently fourth on the Champions Tour money list.

He won the 2007 Champions Tour Player of the Year, the Charles Schwab Cup as the tour's points leader in 2006 and Rookie of the Year in 2005.

But he's not chomping at the bit to bounce between tours like Fred Funk, who won on both in 2007.

In fact, he's reluctant.

"I think for most of the guys, let's face it, the PGA Tour that's the greatest stage to perform on and if you have some kind of a little spark or flame of desire and you think you're still capable of performing out there, then you should give it a try," Haas says. "That being said, I didn't play any (PGA Tour events) last year and I will say I honestly didn't miss it. Once in a while, I think, 'Yeah, I wouldn't mind playing there,' but I'm really content with what I'm doing right now."

It's not easy to do, says Funk.

"The difficult part is to pick and choose where you're going to play. I'm being pulled out (to the Champions Tour) understandably, so I want to play out here at the same time," Funk says. "I don't want to give up the opportunity (to play on the PGA Tour) as long as I'm competitive on the regular tour, I want to be out there as long as I can."

For Funk, it's a little different.

He didn't turn pro until he was 32. That late start makes him want to compete as long as he can on the PGA Tour.

So letting go isn't easy either.

"When my game tells me to leave, that's what (Jack) Nicklaus told me when he was captain of the President's Cup the last couple years, he told me, 'You'll know,'" Funk says. "And right now I still have the desire and I'm still practicing hard. I still feel like I have a lot to learn. I still have a lot of room for improvement."

Haas, though, did use his PGA Tour exemption for this year, as players in the top-50 all-time money list have, and can compete in any event with exception to majors and invitationals.

He plans on qualifying for the U.S. Open in June, but the thought has crossed his mind about playing in the previous week's Stanford St. Jude Championship, as there is no Champions Tour event that week.

"It's way back there (in my mind), but it's in there somewhere and I may decide to play in two or three of them," Haas says.

But Haas has a heavy conscience.

He says he might not compete in the events because it would take an opportunity away from a younger player.

"To take the spot away from a young player who really, really needs to play, who really needs to establish himself - what if he's kind of on the edge of playing really well that this tournament could put him over the top and here's this old guy coming in and taking his spot? I think I've earned it. I've earned the right to go out there. But is it going to make or break me? No. Would it make or break a young player? Maybe," Haas says.

The veteran says he doesn't want anybody to think of him as a martyr.

He's revealing and honest.

Many golfers on this tour have said that family now takes priority over golf.

Haas is no different.

He has five kids and a wife of 30 years in October.

The professional missed three of his 16-year-old's softball games last week and it bothers him.

He says he felt guilty.

"(When I was younger) I wanted to be home and when I was home, I wanted to be out playing, but I couldn't do both," Haas says with deep sincerity in his voice. "When I was out here, I needed to be a golfer. I needed to work on that and I couldn't do anything about that when I was home. I had to be a dad and a husband.

"When I came to that realization later than I should have probably, I just thought in my experience, the failures of both early on came to light and I realized I couldn't do it that way."

Haas says the support of his wife Janice has helped.

She's been his supporter, sports psychologist and promoter, he says.

That ease of mind has helped his game, he admits.

"I'm playing well physically. I'm swinging well," he says. "Am I relaxed because I'm playing well or am I playing well because I'm relaxed? I'll let you answer the question."

But that question of whether or not the PGA Tour will tempt some Champions Tour golfers will remain.

And as Haas keeps playing well, it won't go away.

"You may see me in a couple of months and go, 'That guy lied to me. He's out there playing,'" Haas says.

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