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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press PGA Tour member Bill Haas, who hasn't played since a fatal car crash last month, will return to the tour this week.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018 1:00 am

Haas ready for golf again after fatal crash

Was passenger when friend died

DOUG FERGUSON | Associated Press

Bill Haas returns to golf this week knowing the Valspar Championship will be unlike any of the previous 347 times he has played on the PGA Tour.

The deep bruise on his left leg and the soreness in his right ankle have subsided. Still tender are memories of a friend, Mark Gibello, who was killed Feb. 13 on a winding road outside Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles when his Ferrari clipped another car and slammed into a pole.

Haas was the passenger.

“There's not many templates to go by on something like this,” Haas said in his first interview since the crash. “I was in a state of shock, disbelief. It was a tragic event, traumatic. I'm still unsure how to handle it. I keep going back to focusing on the Gibello family.”

He described the Gibellos as mutual friends he planned to stay with during the Genesis Open.

Haas and Gibello played golf the previous weekend at Los Angeles Country Club, where Gibello was a member and played a role in the club hosting the Walker Cup last year. Gibello was a close friend of Bill Harmon, the swing coach who works with Haas.

“It didn't take me long to realize how much his family loved him, how nice he was to me and my family,” Haas said.

Haas' wife, Julie, has kept in touch with Gibello's wife. The funeral service in Santa Monica, California, was Friday, the same day the final field was set for the Valspar Championship in Florida. Tiger Woods is playing for the first time. So is Rory McIlroy. That figures to deflect attention from Haas trying to get back to work.

Haas, 35, returns with a greater appreciation of life and a level of support he never realized he had.

His golf bag remained in the Riviera locker room for the rest of the Genesis Open until it was shipped home to him in South Carolina. Haas hasn't practiced much. He played golf Sunday in Greenville, North Carolina, and planned to leave Monday night for the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida.

“The amount of love and support and outreach I got from my peers and friends has been amazing,” he said. “At the same time, a friend of mine is not here anymore. ... There's just no real way to explain life, why it happens and how it happens. You can't take tomorrow for granted. You have to enjoy today and prepare for tomorrow. All that said, I still feel like I have to go compete. I can't just say golf doesn't matter. That's what I do. I think that's what Mark would want.

“He was a golf fan. He loved golf. He would want me to care about how I play.”

Haas is a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, though he has gone three years since his last victory. He's best known for saving par from the shallow water at East Lake during a playoff he won at the Tour Championship to claim the FedEx Cup, and making the clinching putt in the Presidents Cup with his father, Jay, as the U.S. captain.

Along with leaning on his wife and his family, he has spent time with a therapist to cope with the wide range of emotions and the lingering questions.

“I don't know that I won't have recurring images and thoughts and feelings about that night,” he said. “Why was he taken and I wasn't? I ask, 'Why?' all the time. From the people who have reached out to me and the advice I've been given, you can't ask, 'Why?' in life. Life happens in ways you can't explain. There's no point in asking. It won't solve anything, and it only brings more questions.”

What makes him most anxious about his return is the reception he might get from friends and from fans.

“This needs to not be about me,” he said. “This has got to be about golf and the Gibello family.”