Jay Haas was relaxing, watching the Olympics on a Tuesday evening three weeks ago in Naples Fla., when the phone call came. The kind of call parents dread.
It was his son, Bill, calling from Los Angeles, where he was scheduled to play in the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club. Jay Haas was 2,700 miles away, preparing to play in a PGA Tour Champions event that week in Florida. He had just texted his son to ask how his golf was going.
“It wasn’t a minute-and-a-half after I texted him that the phone rang,” Jay Haas said. “He said, ‘I want to tell you I’m OK, but there’s been a terrible accident, and I think the driver’s dead.’
“I had no idea who was driving; I’m not saying a word, I mean, I immediately got the chills ...
“We talked for a minute, I asked what happened. He said about two or three times, 'I think he’s dead; he’s not responding.’ And then he said, ‘I have to go; the paramedics are here.’ ”
Bill Haas was a passenger in a Ferrari driven by his host for the tournament, Mark Gibello, a member at Los Angeles Country Club. Early in the evening not far from Riviera, the Ferrari hit two cars and Gibello was killed.
“He said it was so smokey he couldn’t see anything,” Jay Haas recalled of the phone call. “He thought the car was on fire, so smokey he couldn’t see Mark. He yelled, ‘Get out, get out,’ then called 911.”
Haas was briefly hospitalized, withdrew from the tournament and returned home to Greenville, S.C., a couple of days later. Jay Haas played in the Chubb Classic that week, but pulled out after two rounds with a bad back.
Father and son are playing again for the first time since that week, Bill Haas in the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla; Jay Haas in the Toshiba Classic in Newport Beach, where he is the defending champion.
Bill Haas has told reporters in Florida that it has been a difficult month, a mental challenge without a blueprint on how to deal with the death of a friend. But he also said that getting back on the golf course is what he needs to do.
“He’s asking a lot of ‘why’ questions and ‘what if,’” Jay Haas said of his son. “He’s struggling with it. Now he wants to get back out and get playing the way he wants to.”
Bill Haas shot a two-over par 73 in the first round Thursday, tied for 68th; Jay Haas begins play Friday.