James Hahn: Moving on Up
By BLS Columnist, Jeff Borgman
Before James Hahn decisively finished off his opponents in a 3-man playoff in the 2015 Northern Trust Open at Riviera, he was the 297th ranked player in the world and only known by most golf fans for his “Gangnam Style” greenside dancing. But after playing three sudden death holes in about as fine of fashion as any tour pro could hope for, the sweet swinging Hahn gained notoriety and fulfilled a dream of winning on the PGA Tour; a dream that was dimming in 2008 and had nearly died.
The former Cal-grad who had a modest college career was bouncing around mini tours and was down to his last two hundred dollars. His game was sputtering and he actually began selling women’s shoes to make enough money to keep grinding. “Girls’ feet aren’t all roses,” Hahn joked, and, as he was realizing, neither was making it as a professional golfer. At a crossroads in his career, Hahn decided not to give up, but rather, to work even harder and let the chips fall where they may.
Hahn’s dedication certainly paid off this past Sunday when he found himself in a sudden death playoff with Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey; two polished, veteran players hungry for a victory. After pulling off a near impossible flop shot over the left greenside bunker on the testy par-4 10th hole, he calmly buried his 10-foot birdie putt. That putt turned out to be vital as Johnson shockingly got up and down for birdie from the same area with an inferior lie in the rough. “Two of the best shots you will ever see,” declared CBS commentator and swing expert Peter Kostis. Casey would not live to fight another day after only coming up with par on a hole in which he had a clear advantage after the tee shots. “Those guys played phenomenal recoveries, absolutely brilliant,” Casey echoed.
After Hahn landed his shot to the par-3 14th hole outside Johnson’s ball, he was up against the ropes, having to make birdie yet again as Johnson had a good look at a two. He was undaunted by the task, pouring in the 25-footer and fist pumping his way to the hole as he retrieved his ball, putting the pressure squarely on Johnson. Hahn was so nervous he could not watch Johnson’s matching birdie bid, looking up only when the crowd reaction revealed the outcome. James Hahn had won a PGA Tour event. After being doused in beer from his camp, Hahn would go on to say, “I never would have thought I would win this tournament.” At a tournament that was playing more like a major championship, Hahn played more like a top-10 player on Sunday, executing under pressure to perfection.
The story of James Hahn was made for a Hollywood script, making it that much more fitting that he performed so beautifully among the stars at Riviera. He has a guaranteed invitation to Augusta this coming April and has a new baby girl on the way. Regarding a name, Hahn said, “I’m going to have to talk to my wife about Riviera. I think that’s a good name.” Considering his unlikely Sunday performance, and his former makeshift shoe salesman position, he may want to consider naming her “Cinderella.”