Hahn decides eight is enough, wins Wells Fargo Championship in playoff

James Hahn Wins The Wells Fargo Championship

James Hahn discusses winning the 14th Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on Sunday after missing eight consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour.
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James Hahn discusses winning the 14th Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club on Sunday after missing eight consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour.

Eight consecutive missed cuts on the PGA Tour will get you to thinking.

So entering the 14th Wells Fargo Championship, James Hahn had thought about the viability of other careers, about advertising and selling shoes as he had done before his golf career advanced, and about maybe having to toil on the Tour again.

None of those seemed like acceptable outcomes.

Those thoughts led to a heart-to-heart talk last week in New Orleans during the Zurich Classic with caddie Mark Urbanek, who provided encouragement and reinforcement, as he always does.

“We just kind of had a talk that, ‘Hey, look, you just have to keep believing in yourself, keep grinding because it’s not always going to be like this,’ ” Hahn said.

It turned around rather quickly.

After making his first cut in nine tournaments on Friday, Hahn earned more than $1.3 million Sunday by defeating Roberto Castro with a par on the first hole of a playoff in the $7.3 million Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club.

“I constantly remind myself that I’m good enough and that I belong out here,” said Hahn, 34, a South Korea native and Cal Berkeley graduate. “I was kind of chanting to myself that I can do this, I will do this and I must do this.”

Hahn and Castro were tied after 72 holes at 9-under 279, and Justin Rose finished a shot out of the playoff after a pair of bogeys in his final seven holes.

Castro had the outright lead at 11 under before faltering with bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes, and Hahn could have maintained a one-stroke lead with a two-putt from 33 feet on the par-4 18th green, but he left the first putt 9 feet short and missed the par putt.

“Anytime you’re given a second opportunity you really have to take advantage of it,” Hahn said.

In the playoff on the 18th hole, Castro teed off first and hit his tee shot into the creek to the left of the fairway. Hahn hit a 315-yard drive down the middle and a 7-iron from 185 yards to 35 feet. He left his birdie putt 4 feet short but made the par putt after Castro had closed out a bogey.

“I still had to hit a good drive and it was one of the best shots I’ve ever had,” Hahn said.

The win is Hahn’s second in three-plus years on the PGA Tour. “It’s crazy to call myself a two-time PGA Tour champion,” he said.

He outlasted Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson in a sudden-death playoff at the 2015 Northern Trust Open. Hahn has also won in playoffs on the Tour and Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada.

“I love playoffs. To be given another opportunity to win the golf tournament, that really excites me,” Hahn said. “To know that on the last hole or on the first playoff hole that I had that putt to win a golf tournament, it’s pretty exciting. It’s the thing that you dream of as a kid.”

Hahn said seeing his wife, Stephanie, and 14-month-old daughter, Kailee, who both flew to Charlotte Saturday night, behind the 18th green on Mothers Day following his three-putt quickly helped him put the disappointment behind him and prepare for a possible playoff.

“Having family like that, my wife supporting me, it really gives me that extra fire to keep going,” he said.

Hahn struggled Sunday to explain how a guy who was coming off eight consecutive missed cuts can win.

“The fourth missed cut you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m guaranteed to make the cut next week because I’ve never missed more than four,’ ” Hahn said. “Then once you start going five, six and seven, you start thinking about doing other things. It’s tough, it really is.

The mind is a powerful thing and it was going bad for a while. I just didn’t have the confidence, didn’t believe in myself.”

Doubt crept into Hahn’s conscience despite his a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour through next season based on his inaugural tour win last year.

“You try not to compare yourself to others but . . . some people have won on this tour and are now playing on the Tour,” Hahn said. “I just told my wife that I can’t play there, I can’t. It’s not an option for me. I feel like I’m good enough and I need to put in more work to stay on this level, and it’s worth every minute of it.”

Hahn began the final round two strokes behind Fowler at 7 under, but he took a share of the lead when he made an eagle on the seventh hole with 50-foot downhill putt and backed it up with a birdie on the short par-4 eighth with a wedge from the rough to 5 feet. The eagle tied him with playing partner Rose at 10 under and the birdie gave him the outright lead.

“You don’t really need to look at a scoreboard if you’re not the low score in your group, right?” Hahn said. “When I had eagled that hole, Justin still had a birdie putt that he could have made to still have a 1-up lead on me. He unfortunately missed it and then it sparked some energy, to be honest. … And then I birdie No. 8 and I had all this momentum going my way.”

Hahn made a bogey on the par-4 12th and birdie on the par-5 15th hole to remain at 10 under before his bogey on the 18th.

Castro was seeking his first PGA Tour win in 116 tournaments, and he has now finished second twice – the 2013 Quicken Loans National is his other runner-up. “I think my game’s in good shape and I saw some really encouraging things and holed a few putts, which I haven’t done in what feels like years,” Castro said.

Castro began the final round a shot behind 54-hole leader Ricky Fowler, who faded with a 74, and took the lead at 11 under with birdies on the short par-4 14th and par-5 15th holes – his third and fourth birdies of the day.

But he made bogeys on 16 and 17 with shots into greens that were pushed to the right, leading to putts of 6 and 20 feet that he missed. He holed a 6-foot par putt on the 18th to force the playoff.

“I made a great putt to get in the playoff,” Castro said. “Hopefully I’ll be in this position again and tell myself I’ve made a 6- or 8-footer to get a chance to win a tournament and try to do it again.”

After hitting into the creek on 18 in the playoff and taking a drop, Castro faced a tough lie in the rough with the ball above his feet, and rocketed a shot from 205 yards over the green, hitting a spectator in the head and having to remove the ball from the patron’s loafers. He was trying to hole the ensuing chip shot for par and it skirted the cup before stopping 8 feet past the hole.

“It’s the exact shot you want if you have to make it because it’s just pitch it on the green and hope it rolls right in,” Castro said. “About 10 feet from it, it looked really good. I think if it has a little softer speed it might turn in the right side there.”

Rose, the No. 10 player in the world, has seven PGA Tour wins and was attempting to win for the seventh consecutive year on tour. After holding a share of the lead with a birdie on the 10th hole, Rose was unable to make crucial putts. He didn’t hole a putt longer than 5 feet on the back nine while making bogeys on the 12th and 16th holes.

He missed putts of 7, 10, 16 and 7 feet in addition to three-putting from 21 feet on the 16th, missing a par putt less than 4 feet.

“I played really well today, I couldn’t have hit the ball better,” Rose said. “I couldn’t have asked for more opportunities today. I really felt like that was one of the most quality rounds of golf I played in a long time and just made nothing out of it. The putter was ice cold today and it’s incredibly disappointing because of that.

“Obviously today was an opportunity come and gone.”

Hahn made the most of his one opportunity on a weekend in nine tournaments.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin