James Hahn’s story is straight out of Hollywood. Just a little less than a decade ago, Hahn was selling shoes at Nordstrom’s. Now, he’s a PGA Tour winner, after beating two stars — or at least two more well-known players — Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey in a playoff on the third extra hole at Riviera.
Hahn remembered a subtlety in the break of a 25-foot putt on the par-3 no. 14 and he drained it for birdie. He shook his fist in the air several times, but Johnson, who had hit it closer, still had yet to give his attempt a go. Hahn couldn’t watch when Johnson stepped up to the putt. However, after Johnson missed, Hahn had snagged his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Northern Trust Open.
“I couldn’t look,” said Hahn, 33. “I was so nervous. I was, one, excited; my heart rate was going 120 beats per second. Knowing that I couldn’t lose it on that hole, because I was already in with two, to me, that’s a pretty good feeling, and then just getting myself into the mentality that, hey, he could make this putt, and I would have to play another hole. So (I was) just getting into that frame of mind.”
Similar to his path to the PGA Tour, where he spent a period working various “real” jobs, including selling shoes at Nordstrom’s and working at an advertising agency, Hahn’s road to the winner’s circle on Sunday wasn’t easy.
Hahn, who started the day four shots back of 54-hole leader Retief Goosen, navigated Riviera on a rainy day and battled his way to a share of the lead after two trying pars on the last two holes of regulation. He was nearly flawless for the first 11 holes in regulation with four birdies under his belt. Despite bogeys on nos. 12 and 16, he scrambled for pars on nos. 17 and 18 to finish at six-under for the week, which ended up being good enough to get into the playoff with Johnson and Casey. Garcia, who held a one-shot lead with two holes to go, bogeyed them both to play his way out of the playoff.
The first playoff hole was tied by all three guys with pars. On the second extra hole, the tricky par-4 no. 10, Hahn drove it into the rough behind the green. From there, he hit a phenomenal flop shot over the bunker to two feet and holed the putt for birdie to stay alive after Johnson bettered him when he knocked it to three feet from a similar spot. Casey, who was in the best position in the fairway off the tee, was the furthest away and missed a 10-footer, eliminating him from the playoff.
“I birdied two playoff holes, against Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson two, great competitors,” said Hahn. “I’m lucky to be here now.”
He was also well aware that he was the underdog of the three still standing.
“I think a couple of guys in the locker room are calling me John, like John Huh,” said Hahn, laughing. “It’s amazing how many people don’t know me — and I don’t think it’s that amazing, but it’s like, that’s kind of cool. They have no idea who I am.
“I was walking up the stairs, and I played with Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson and this little kid was like: ‘Okay, good job Jim. Good job, Dustin. Good job …’ he had nothing to say. He was like, ‘who’s that guy?’
“Even when I was signing hats after the round, I asked some guy, I was like: ‘Hey, like is there a playoff? Like what’s going on.’ He’s like: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and some other guy.’ I was like, ‘Yeah? Okay, cool, here’s your hat.’
“It’s definitely humbling. I mean, I don’t expect anybody to know my game. I just play golf for a living.”
Prior to Sunday’s victory, Hahn was best known for his celebration at the 2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he performed the Gangnam-style dance on the 16th green after he sank a putt for birdie during the third round. Not one to be bashful, Hahn was speechless after it was won and done.
“This is one of the biggest tournaments that, you know, growing up as a kid, I would watch on TV. I would watch Tiger Woods, when he debuted as a pro. There are a lot of legends that came through here, and being in the locker room and seeing all the murals and pictures of past legends; and to be able to think that one day, I would be up on that same wall – I’m speechless.”
Hahn also earned an invitation to the Masters in April, which will only be the second major of his career. But that’s not even what he’s most excited for in the near future. His wife, Stephanie, is expecting the couple’s first child in three weeks, the one following the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Hahn, who has never made a start at a World Golf Championship, said he won’t play at Doral even if he stays eligible. He’s too excited for the birth of his daughter — though he and his wife still have to pick out a name.
“To me the biggest thing in my life right now is the birth of my daughter in three weeks,” he said. “That, to me, kind of humbles myself and kind of brings me down to reality that, you know, I’m going to be a dad here in three weeks. I couldn’t be more excited, and more nervous that we don’t have a name picked out yet.
“I’m going to have to talk to my wife about Riviera. I think that’s a good name. But we’ll see what she says when I get home.”
Johnson, who was paired with Hahn in the final round, offered James some advice on fatherhood on the first tee.
“I had asked him how his son was doing, and he said, ‘Get as much sleep as you can.’
“He also said to hire help, because it is a lot of work. So we had talked about it for about four, five minutes before we teed off on hole one, and we kind of touched back and forth throughout the round. To me, it was very calming if anything to talk about being a dad. I mean, I’m lucky to play golf for a living, but to have the opportunity to be a father, I think is crazy, absolutely crazy.”
On a related note, hopefully Hahn will splurge a little bit on the hotel after the birth of his daughter when he returns on Tour. Hahn is infamous for his mad Priceline skills and prides himself on getting steals on the discount travel website. He certainly can afford it now.
“Do you know how many diapers I can buy with a million dollars?” said Hahn. “This is a dream come true. I know it’s cliché to say that.”