Golf: Humble Hahn nabs first US PGA Tour title

James Hahn holds the trophy on the 18th hole after putting in for the win on the 14th hole amid the Final Round of the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club on Feb 22, 2015 in Pacific Palisades, California. -- PHOTO: AFP
James Hahn holds the trophy on the 18th hole after putting in for the win on the 14th hole amid the Final Round of the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club on Feb 22, 2015 in Pacific Palisades, California. -- PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - James Hahn's first US PGA Tour win has been so long in the making, he's not surprised no one seemed to see it coming.

The engaging South Korean-born American kept his nerve to win a gripping three-way playoff at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday with a clutch birdie at the third hole of sudden death.

"Even when I was signing hats after the round, I asked some guy, I was like: 'Hey, like is there a playoff? Like what's going on?' "He's like: 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and some other guy,'" Hahn said.

"I was like, "'Yeah? OK, cool, here's your hat.'" Maybe that fan will remember watching Hahn coolly roll in a 24-foot birdie putt at the third playoff hole - good enough for a win after American Johnson missed his 12-foot attempt, with Casey eliminated at the hole before.

Born in Seoul, Hahn attended the University of California at Berkeley and turned pro in 2003.

He's paid his dues on the lesser tours, including in South Korea and Canada and on the developmental Web.com tour.

During the years when he struggled to establish himself he worked non-golf jobs, including, famously, selling shoes at a Nordstrom department store.

"I can still remember the day when I was grinding on the mini-tours and I didn't have any money," Hahn said. "Didn't want to ask any family for money or any sponsors to see if they could help me out. It was just one of those things that I figured, I would just do it myself and be accountable for myself."

"So played a year in Korea, two years in Canada, three on the Web and this is my third season on the PGA Tour. So I think I'm trending in the right direction." Even the suddenly dismal weather at Riviera Country Club - a chilly wind and intermittent showers - couldn't dampen Hahn's enthusiasm.

"I absolutely love it," Hahn said of the rain, recalling that he used to love going to the driving range on rainy days to hit balls.

"When it was raining today, kind of brought me back to being very spiritual," he said.

"I love this. It's golf. It's not a fair weather sport."