James Hahn hasn’t had the career path of a typical pro golfer. He wasn’t an All-American in college and he didn’t jump straight from the collegiate ranks to the PGA Tour either.
No, less than a decade ago, Hahn was selling shoes at Nordstrom. Then in 2008, when he finally got onto what is now the PGA’s Canadian Tour, he almost quit the game again. He was struggling incredibly. At one point it got so bad that he only had $200 in his pocket and was figuring out how he was going to get the money to pay his caddie and get a flight home.
“I had just under $200 going into Edmonton that week,” he recalls. “I’ve got to borrow money to pay for my caddie fee. Like, it was a little embarrassing. I was going to borrow money from my parents to get a flight home. And I’m sitting there on the computer going on Craigslist and I start looking for jobs.”
He never did find that job on Craigslist. Instead, what he found was an eighth place finish in that event in Edmonton and with it a $3,000 check. Suddenly, he could keep playing golf again.
“At that point, like $3,000, you might as well have just given me $1 million. I could keep playing golf,” Hahn said.
Fast forward to Sunday, as Hahn outlasted the likes of Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey to win the Northern Trust Open in a playoff. The check this time? $1.2 million.
Hahn did more than just hold off Johnson and Casey to win on that third playoff hole. He outlasted some of the top names in golf, all who had a share of the lead or were within one or two of the lead. It was fitting, that with the tournament being held in Los Angeles, that the Sunday leader board resembled the 405 during rush hour.
Along with Casey and Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Jordan Speith, Sergio Garcia, Retif Goosen, and Graham DeLaet all had chances on Sunday. Yet, Hahn was the last man standing, when most of the people around Riviera had no idea who he even was.
“I was signing hats after the round,” he said. “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? OK, cool. Here’s your hat.’”
People sure are going to know who he is after his performance late in the day Sunday. After matching both Casey and Johnson’s pars on the first playoff hole, he hit a miraculous shot out of the rough on the second playoff hole, played on Riviera’s famed short par-4 10th. He sank his birdie putt along with Johnson, and after Casey missed his it was down to just two as they both headed to the par-3 14th.
Hahn hit his tee shot to about 25 feet, but Johnson hit his about 10 feet closer. Hahn kept his cool though and sank his birdie putt to put all the pressure on Johnson. Johnson missed his birdie putt, giving Hahn the win, but he didn’t even see it. He was too nervous to look.
“I couldn’t look; I was so nervous,” he recalled. “My heart rate was going 120 beats per second.”
Hahn won his first event Sunday, but for so many others in the field they were left thinking what if. No one more felt that way then Garcia, who stepped on to the 17th tee box with a 1 shot lead before going bogey-bogey and missing the playoff by a shot.
“I’m not going to lie, I am a little bit disappointed,” he said after a bogey-bogey finish. “I didn’t know but I had a one‑shot lead going to the 17th tee. But at the same time, like I said, I’m drained. I feel like I worked so hard all week and it’s not what I’m used to.
Johnson was bummed as well, but a little more upbeat about where his game is after just his third event back since his six month self imposed absence.
“It’s really nice to know, especially after not playing for a little while, coming back and having to hit some clutch shots and make some putts and know that it’s still there and I’ve got it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.”
As for Hahn, well he’s now a PGA Tour winner, which will get him into the Masters in April. It’s also safe to say that the financial woes certainly are over for know. He’s come along way since selling shoes almost 10 years ago.
The question now is, what’s he going to do with all that money that he just won? Well for one thing, he’s going to buy his wife Stephanie, who’s expecting their first child in three weeks time, a new car.
“This thing [a 2005 Volkswagon Jetta] is a piece,” he said when asked about it. “I mean, this thing has 130,000 miles on it. I said, ‘If I finish top‑five, I’m going to buy you a new car.’ … So I think I need to go buy a new car when I get home.”
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