Haas finally gets monkey off his back

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. -- During each day at PGA Tour Qualifying School, GolfDigest.com's Brian Wacker will chronicle the efforts of Bill Haas, Notah Begay III and Boo Weekley as they compete in golf's most grueling week.

The Prodigy

When Bill Haas moved out of his parents' house and into his own, they told him he could take whatever he wanted. Only one item came with him -- his framed Wake Forest diploma. You see, at one point the prodigious son of nine-time PGA Tour winner Jay Haas was considering turning pro after his junior year. But graduating college was a goal for Haas, as much for himself as it was for his parents.

More than a year and a half later, he had another goal: make it to the PGA Tour and play with his dad. After missing the top 26 at last year's PGA Tour Qualifying tournament by two strokes, and failing to finish in the top 21 on the Nationwide Tour this season, Haas began his quest nearly a week ago, chasing the same dream 164 others were.

By Monday, a pair of dramatic birdies on his final two holes made that a reality. Haas finished at 11 under par for the week and right on the number. It's one of the only tournaments in the world where finishing 13 shots back of the winner, John Holmes, is considered a victory.

"I do feel a little bit like I got the monkey off my back," Haas said. "This is where I want to be."

One of the beauties of this tournament is that unlike regular tour events, there are no leaderboards on the course at Q School. In other words, little Haas didn't know the exact number he needed to finish his 108 holes in. All he knew is that he was close.

Big Haas, however, did. "This is like taking two free throws with no time on the clock," Jay said as his son made his way to the 18th hole, one birdie already out of the way after draining a seven-footer on the par-3 17th.

In town since the weekend, Bill's father had helped bring a calming effect to his son, but all the calm in the world -- and there wasn't much of it on this windswept day -- couldn't help Bill now.

After reaching the 570-yard par-5 18th in two and leaving his eagle putt from across the green short, all that separated Bill from a life on the PGA Tour road with his dad next year was 3½ feet of Tifdwarf Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis. And much like his putt a hole earlier, this one rattled in and father Jay was finally able to take a sigh of relief.

"I was definitely nervous," Bill said. "I could feel it. My putter was shaking in my hands."

Afterward, just about everyone was shaking his and his dad's hands. All the pressure that comes with the surname Haas seemed to lift itself from Bill's 23-year-old shoulders. "It probably won't even really hit me until I play in my first event next year," he said.

The Journeyman
The chase for the dream may never end for some. So it is for Boo Weekley, for now anyway.

Weekley began his final day two strokes back of that elusive magic number, and ended it out of the top 50, meaning he won't have fully exempt status on the Nationwide Tour next year either.

"I kind of put more pressure on myself than I wanted to starting out today," Weekley said after a round of 78 that included an 8 and a 7 on the scorecard. "Like the good book says, they cometh and they taketh."

Unfortunately for Weekley, the latter means it's back to the trailer with wife Karyn and 4-year-old son Parker. Not that he's ashamed, and why should he be? Weekley made it to the PGA Tour once before and like so many others here who came up short, he's determined to get there again. For now, it's just wait 'til next year.

"I'll probably go home and find a tree stand I can climb in and do a little huntin' and get in the woods and let it all sink in," Weekley said. "Then I'll sit down and start writing my goals out for next year. The good Lord gave me the ability to play this game and I'm going to play it.

"People don't understand. You don't play because it's a job. You play because you love it."

The Veteran

If Notah Begay III doesn't walk this path for the end result, but the love of the journey, then he has a lot to be pleased about, despite missing out on a card and a guaranteed spot on the Nationwide Tour after finishing the week tied for 88th after a final-round 73 Monday.

What that means for Begay is that he is finally pain free, something that hasn't been the case in more than four years. It also means Begay will have a chance to explore a part of the game he's always been intrigued by but never explored around the world, particularly in Europe, where he plans to play some next year.

"What this has done is provide a great litmus test and a fair assessment of where my game is at right now," Begay said. "I look at this week as a tremendously successful one. I'm going to go into '06 with a good bit of momentum."

Unfortunately for Begay, that momentum, like a lot of others' here, won't be taking them to the PGA Tour in 2006 after golf's most grueling week.

Brian Wacker is an assistant editor for GolfDigest.com