Dad leads, son chases at Open

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- The co-leader of the U.S. Open found himself 20 yards right of the third fairway at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Thursday afternoon. When you shoot a 4-under-par 66, you don't spend a lot of time kicking up dust outside the ropes.

Unless, that is, you're Jay Haas, and you're following your son Bill as he plays his opening round.

"You can't see as much from here as you can from the fairway," Jay said.

"Try following you," one of his daughters replied.

That's what happens when Dad leads the U.S. Open with a nearly flawless round of 4-under par.

Jay Haas is tied for the lead with Shigeki Maruyama and Angel Cabrera, who, thanks to inclement weather, played only 12 holes. In a field of international golfing hares -- hot, young golfers with flashy clothes and elastic spines -- 50-year-old Jay Haas is playing the tortoise, plodding to the meatiest part of his career as he nears the finish line.

He is playing his 28th year on the PGA Tour, and has won nine events and nearly $13 million in prize money, yet Haas watched his son with virtually no interruption from the gallery. One man approached him for an autograph.

"We're not allowed to do it out here," Haas said in an apologetic tone. "I don't want to start anything."

He is holding off the Senior Tour, trying to qualify for one more Ryder Cup team. Haas is 10th in points on a list where the top 10 qualify. A good finish at the Open would all but clinch a berth.

He is holding on long enough to play on the PGA Tour with his son. Bill, 22, the consensus college player of the year as a senior at Wake Forest, turns pro next week. He is so good that his college coach -- who also happens to be his uncle, Jerry Haas -- says that Bill has "that rare gift."

"Jay and I have talked about it," said Jerry, who played on the Tour for several years. "Bill seems to hit the ball on the nose just about every time."

With a birdie at No. 8, his 17th hole of the day, Bill dropped to 3-over before fog suspended first-round play Thursday night. Rare gift or no, he's seven strokes back of the ol' man.

"Sixty-six doesn't surprise me at all," Bill said of his father. "He's top 25 in the world. It's not like I think I'm as good as Dad. Most guys can beat their dads, but I can't. Gives me something to work for."

Contending in the Open takes patience inside the ropes, where quirky bounces and fast greens can turn even the well-struck shot into a festering boil. And it takes patience outside the ropes, where the top finishers must contend with a huge contingent of writers and broadcasters from all over the world.

"I hit balls for about 30 minutes, trying to wind down," Jay said. "I needed the sanctity [of the range]. I was tired of hearing myself talk."

Jay didn't catch up with his wife, Jan, and their three daughters -- Haley, 20; Emily, 16; and Georgia, 12 -- until No. 1, as Bill made the turn. At the third hole, Jay and the girls walked down near the green, and took a place right at the rope line.

Bill, after playing from the right-hand rough, walked right past them, and murmured something to Georgia as he passed. Jay did not look up. That captures the philosophy he employed with Bill and his older brother, Jay Jr., 23, (Jay Jr. failed to qualify for the Open and played a mini-tour event this week).

"I tried not to be a dad," Jay said the other day. "I tried to explain to them, 'Think about this.' I taught them the way I want to be taught. I don't want to listen to someone saying, 'You must do this.' I'm pretty stubborn.

"The way I like to learn is by watching, not so much by somebody telling me. I tell them, 'Watch Freddy [Couples] swing. Watch Tiger swing. Watch their decisions on the course. That's better than the textbook lessons.' "

As if to prove his point, Haas said he gained a lot from playing with Raymond Floyd, who won the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, and, as a member of the club, plays the course regularly.

"I watched him, where he went in certain places, his club selection," Jay said. "I asked him, 'No matter what the score, why don't you hit first and show us where to go?' "

Floyd, who shot a 75, called Haas's round "incredible."

"He drove it in the fairway, hit the greens and putted well," the 61-year-old said. "When you play that way, it doesn't matter what the number is on the years. I don't think he mis-hit a full shot."

When Floyd won the Open here, Haas missed the cut of 10-over 150 -- by five strokes.

"I was pretty intimidated coming here in '95," Haas said. "I thought I had to play good to even make the cut."

With a final-round 69, Haas finished tied for fourth, four strokes behind the winner, Corey Pavin.

Nine years later, he maintained his touch at Shinnecock Hills. Jan Haas walked 16 holes with her husband on Thursday morning, then peeled off to watch Bill.

"It is different," Jan said of watching her son. "Something about being a mom -- you think you can make everything right for your children."

Jay refuses to let his paternal feelings ruin the week. A year ago, when Bill qualified for the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, he was so intent on preparing his son that they played 18-hole practice rounds on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Both of us were exhausted," Jay said, and both missed the cut. This year, they only played nine on Monday and nine on Wednesday. And Jay came out ready to go Thursday.

"It's more relaxing having him here," Jay said. "[The family] had dinner last night at the house and we were just kind of laughing. We haven't been together all that much, with kids in college. Very rarely do we get four or five kids together. It's been a treat for us this week."

Jay said that the last time he and Bill played competitively, Bill "dusted me." Bill seemed stunned to hear that.

"That's nice of him to say," Bill said, "but when it counts, he seems to put it in the hole a little bit better."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com