NAPA, Calif. – James Hahn has a secret advantage at this week’s Safeway Open. He’s sleeping at his childhood home in Alameda, a suburb of Oakland, where his parents moved to from South Korea when he was 2 years old.
“Bought it for dirt cheap and it’s worth a lot more now,” he said. “But it’s good because I have my family there and the last thing I want to do is be alone in a hotel room having a million thoughts go through my mind and try to play out all the scenarios. It’s easier just to watch – what were we watching the other day? – some Peppa Pig with my daughter. You know, most guys don’t have that luxury of watching Peppa Pig, but I do.”
Hahn, 38, has been making the hour-long drive to Silverado Resort and Spa and he’ll have a late tee time on Sunday after shooting a bogey-free 6-under 66 on the North Course to share the 54-hole lead with Cameron Percy and Brian Stuard at 16-under 200.
Hahn’s father leased the driving range at Galbraith Golf Course from the city of Oakland – the facility later was renovated by Johnny Miller and re-named Metropolitan Golf Links – and it’s where Hahn took up the game at age 4 and developed his homespun swing through trial and error.
Hahn played his college golf at Cal-Berkeley but despite enjoying the Northern California hospitality, the Safeway Open has never been good to him: He missed the 54-hole cut last year, the 36-hole cut twice, making a T-41 in 2015 his best result in four previous starts.
“My wife said a couple weeks ago, ‘Why do you go to Silverado?’ I go, ‘Why not? I go see my family, it’s a great golf tournament, love supporting the local events.’ She said, ‘You never played well there, why would you want to play there?’ ” Hahn recounted. “It might have a little to do with low expectations and coming out here and finally seeing the breaks and seeing the putts go in. I think that has a lot to do with it.”
It didn’t hurt that Hahn made three of his five birdies on the par-3s during the third round.
“I mean, those par 3s are tough out there. The one that I didn’t birdie was hole 7. I skanked a 4-iron to 25 feet and hit a great putt,” he said.
Hahn has won twice previously on Tour, most recently at the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship. He’s playing this week on a major-medical exemption after being sidelined for eight months in 2019 with an elbow injury. Hahn has 14 starts remaining to retain his playing privileges, which could create added pressure, but doesn’t seem to be bothering Hahn one bit.
“It’s the same as trying to win a golf tournament, I can tell you that, because you’ve heard it before, winning takes care of itself. It takes care of a lot of problems,” he said. “You know, the medical is just something in the back of my mind, to be honest with you. I come out every week trying to win a golf tournament, so if I can keep my focus there, I think I’m doing things right.”
Hahn will have his hands full on Sunday as 28 golfers are within four strokes of the lead, ranging from 18-year-old Akshay Bhatia to a pair of 40-somethings in Percy, one of the co-leaders, and Stewart Cink, 47, who birdied six of the first eight holes en route to shooting 65 and trails by two strokes. Cink hasn’t won since the 2009 British Open playoff over Tom Watson, but said, “I remember what it’s like. I mean, it was 11 years ago when I won The Open Championship, but I feel like it was yesterday. I remember that day, after it was all said and done, looking back and thinking I really didn’t do anything all that special today, I was just myself and that’s the key.”
Stuard, 37, has one Tour title at the 2016 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He reeled off three birdies in a row starting at the third and canned a 7-foot birdie at 18 to cap off a 66. Stuard is riding a hot putter this week – he ranks fifth in Strokes Gained: Putting – into the final round.
“I feel like if I drive it well tomorrow and, you know, get the putter rolling, then we’ll see,” he said.
Percy, 46, has never won on the Tour, coming closest when he lost a playoff when Jonathan Byrd made an ace to claim victory in Las Vegas in 2010. He was the first player in the field to get to 16 under when he canned a 32-foot birdie putt at No. 10, but he required two late birdies to cancel out two bogeys coming home.
What would victory mean to the Australian journeyman pro?
“It would mean the world to me. Yeah, it would be fantastic,” he said. “It would mean I get to go to Augusta, which is a goal. I’ve never been to Augusta, which is the biggest goal you have when you come over here. I just thought I’d get there, I haven’t got there yet, so it’s a big deal.”
Sam Burns, the 36-hole leader, struggled to shoot 72, and shares fourth with Harry Higgs (70) and Kristoffer Ventura (66); all three are seeking their first Tour title.
Russell Knox, who along with Mark Anderson has played bogey-free this week, leads a group of five golfers at 14 under. Sahith Theegala, playing on a sponsor exemption and making just his fourth Tour start as a professional, surged into contention by shooting 64 to get to 13 under.
Phil Mickelson (T-43) won’t be part of the trophy hunt on Sunday. He posted consecutive bogey-free rounds for the first time since 2016, but declared his 2-under 70 on Saturday his worst round in three months.