Three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin stood on the podium outside Principal’s campus and said thanks.
“On behalf of the Champions Tour, we thank each and every one of you for letting us come back into your home,” Irwin said.
Principal told the world at that August 7, 2006, news conference that it had agreed to replace Minneapolis-based Allianz Life Insurance of North America as title sponsor of the annual PGA TOUR Champions stop in Des Moines.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for the charity part of it,” former Principal chairman and CEO Barry Griswell said.
This year marks the 10th Anniversary of Principal’s title sponsorship of the Principal Charity Classic, an event will have generated nearly $10 million for charity by the time the 2016 tournament closes its books. Iowa children’s charities – and golf fans – have been the biggest benefactors.
They’ve had the chance to witness players like Jay Haas, who won the first of his three Principal Charity Classic titles in 2007. This was a one-sided affair. Haas was a wire-to-wire winner.
Haas rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a first-round 65. That last birdie was the eighth one on his first-round scorecard. The 65 was one shot better than Dave Eichelberger, who won the 1999 U.S. Senior Open across town at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
An adventure-filled second-round 67 gave Haas a three-shot lead over David Edwards. Haas made a double bogey on the par-4 8th hole, but responded with six birdies over the next seven holes.
Haas took the lead into the final round for the 22nd time in his PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions career. He had closed the deal in 10 of the previous 21 opportunities.
He made that 11 of 22 after his final-round 69 and a 54-hole total of 201, 12 under par. Haas led by as many as six shots during the final round. He bogeyed the final two holes, but still finished three shots in front of R.W. Eaks and Brad Bryant.
“I was glad we ran out of holes at the end,” Haas said.
Those final bogeys were only a tease.
“You can’t chase Jay down right now because he is probably the best senior player in the world and he isn’t going to make any mistakes,” Eaks said.
It was pretty clear that everyone else was playing for second at the fourth green. Haas couldn’t put any spin on his ball after driving it through the fairway and into the rough. His second shot to the two-tiered green ended up on the upper shelf. The pin, on the lower shelf, was 25 feet away.
Haas faced the almost impossible task of two-putting his way out of the predicament, which was magnified because Edwards had a 4-footer for birdie.
Haas barely touched his first putt, which picked up speed as it got closer to the cup.
“Hit the hole,” Haas said.
It did. In fact, his ball hit the back of the cup with authority, popped up in the air and fell in for an unlikely birdie.
“I was totally shocked,” Haas said. “I thought it was going too hard to go in. It hit pretty much dead center. That was the only way for it to go in.”
Griswell also felt like a winner after Principal’s first year as title sponsor.
“This week has been terrific,” he said. “I try to think what we could have done differently, and I can’t think of anything. Great weather. Great crowds. Great players. A course in great shape. This has been a great community event.”
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter