A year after fatal crash, Bill Haas' return to Los Angeles filled with painful reminders

Brian Wacker
Golf Digest

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — There are no scars or marks of what happened along a busy, winding, two-lane stretch of hedge- and tree-lined road less than three miles southeast of ritzy Riviera Country Club on Feb. 13, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. But emotional ones exist.

“Still to this day I have, not nightmares, but I think about it, sometimes daydreaming about it in the middle of the day or if I see an accident,” Bill Haas said on Tuesday in an interview with Golf Digest. “I drive differently. It’s one of those it-will-never-happen-to-me things, and now that it has I think of a lot of things that could happen to me. That makes me more careful.”

The streets around Riviera are like a bowl of spaghetti, twisty and tangled strings that unfurl through canyons from a couple of thousand feet above sea level all the way down to the vast ocean and Pacific Coast Highway below. Dotting the manicured landscapes are multi-million dollar mansions, the kind you see on reality TV shows. The posted speed limit on Chautauqua Blvd., which runs from Sunset down to the PCH, is 30 mph, though few seem to abide by it as Teslas, BMWs and SUVs zoom up and down the tightly confined road, separated by only a few feet of asphalt and a dotted yellow line.

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A year ago, Haas was riding in the passenger seat of 71-year-old Mark Gibello’s red Ferrari F355 GTS. They were traveling south on Chautauqua after the two had left Gibello’s home on nearby Alva Drive, a quiet, leafy slice of suburbia, when Gibello accelerated and lost control of the car, the back end swinging into oncoming traffic and making contact with a BMW and an SUV before slamming into a light pole. The six-figure sports car broke off at its base and turned into crumpled piece of tin.

<div class="caption"> An overhead look at the Ferrari in which Bill Haas was a passenger during a car accident on Feb. 13 near Riviera Country Club. The driver of the car was killed. </div>
An overhead look at the Ferrari in which Bill Haas was a passenger during a car accident on Feb. 13 near Riviera Country Club. The driver of the car was killed.

Amazingly, Haas, though dazed and with both his legs badly bruised, survived, emerging from the smoke, the engine still revving full bore, to call 9-1-1. His voice was shaky as he described “a horrible head-on collision” and the Ferrari that was “caved in” on the driver’s side, but he’d survived. Gibello, whom Haas was staying with for the week of the Genesis Open after the two had met through Haas’ coach Billy Harmon, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Haas, as well as the driver of the other car, a 50-year-old woman who had been pulled from the wreckage by actor Luke Wilson, who himself had also been involved in the accident, were taken to a local hospital and treated for minor injuries.

“It’s weird,” Haas said this week as he returned to Riviera for the first time since the accident and withdrawing from last year’s Genesis. “You land and certain things remind you of it, even little things like the courtesy cars being the same as they were last year.”

And yet so much is different than from before the crash.

The loss has been understandably hard on the large Gibello family, which includes Mark Gibello’s wife of 30 years, Kris, their four kids and seven grandkids, as well as a sister and several nieces and nephews.

Gibello was the executive vice president and director of TCW Asset Management Company from 1988 to 2013 but was known as much if not more for an infectious personality that earned him the nickname “The Mayor.” He was also an avid golfer and a member at Los Angeles Country Club, Eldorado C.C. in Indian Wells and Loch Lomond in Scotland. This week, Kris was planning a visit to Eldorado, the site of Mark’s only hole-in-one, to remember her late husband.

<div class="caption"> Gibello was known as "The Mayor" at his golf club. </div>
Gibello was known as "The Mayor" at his golf club.

The crash took its toll on Haas, too, albeit in a far different way. Once he returned to playing a month later, his injuries having mostly subsided, he struggled to find his form. In his last 25 starts, Haas has missed 11 cuts. Last season he also failed to finish in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings for the first time in his career.

Off the course, he sought the help of a psychologist to figure out how to deal with the tragedy and the survivor’s guilt that came with it. He also leaned heavily on his wife and family.

“I think I'm learning how to get over it,” Haas said.

When Haas and his wife, Julie, landed in Los Angeles for this year’s tournament, one of their first orders of business was dinner with Kris Gibello on Monday night. Though Haas and his wife have kept in touch with Kris, it was his first time they’d seen each other since the crash.

“She's an amazing woman,” Haas said. “She’s dealt with such a more tragic thing than I had to deal with. It was nice to see her and hug her and that makes me feel better.”

“It was extremely scary,” Haas said of the crash. “And I think about what I could’ve done differently.”

Haas has taken other steps that he hopes will help, too. This week he’s staying in neighboring Santa Monica, where the roads are mostly straighter, flatter and wider, instead of the Palisades. “It is weird in that I'm avoiding that area,” he said. “But I don’t know that [driving by there] would help me in any way.”

What he does think might help, though, is playing better golf, especially after missing three of his last four cuts.

“I’d love to play well here for a bunch of reasons,” Haas said. “The main reason is I haven't been playing well and I’m looking to get better and would like to talk about getting better as opposed to why I’m maybe not playing well.”

Trying to move on and into some semblance of normalcy is easier said than done sometimes, though.

“It was extremely scary,” Haas said of the crash. “And I think about what I could've done differently.”

For now, he’ll simply try to do the best he can.

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