Bill Haas, winner of six PGA tournaments and more than $29 million in career earnings, says people this week keep asking him about his “situation.”

He’s right – in my case. I did.

“I don’t view this as a situation,” Haas said. “I look at it as an opportunity.”

OK, this is his opportunity: For all his career success, Haas currently plays the PGA Tour on a medical exemption. The exemption runs out this weekend. Haas must finish in eighth place or better in order to earn enough Fed Ex Cup points to retain his PGA Tour playing privileges.

That’s an opportunity, I suppose. It is also a tall order.

Weather permitting, 132 players will begin play Thursday morning in the 51st Sanderson Farms Championship at Country Club of Jackson. Haas has to beat 125 of those.

He believes he can.

“I want to see how I handle it,” Haas, 36, said Wednesday after completing his pro-am round. “If I play my best I believe I can win it and that would take care of everything.”

Rick Cleveland

You should know that Haas has won this tournament before, in 2010 when it was the Viking Classic and was played at Annandale in Madison. And he has won bigger tournaments, events such as the Bob Hope Classic, the AT&T National at Congressional, and the Tour Championship. But he hasn’t won a tournament since January of 2015 in the Humana Challenge.

You should also know Haas’ medical extension was granted because of injuries suffered in a fatal automobile accident last February in the Los Angeles area where he was supposed to play in the Genesis Open. The driver of the car in which Haas was riding did not survive. Amazingly, Haas suffered no broken bones but had bruises on both legs.

More amazingly, the injury that still bothers him most was suffered a couple months before the wreck when he sprained his knee playing basketball – by himself.

“Just shooting baskets,” Haas said. “How about that?”

Golf at this level is plenty hard when you are healthy. Bad wheels make it all the more difficult.

“I feel pretty good,” Haas said. “Not 100 percent, but I can walk and play golf and I feel like I’m playing well enough to compete.”

He already has proven that. Earlier this month, he finished tied for 10th at the Safeway Open, shooting rounds of 70-68-67-73 to finish just four shots behind winner Kevin Tway.

Wednesday, Haas received a seal of approval from the guy who has his name on Mississippi’s only PGA Tour tournament. He played in the pro-am with Sanderson Farms CEO Joe Sanderson.

“Bill is hitting the ball really, really well,” Sanderson said. “He just needs to make some putts.”

That’s golf’s age-old story, whether you’ve been in horrible wreck or not.

“I didn’t want to show Joe all I’ve got in the pro-am,” quipped Haas, who shot 71 in the pro-am.

While his former success in this tournament came at Annandale, Haas has found CCJ to his liking.

“You have to drive the ball very well here because the fairways are fairly narrow and there’s some trouble,” he said. “The greens are firm and fast and challenging.”

And, no, Haas says, he doesn’t have a firm plan of what he will do if he doesn’t finish eighth or better here.

“I’ll be figuring it out on the go,” he said. “I will have some tournament exemptions because of the tournaments I’ve won. I’m sure I would try to get some sponsor exemptions. I could always fall back on a one-year exemption as a Top 50 all-time money winner but I’d prefer not to use that.”

No, he says, he doesn’t discuss his “opportunity” with his father, Jay, an 18-time winner on the PGA Tour.

“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t call this a situation,” Bill Haas said. “It’s golf. You go out and try to play better.

“I know I’ve never worked harder on my game than I’ve worked these last eight months,” he continued. “I’d like teach my kids that hard work pays off.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.