Hahn Happily Shows Off Moves In Rookie Season

At one point during James Hahn’s graceful Gangnam Style dance off the green on Feb. 3, amid growing cheers and laughter from the boisterous crowd on No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale, Golf Channel’s Steve Sands delivered a telling comment. “James, the commissioner would like to speak to you in his office,” Sands said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Sands was joking, sort of, but his remark underscored a wider point about Hahn, the PGA Tour and golf in general. Look, he’s dancing on the course! OMG! Is that even allowed? I thought all golfers were faceless robots, beyond Rory, Tiger (well, he’s relentlessly robotic) and Phil. What’s happening here? Here’s the short version of what’s happening: Hahn is having the time of his life. He’s a 31-year-old rookie who traced a long, adventurous, occasionally arduous path to the game’s highest level, and he’s determined to enjoy himself and show his personality – while also playing lights out. Bravo. Hahn is Northern California to the core. He grew up in Alameda, went to college in Berkeley and now lives in San Bruno. At various times, he has worked on his game at the old Lew Galbraith driving range in Oakland (which his dad operated when he was a kid), Chuck Corica Golf Complex in Alameda, Metropolitan Golf Links in Oakland, TPC Stonebrae in Hayward and Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City. Hahn also became, improbably, one of the most compelling stories on this year’s West Coast Swing. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson each won during the Tour’s seven weeks west of the Rockies, and Brandt Snedeker seemed to spend every weekend on the leaderboard, but Hahn also planted himself in the conversation – and not just because of his rockin’ moves in Scottsdale. He’s exactly the kind of engaging personality golf needs, from his dancing to his candid, good-natured media sessions. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, a refreshing twist. But there also is early evidence Hahn really can play, as he illustrated in the relative peace and solitude of Spyglass Hill on Feb. 9, six days and a world removed from the No. 16 green at TPC Scottsdale. It was the third round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the day where the A-list celebrities – and most celebritygawking spectators – migrate to Pebble Beach. Hahn reached No. 7 at Spyglass, his 16th hole of the day, three strokes behind the leader (Snedeker, naturally). Hahn’s tee shot drifted a few feet into the right rough on the picturesque par-5, leaving him 220 yards to the flag – ball above his feet, low tree branch in the way, pond looming ahead on the left. It wasn’t an easy shot. Hahn, undeterred, pulled out his rescue club and lofted a long, gentle draw. The ball came to rest pin-high, about 15 feet from the hole. Only a handful of people were watching. Hahn looked up to acknowledge them with a twinkle in his eye, as if to say, “That was pretty cool, eh?” He missed the putt and tapped in for birdie, but he had found a groove. Hahn peppered the flagstick with laser-like approach shots on Nos. 8 and 9 as well, leading to two more birdies. He finished the day with a 66, to land in the final group in the final round. Hahn ultimately tied for third, extending his hot start. He reached No. 10 on the money list after his showing at the Pro-Am – dizzying heights given his pothole filled road to the big time. Seven years ago, with his sputtering golf career on hold, Hahn sold shoes at Nordstrom’s in Pleasanton (“I’ve seen some pretty nasty feet,” he once said). Five years ago, in Edmonton for a Canadian Tour event, he checked his bank account and discovered he had only $288. His story – short on a silver spoon and long on perseverance – should resonate with fans. Hahn grew up playing public, sometimes scruffy courses. He didn’t play his last two years at Cal after a falling-out with coach Steve Desimone (for which Hahn takes his share of the blame), struggled on various mini-tours after graduating and landed a real job, at an Alameda advertising agency, before giving his golf dreams another whirl. Then he bounced around the minor leagues, from the Korean Tour and Canadian Tour to the Nationwide-turned-Web.com Tour. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. “It’s been a lot of work,” brother/caddie Tom Hahn said during the Pro-Am. “It just makes this more satisfying, to see him come this far. It wasn’t easy at all.” Even after he finally secured his PGA Tour card, by finishing fifth on last year’s Web.com money list, James Hahn hardly seemed ready for early-season success. He didn’t practice all that much in advance of his season opener last month in Honolulu, given the persistent December rain in the Bay Area. Then he promptly made the cut in his first five starts, tied for fourth in the Humana Challenge (one shot out of the playoff won by Brian Gay), twice shot a final-round 62 and became a YouTube sensation – more than 300,000 views at last count – after his dance in Scottsdale. As it turns out, he was ready. “I have no explanation for it,” Hahn said of his strong start. Sometimes, golf doesn’t require an explanation. Just relax and enjoy, Hahn style.

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