The California Dreamer Who Can ‘Play’

CARMEL, CALIFORNIA | If you do not know a whole lot about golf in Northern California, then you probably don’t know Randy Haag. Which is too bad, because the 52-year-old from the East Bay town of Orinda is one of the best amateur golfers in the country.

Consider that this fall, Haag won Player of the Year honors from the Northern California Golf Association (NCGA) for third time in a row – and for the sixth time in a golf career that stretches back to the early 1980s and includes a couple of Crump Cup titles at Pine Valley and playing in more than 20 USGA events. In 2011, Haag qualified for the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Mid-Amateur and the U.S. Senior Open and competed in the British Senior Open. He also took the prestigious Stocker Cup in Carmel, Calif., by eight strokes, making him that tournament’s first three-time winner.


Suffice it to say, Haag can compete with the kids, battle the old boys and more than hold his own with the guys in between. And he’d be as highly heralded an amateur as there is in the game if he didn’t spend the majority of his time teeing it up in NCGA events.

“For guys 45 to 55 years old, Randy is easily one of the top five amateur golfers in the country,” says Darryl Donavan, a friend and another staple on the California circuit. “He hits it long and straight, he’s a very good iron player and putter, and he has worked hard to make his short game equally as strong. His course management is excellent as well, and he trains very hard. He really is one of the best.”

Haag is a player, to be sure. And he is a bit of a character. He putts sidesaddle, an unorthodox technique he adopted more than a decade ago when the yips all but killed that part of his game. A member of The Olympic Club and six-time club champion there, he also writes a widely read golf blog recounting his life on the golf road and highlighting amateur events like the Stocker and the San Francisco City Championship, that might otherwise languish in a sort of journalistic obscurity.

Though he has never married, Haag is the father of four children by three different women, his offspring ranging in age from 8 to 23. He runs a small investment banking business, and that’s what lets him finance a competitive golf obsession that includes as many as 28 amateur tournaments a year at a cost of more than $50,000 in annual expenses.

Animated and energized, Haag wears his golf emotions on his sleeve as he talks about how he is living the dream. “I love what I do as a golfer, and I still think my best golf is ahead of me,” he says. “I was the oldest participant in the U.S. Amateur field this year, and I want to continue to compete at the highest level. I work hard on my game and my conditioning. And I love going to these events, playing these great courses and going up against these people I know so well, guys I’ve been competing against for years, as well as kids half my age.”

Haag has been having fun with golf ever since he took it up as an 8-year-old, thanks to an aunt in Green Bay, Wisc., who turned him onto the sport when he was there on summer vacation. Two years later, he started caddying at his hometown country club.

“I liked the independent aspect of the game right away,” he says. “It was fun to play, and there was just something about the way it felt when you hit a great shot.”

Haag wasn’t much of a golfer early on, but he did manage to make his high school team as a sophomore and was good enough to walk on at San Diego State, when the Aztecs’ top player was future PGA Tour pro Lennie Clements. Haag says a running conflict with the coach at San Diego State kept him from competing a whole lot during his college days. But he made up for that once he got out of school and started playing on the Northern California amateur circuit while working as a broker for E.F Hutton.

“I made it to the finals of the San Francisco City Championship in the early 1980s before losing to a guy named Aly Trompas, who had a case of beer dangling from his pull cart,” Haag recalls with a chuckle. “The more he drank, the better he played. I was disappointed I lost, but it put me on the radar screen a little and got me thinking I could compete at a pretty high level.”

Indeed, he could. Haag qualified for his first USGA event, the 1984 U.S. Amateur at Oak Tree in Oklahoma, and he was on his way. “I really enjoyed the feeling of adrenaline I got when I played,” he says. “The pressure and the challenge excited me. And I seemed to get a little better each year. Coming out of college, I was not nearly good enough to even think about turning pro. But as I started to do better after school, I thought for a little bit about it. But I would have had to give up my work as well as my amateur golf, and I was having too much fun doing both.”

So, Haag kept doing both. And doing them well. He won his first NCGA Player of the Year award in 1993, a year after winning the association’s amateur championship for the first time, and was named California Amateur of the Year by the California Sports Writers, just ahead of some kid named Tiger Woods. In the process, Haag began to compile one of the more impressive golf résumés in the land.

One of the most impressive things in that résumé is Haag’s longevity, and the fact he has been able to compete so well for so long in such heady circles. Certainly, there have been down years, when injuries took their toll and child rearing issues made it difficult to properly concentrate on the course. But those lapses were few and far between.

“My passion and desire are as strong as ever, and I have never enjoyed myself more,” says Haag. “Golf doesn’t know how old you are. I work hard, I am in great shape and I am a little smarter than I used to be and a little better at my course management. I feel like I am actually getting better, and that’s good because there are still a lot of things I want to do in this game.”

Like what?

“Like win a Mid-Am,” he says. “It’s one tournament I thought I could win, but it hasn’t happened, even though I’ve made the quarterfinals four times and won a total of 23 matches. It could still happen, though, and remember, Randal Lewis won it last year at age 54, so it shows the game can be a little ageless.”

Randy Haag is a little ageless, too. Which means more and more people outside of the Golden State will likely have that chance to get to know him.

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