The day has come for Haag

Randy Haag couldn’t sleep that Sunday night, the pressure and anticipation of more than a decade of waiting boiling up inside him like a pot of coffee.

Earlier that evening, he had gone out to the Peninsula Country Clubagain, borrowing a cart for the fifth time and charting exactly where he would play each shot of the next day’s round in his notebook. At stake was a berth in this week’s U.S. Amateur at the Olympic Club and the 48-year-old Burlingame man who has sometimes suffered from ill fortune in his career was leaving nothing to chance.

“I don’t think I slept an hour that night,” Haag said of that evening two weeks ago.

Haag responded by shooting a 74 and a 69 in his two rounds, qualifying for a tournament that will be hosted on a pair of courses he has played probably 1,000 times since he became a member in 1984.

“[Golf] has probably been the most important thing in my life other than my family, and when they announced 12 or 13 years ago that the Olympic Club would be hosting the Amateur [in 2007], I started counting down the years,” Haag said. “And to be able to play it here is almost like living a dream.”

Haag is one of four Olympic Club members to earn a spot in the prestigious USGA event, which began in 1895 and is America’s oldest tournament.

The other Olympic Club members to qualify are Joseph Bramlett, 19, Spencer Fletcher, 17, and Martin Trainer, 16, youngsters whose best golf is ahead of them and harbor dreams of playing with the professionals when the site hosts the U.S. Open in 2012. Haag concedes that by then “that opportunity will probably have come and gone for me,” but the reigning club champion has come painfully close to earning a spot in the Open several times in his long amateur career.

He has played in 11 sectional qualifiers and was in contention on the back nine on four of those occasions. His closest call came when he shot back-to-back 72s during a sectional qualifier in Texas, only to miss the cut by one stroke for the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. It was after that tournament that Haag, on the verge of turning pro, decided to remain an amateur and focus on a career in investment banking.

“That was a defining moment for me,” Haag said. “I remember going to the airport and being very depressed and deciding I should probably focus on my career. And it was a really good decision for me.”

Haag’s job has still left plenty of time for golf and he was considering making an effort to qualify for the Champions Tour upon turning 50. But while doing core exercises at a gym two years ago, the medicine ball he was lying on popped and, in the fall, he broke the L-5 vertebrae in his back and tore a ligament in his right wrist. Now he can only work out three days a week and can’t hit more than a bucket of balls without feeling the pain.

But this week, Haag will take a series of anti-inflammatory shots to make a run at the tournament of his dreams.

“I just hope to take every moment and enjoy it whether I play well or not,” Haag said “Because this experience will be a memorable thing for me as long as I live.”

U.S. Amateur

» What: USGA U.S. Amateur

» Where: Olympic Club, San Francisco

» Courses: Lakeside (par 70, 6,948 yards), Ocean (par 70, 6,786 yards)

» When: Stroke play today and Tuesday on both courses, match play Wednesday-Sunday on Lakeside Course

» Players to watch: Rickie Fowler, John Kelly, Trip Kuehne, Alex Prugh, Webb Simpson

» Tickets: Purchase online at www.ticketmaster.com or www.ticketweb.com. Daily tickets are $15 and a weekly pass is $60. Children 12 and under are admitted free if accompanied by a paying adult.

» TV: Golf Channel—Wednesday, 1-3 p.m.; Thursday, 3:30-5:30 p.m.; Friday, 5:30-7:30 p.m. (tape delay). KNTV (Ch. 11)—Saturday, 1-3 p.m. (tape delay); Sunday, 1-3 p.m.

melliser@examiner.com


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