IRVING _ Paul Haley was among the nation’s top prospects his senior year at Dallas' Highland Park High School. He was the first player in school history to play on four consecutive state championship teams.
Soon after arriving at Georgia Tech, Haley shot 73 on a difficult course with his new teammates. But that score he thought would be among the best was actually ninth out of 10. Instead of immediately contributing, he redshirted and hardly played his first two seasons.
That shot of humility may have been a blessing. Haley has been rolling like a well-struck ball on a hardpan fairway ever since.
After closing his career at Georgia Tech with two individual victories, including the ACC Championship, Haley won his third event on the Nationwide Tour two months ago, finished second three weeks later and is playing this week’s HP Byron Nelson Championship on a sponsor’s exemption.
``He chose a tougher road in college and I think he’s seeing the benefit of that,’’ said his father, Paul. ``He had to take a different approach in almost every aspect of his life because he was out of his element, out of his comfort zone.’’
Haley may have been a late bloomer in college, but he has wasted no time establishing himself on the Nationwide Tour.
In the second round of the Chile Classic, he broke the course record with an 8-under 64 in the second round and then matched that score in the third round en route to a three-stroke victory. He pocketed $108,000 for his first pro win.
At the TPC Stonebrae Championship, Haley shot a final-round 68 but missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that would have forced a playoff with Alex Aragon.
Through events, Haley ranks third in earnings with $162,334. The top 25 automatically earn PGA Tour cards for next season.
``The win definitely helped my confidence,’’ he said Wednesday after a short chipping session with Royal Oaks instructor Randy Smith, who taught him to play as a kid.
``I used to beat myself up a lot. It was always something. I treated golf like it was life or death.’’
Competitiveness has never been an issue for Haley, whose father played baseball at Oral Roberts.
The younger Haley’s sixth grade baseball team featured Clayton Kershaw, current Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, and Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
``They’re doing pretty well,’’ Haley said, laughing.
On a loaded team at Highland Park, Haley made first team all-state in 2004, 2005 and 2006. He also won the 2006 Texas State Amateur. He had offers from the best collegiate programs, including Texas and Oklahoma State.
After his disappointing finish in the team qualifier at Georgia Tech, Haley redshirted. He began to think he’d actually have to use the management degree he was working on.
Asked if he envisioned himself playing professionally, Haley said, ``In high school, yes; at the beginning of college, no.
``I was like, `Oh, this is going to be tougher than I thought. Going into college, I probably would have been better off my first two years going in with the attitude that I was one of the best players.’’
Haley said he has received good advice from PGA Tour players and fellow Royal Oaks members Justin Leonard and Harrison Frazar, in addition to Smith.
On Tuesday he looked like he belonged playing a practice round with Leonard at the TPC. He has set no goals for this week.
``I play my best when I’m trying to almost not care,’’ Haley said. ``I had to make a conscious effort to go out and just play. You have to learn that you’re not going to have it every week.’’