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August 21, 2018

James Hahn

Old Westbury, New York

SHARON SHIN: Welcome James hand to the interview room of THE NORTHERN TRUST. James, this is your sixth consecutive appearance to the first event of the FedExCup Playoffs.

Can you talk about your excitement to be at THE NORTHERN TRUST this year.

JAMES HAHN: Yeah, I think any time we can make it to The Northern Trust, the first Playoff event, I feel like it's very successful. Granted, there is an ultimate goal for us to make it far into the Playoffs, make it into THE TOUR Championship and possibly win the FedExCup. But before the FedExCup started it was more about keeping your job and staying inside the Top-125 which will allow you to play a full season next year and possibly win golf tournaments, majors, get you in any golf tournament you want.

So the anybody one goal is to finish in the Top-125. The new goal is to finish in the Top-100 for the next event and then ultimately finish No. 1 at the end of the season.

So the good and bad part about that is the very next week, our season starts up again, so even if you don't win the FedExCup, you have another chance the following season. It's just an ongoing, competitive journey for us to just do the best that we can.

It's very special for me to be here for the sixth consecutive season because knowing my background and where I've come from, I never really thought that I would make it this far in golf at the age that I am.

So very appreciative to be here, very thankful, blessed. Have a lot of gratitude to all of the people that have helped me get here, and you know, just going to try to go out and win the whole thing.

SHARON SHIN: As you know, Paramus has a very big Korean population, and being a Korean American yourself, can you talk about your Korean roots when you moved to the States?

JAMES HAHN: I was born in Korea. Moved to the States when I was two, moved to California. Never had any formal education in learning the Korean language. I did take a class, a Korean class, in college, but you know, as we all know if you're not using the language every day, and learning every day, that my brain tends to forget a lot of vocabulary and pronunciation. I'd like to learn Korean a lot more. I'm not really into the Korean dramas, so it's really hard for me to learn. There's not really too many TV shows that I can watch, either.

I am Korean American. I identify myself as Korean first, American second, because that's what I see in the mirror every day. You know, I look just like a lot of you guys; my parents, they speak Korean to me. Their English is very broken and so I try to talk Korean to them as much as I can, just so I can learn more but it gets to the point if you have sons or daughters that are also Korean American, it gets to the point where I'll talk as much Korean as I can, but if I'm not getting the point across, it's just all English. It gets frustrating at times but the bond that I have with my mom and dad is very strong to where we have an understanding without really having to say words.

Q. You mentioned getting to the top 30 allows you to fix your schedule for the next year and all that sort of thing and every guy says that. Can you give me specifics of what that looks like compared to not making it? How much of a big deal is it to be able to set the schedule and how does it look different for you?
JAMES HAHN: Good question. So knowing that you are in all of the majors, how I would change my schedule would be to address a question of: Do I play the week before, or do I take the week off before a major?

So let's take the Masters, for example. I've found it's helped me to get there early, take off the week before, and prepare for the Masters because there's so many things that you want to do when you get there. You want to go to the merch tent; you want to play the par 3 course. You want to play the front nine, the back nine, as many times as you want without getting tired.

So you might need the extra two or three days, so now taking off the week before has proved beneficial to me, and if I take that week off, how many weeks would I play before that event, right, because I don't want to take off two weeks. I've taken off two weeks before a golf tournament, and you feel a little rusty, even though you might have two or three practice rounds. So then you kind of work backwards, right. Whereas if I was not qualified for the majors, I would work forward. So I would start in Hawai'i, play Palm Springs, play all the West Coast events, take off a couple tournaments in Florida; if I get in the Masters, great, and if I don't, I will play the week before the Masters.

So it's just a different way of looking into it where you really want to gear up to have your best game in the Masters and what allows you to play your best game might be to take off a couple weeks, which might end up changing your schedule around completely. So the beginning of the year, you might end up -- this year I played every West Coast event, leading up to the Masters, I played probably ten to 12 golf tournaments, I'm not exactly sure. But if I were in the Masters, if I'm in The Open Championship, if I'm in the PGA, if I'm in the U.S. Open, then I might reduce my schedule because then you're automatically adding four more events.

This year, I only played one major. I think I'm at 26 or 27 events. So if I added three more majors, I for sure don't want to get over 28, so that means I have to take off tournaments somewhere either before majors or in the middle to really stay fresh.

That's kind of how I look at it. I don't know how some of the other guys do it.

Q. As a member of the Korean golf community, can you give me your point of view on the Korean way of developing young players? Do you think that the foothold that men Korean players have developed on the PGA TOUR could explode into the kind of performance and semi-dominance that happened on the LPGA after Se Ri Pak played so well in 1998 and beyond?
JAMES HAHN: Well, that's a loaded question. I would start off by saying that Koreans are very competitive. We're competitive with everyone else; you know, other nationalities, but we're also extremely competitive within ourselves, within the Korean community, right.

So similar to Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, I'm hearing a lot of talk of them being best friends: They work out together; they have dinners together; they fly private together; they do a lot of things together; they go fishing on their private boats together. But they are also very fierce competitors.

And one of the things I thought was interesting was you didn't see Dustin Johnson wait for Brooks after the round and hug and give high-fives like some of the other golfers did, and I think it's because he was angry that he didn't win. And he wasn't really happy -- I'm sure he's happy for Brooks that he won; you might want to ask him that question. But there was also that, man, I let him win. Good for him but he beat me. We're all competitors.

Similar to that, I feel like Koreans are extremely competitive with everyone else but I know that when I'm playing even practice rounds with Danny Lee or Kevin Na, I really want to beat them. We might just be playing for fun but it's extremely competitive.

You know, I heard somewhere, iron sharpens, iron, just like man sharpens man. When you're competing with someone every single day, it's everything you do: How fast can we eat, how fast can we drive -- well, under the speed limit; how fast can we do things. It's so competitive. I know growing up I would compete with my older brother everything that we did.

So when you have that competitive nature, that culture that you have, I think you end up growing really great athletes. The fact that golf is very popular in Korea with the men and women; that they are competing against each other, I'm not knocking the American culture at all, but we don't give out participation rewards in Korea. There's no, you know, congratulations, you tried your best, here's an ice cream cone for you.

It's like for us, I guess the running joke is: If you don't win, you get cold rice for dinner. That's kind of how I grew up. If you don't win, like winning is everything, and if you don't win, sure, you might get punished. Like you have to soak in that for a while to drive you the next day to be better. Americans, I don't want to generalize or anything, but the whole participation trophy and everything, it's kind of the exact opposite of what I believe Korean Americans are, which is the reason why you see a lot of great Korean golfers.

Now to get to the women and the men, I've always believed that golf in Korea is so popular with the women that you're getting the top athletes there. For America and the culture in America, golf might be the third or fourth most popular sport: You have soccer, tennis, softball, field hockey. You have so many other sports -- volleyball, that they compete in -- that competing in, that they are getting the really, really good athletes.

Golf is not that popular in the United States among women and I think that's something that the USGA should address, how we can grow our game, not only for the men but also the women. We do our best to just promote the game, but ultimately, we can't force someone to play a sport that they don't want to. So similar to football, right. Like I've always wanted to play football in high school. I'm not really built like a football player, so I stuck to golf. But you don't have that option in Korea as much. You don't see guys saying, hey, I want to be a football player when I grow up. Golf is so popular in Korea that that's what they want to do. They see their dream as, I not only want to play golf professionally, but I want to play on the PGA TOUR; I want to play on The European Tour, and you're getting the top athletes.

Q. Do you prepare for this tournament any differently being this is the first event in the FedExCup Playoffs, and secondly, do you have any friends that you hang out with on the PGA TOUR?
JAMES HAHN: Leading up to this tournament, I don't treat it as any other tournament, excluding the majors. I don't treat it any different because I treat every tournament that way. I don't think there's any tournament that I play on TOUR that I don't try to win.

I don't show up late Wednesday and just kind of do my practice round and don't focus and put 100 percent into it. We came here -- I came here by myself on Sunday. I did a Pro-Am yesterday benefitting the Morgan Hoffmann Foundation, and today was my practice round and tomorrow I'll also practice.

It's very important that we get off to a good start in the Playoffs to work our way into the top 30, but as far as treating this tournament any differently, I treat every tournament as if it were the Masters. I go in and we're focusing during the practice rounds. We're focusing when we're practicing chipping, putting and everything, and we're really geared towards winning golf tournaments.

Now, I only have two TOUR wins, so maybe I might need to mix up the formula a little bit. It's proven successful for me to be here for six consecutive years and I feel like not putting too much stress into winning a golf tournament, just the right amount of stress to where I still feel relaxed, and it is still just a golf tournament.

Q. And the second question was if you were close to any players on the PGA TOUR?
JAMES HAHN: Yeah, there are a lot of people I feel like are good friends with -- that were good friends on the PGA TOUR. A lot of the Koreans, we play a lot of practice rounds together. Pretty much all the Koreans, we go out, have dinners. It's hard to find a lot of people that like Korean food; that like to eat kimchi. I'm sure you guys -- right. It's hard to find good Korean restaurants here, so when we do find one that we like, we are all going at the same time. Just a matter of our tee times and who is available to eat that day.

But yeah, all the Korean guys -- there's also guys that I played on the Web.com Tour with that I played on that tour for three years and we graduated together and were rookies together back in 2013 that I still keep in touch with that we'll have dinners with.

And also, families that also have children. My little girl is three years old, so she likes to play with certain kids, and our family also get together and have little play dates for our children.

Q. In 2016 and 2017 you advanced pretty far into the Playoffs. Do you feel like you're ready to advance past that point this year?
JAMES HAHN: Yeah, I feel like my game is the best it's been all year. There's still things I need to work out. The rough is pretty thick this week and the greens have a lot of slope to them. For me it's making the right decision what clubs to pick.

Seems like the last couple of weeks when I'm missing cuts by one, that it's always a decision that I make as far as club selection, which way the wind is blowing, and it's not necessarily the execution, the hitting the shot. I feel like I've been hitting a lot of good shots. Just not getting reward for them.

So for me, everything is there. I just need to put it all together and hopefully make the right choices.

When I had won THE NORTHERN TRUST and also when I had won the Wells Fargo Championship, you get 500 points for winning a golf tournament, and so that helped me get so far into the Playoffs. This year, finished second in Sony. I've only had two Top 10s, which have hurt me, but there's 4x points in the Playoffs, and I just figure if every tournament, I move up 20, 20 to 30 spots, I can make it up to THE TOUR Championship and hopefully give it a good run.

But ultimately if you win the first Playoff event, you're pretty much looked all the way to the finals and have a pretty good chance of winning the FedExCup. I feel like winning takes care of everything, and that's what all 125 of us are trying to do and just leave it at that.

Q. You talk about the competitiveness of the players on the PGA TOUR. What are your thoughts on being able done tend with those players and being able to play on the PGA TOUR yourself?
JAMES HAHN: I feel very confident. I feel like I draw back on a lot of my experiences winning golf tournaments, being in contention, winning in playoffs, and I feel like that's kind of an added advantage.

For me, also, I think me and Kevin are the only two that have children, and for me, I feel like family gives us more passion, more drive, because -- and I'm just speaking in general, not just towards the Koreans.

When you're single, when you are -- let's say, have a boyfriend, a girlfriend -- hopefully a girlfriend -- you're still having fun. You're going out. You're hanging out in New York for the weekend, just going on vacations. Whereas my primary job is to take care of my family. That's family first.

And so that drives me a little bit more. I'm not taking vacations. I'm going to the gym and working out. I'm not going out on the weekends to, you know, go to the bar and drink or anything. Like I haven't had a drink of alcohol for a really long time, and that's by choice because I feel like that makes me a better golfer, because every day I have to look at my daughter and tell her that I'm doing my best; and the reason that I'm gone for weeks at a time is to provide a life for her.

Granted, we make a lot of money and we have a very great lifestyle, I want to be able to give that to her. That kind of drives me a little bit more than some of the other guys. So I feel like that's an advantage, something that drives me more than the normal PGA TOUR player.

So the competitive side of it is -- man, I think we're all competitive. I think you're seeing the top 0.1 percent of golfers in the world and the reason why we're so great is we compete at such a high level. Even when we're going to miss a cut and we're playing our last hole, we are so competitive that we will try on every single shot until we miss the cut, and there's always a chance of, maybe I could finish eagle, eagle to make the cut by one, and then you make par and it's like, okay, maybe I can make a hole-in-one on this par five to make the cut; and you hit your drive and it doesn't go in, and you're like, well, maybe the cut line will move. There's so many things, and we just try and try and try, that I think you're seeing the top golfers in the world, but also probably this generation, I would say, is the most competitive out of any generation that we will probably see for a really long time, and compared to the past. Like we're not going out and partying a lot. Like I don't know anyone that parties anymore on TOUR. It's because we're so competitive. We don't want to give anyone that extra advantage.

Q. Can you figured out a strategy for how you want to figure out the drivable par 4, 12th? Have you done anything to prepare for that?
JAMES HAHN: Played it today. Hit in the front left bunker. It is drivable, easily, for a lot of us. I'd say like 90,95 percent of us can reach it either with driver or 3-wood. Depending on the pin location it might be better to lay up, but it's such a skinny green. My plan is to hit it on the green and 1-putt or 2-putt for birdie or eagle. Execution might be a bit tougher. But I don't think there's any pin location that you can't get to from the right trap, and if you hit in the right trap, you're going to give yourself five, ten feet at most for birdie.

When you lay up to certain pin locations, you spin it over the front, one-hop it over the back and now you're bringing in bogey. I think it's a great reachable par 4. I wish there were more like it. I would compare it to hole 10 at Riviera. Hole 10, where you can make eagle, but you can also make bogey in a heartbeat, and I think most reachable par 4s are like that.

SHARON SHIN: Thank you for your time.

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