March 12, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Back from an oh-so-nice journey through South America, Paul Haley II was still swinging Monday afternoon when reached at his family’s home in Dallas. He was — to understate — in quite a mood, and living proof that we could all use a good caddy.
His was no vacation, but rather a business trip that went well — to the tune of $108,000.
Less than a year after graduating from Georgia Tech, and in just his third pro tournament, Haley’s a winner.
He scuffled a little Sunday with a one-under par 71, but he’d set himself up so nicely with a six-stroke lead heading into that final round that he had more than enough to bag the title in the Chile Classic, a Nationwide Tour event in Santiago, Chile.
His reward? A big check and priceless peace of mind.
“I expected to come out here and play well, but nobody expects to win in their third professional start,” Haley told reporters in a story that you can read here. “This is awesome.”
It was also somewhat unexpected.
Haley was the ACC champion last spring, quite a cherry on top of a college career that was more uneven than not until he dialed in during his senior year — something he attributed to new-found maturity and the ability to better manage the inner demons that follow every golfer.
To roll through the PGA Tour’s qualifying school and earn full status on the Nationwide Tour (and partial status on the big tour) in his first attempt was also a big deal, but still . . .
After finishing 33rd a few weeks back in his first Nationwide event (earning $3,480) in Colombia, and then missing a cut in Panama, the rookie’s name probably wasn’t coming up in many pre-tournament pools.
All it took to turn a very big corner was quite an observation by his caddy.
Clint Keller, 23, graduated from Arkansas. Before that, he was Haley’s high school teammate in Dallas.
Working his friend’s bag, Keller noticed that Haley’s feet were wonky as he stood over that little white ball.
“I figured something out Tuesday morning on the practice range,” Haley said. “My alignment was really off the week before in Panama. My caddy really noticed it, and then I looked at it and knew it was right.”
Making the adjustment in his stance — “I was lining up too far right,” he said — was easy, but getting comfortable was not. Fortunately, he had practice that day and a Wednesday Pro-Am to acclimate.
By Thursday, he knew it was right. A 67 validated the move. A pair of 64s on Friday and Saturday left him in clover — at 21-under and six shots clear of the field.
“It took a couple hours to get used to [his change in stance],” Haley said. “I felt more pressure Saturday than Sunday . . . just because it was my first time sleeping on the lead after 36 holes. I handled it really well. Sunday, I didn’t play my best.”
Indeed, despite finding just one fairway among the first 12, Haley nonetheless did what he needed to do, particularly with the flat stick, to hold off former Stanford golfer Joseph Bramlett, 23, and former UGA star Charles Claxton, 44, late of the PGA Tour.
They finished three and four strokes back.
Haley has another to add to his bank of interesting stories.
He can impersonate several notable sportscasters, has said he wouldn’t mind one day working the mic for real, he is an avowed fan of Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Hamilton, and was a little league baseball teammate of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
Now, something simpler and less grandiose: a week off.
Life is good, and it doesn’t sound like Haley’s about to complicate his.
Next week, a tournament in Louisiana, a few days in Atlanta to visit with his girlfriend, “swing by the office” to visit with Tech coaches Bruce Heppler and Christian Newton, and “the guys,” and then a two-week swing through California.
There are no fancy plans to put that big paycheck to use.
“Uh, not really,” the champ said. “Tag Heuer was a sponsor, and they gave me really nice watch.”
What of Keller?
Said Haley: “He’s going to caddy for me the rest of the year.”