March 8, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
There are some things curious about Paul Haley.
The Georgia Tech golfer harbors not-so-secret aspirations to one day be a broadcaster, although he’d first like to – and will – cast his lot as a professional golfer.
Pulling multiple duty near the end of a long, long day that ended covering the Lakers and Hawks, I couldn’t help but wonder how Haley would’ve fared were he in the media scrum before the game as Lakers coach Phil Jackson held court.
The senior said he “could probably tell you every ESPN anchor, and every NBC anchor and all those guys. It looks fun.” Although he’s never done earnest work from behind a microphone, he claims to do mean impersonations of Jim Nantz, Roger Maltbie and Kirk Herbstreit.
What might he have asked Jackson if he were toting the microphone rather than those among the phalanx of L.A. media following the Lakers?
It’s a good bet that he would’ve come up with a more stately question than long-time L.A. Times columnist T.J. Simers, who asked Jackson if his team was about to enter a “trap” game.
Haley doesn’t seem the type to fall back on clichés.
He got to where he is — having competed in every Tech match last fall and so far this spring after competing in all but one as a junior – by putting his nose in the mess and working hard on and off the course.
That’s a way of saying he confronted his shortcomings and made substantial changes. He is wont to note that he had a fantastic role model in former Tech golfer Cameron Tringale.
Haley’s approach game – the one that has to do with decisions made, the shedding of poor habits and development of those that work, etc. – was weak at the start.
He redshirted, played in about half Tech’s competitions the next year, then did not compete a single time in his redshirt sophomore year, when the ground behind him was ever shaking. Haley triggered his own earthquake.
“It was a number of things. I didn’t do as well in school as I should have. That got to where it just piled up, and that was on my mind,” he said. “There was some swing stuff, but I still shouldn’t have played as bad as I did.
“The school deal just really piled up on me. When you let that happen, it’s really hard to clear your mind.”
Tech can do that to you, whether you’re a student-athlete or a student.
It took Haley a while to set his feet, obviously.
“It’s maturity, learning how to balance things once you get a couple years under your belt. You’re 18 when you get to college. I just turned 23,” he said. “Cameron never missed a tournament in four years. He had that maturity from the moment he walked in the door.
“It takes different people different amounts of time to get that maturity.”
Haley has it now, and so do the Yellow Jackets. They’ve played exquisitely for quite a while now, as he and his teammates have found a synchronization that’s rare in any sport.
The way he said it: “All five guys are capable of winning a tournament. Usually in the past, we’d have two or three really good players and struggle three through five. Our throw-out score is now usually around 72 or 73, and that’s what you want.”
Haley would’ve done just fine with Jackson Tuesday evening, and he’ll likely do well after he graduates in May with a degree in management and then turns pro over the summer.
Simers did quite well, actually. You have to know a little bit about him to get a picture of what he was trying to accomplish. He’s a smart aleck, and a talented one at that. I was at the NFL owners meetings once when former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was delivering his annual state-of-the-NFL.
When he took questions, Simers repeatedly tried to wedge in questions about possible connections between the NFL and organized crime. And he was serious.
Tuesday, when Simers wasn’t content with Phil Jackson’s simple answer of “yes,” when asked if the coach was concerned about the trap game business. Simers said, “Come on, I’ve got to write an entire column about this.”
Jackson replied, after a dramatic pause, “Put a hyphen between the `Y’ and the ‘E’ and between the `E’ and the `S.’ “
Haley went through a hyphenation process of his own in his third year on The Flats.
He grew from it into a man, and a better golfer.
I have to imagine if he were asking questions, he’d come off more like Nantz, whose austere mirroring of The Masters every spring is remarkable as much for his level of comportment as the catchy phrases that he uses – and Haley memorizes.
Given the one glaring absence of impersonations that Haley says he does, he surely would choose a more measured approach than did Simers.
Haley said he does not do an impression of the guy who commented famously on his own bid to win The Masters while whacking shrubs rather than golf balls. You know, this one:
“This crowd has gone deadly silent, a Cinderella story outta nowhere. Former greenskeeper and now about to become The Masters champion . . . he’s on his final hole. He’s about 455 yards away, he’s gonna hit about a 2-iron, I think. IT’s IN THE HOLE!”
“Nope,” Haley said. “Don’t do that one.”
The legend of Carl Spackler, as portrayed in Caddyshack by Bill Murray, is safe from Paul Haley.
The field of the Southern Highlands Collegiate Masters, on the other hand, better worry about Haley and his teammates when they show up this weekend in Las Vegas.
What a day! Two trips to Tech (one for basketball, the other to speak with Haley, whom I interviewed as his teammates horsed around before practice at the practice facility off 14th), a wife outta town, kids events and transportation/sitting arrangements galore, the Hawks-Lakers, two stories . . . were I as developed between the ears as Haley, I probably wouldn’t have lost three pounds in anxiety. Therapists may solicit business at firstname.lastname@example.org.