Hunter Mahan's ever-sleepy eyes sit behind boxy hipster glasses, and his unruly blond hair is pinned under a flat-brimmed Dodgers cap cloaked in a grey hoodie. "You wouldn't think I'm a golfer," says the 26-year-old Mahan, who's more Jeff Spicoli than Jeff Sluman. But then you look at Mahan's resume U.S. Junior Amateur champion, U.S. Amateur finalist, NCAA co-player of the year, PGA Tour winner and President Cupper and it confirms that he's not only a golfer, he's a golfer destined for big things.
Mahan's airy Plano, Texas, bachelor pad is full of more contradictions. A $200,000 Bentley sits in the three-car garage next to a Dodge pick-up flanked in flames. A golf glove autographed by Jack Nicklaus competes with a framed jersey autographed by NBA star Jerry Stackhouse. Oil paintings and fine wines mingle with flat-screen TVs and Xbox games.
Mahan (pronounced May-han) may still be maturing, but he is part of a wave of young, rich and moddish Tour pros whose time, it appears, is upon us: Nine different players under 30 have won in 2008. Love or loathe their brash belt buckles and orange shoes, they are the future of the professional game a future, it turns out, to which Mahan has given some thought. Commissioner Finchem: we suggest you take notes.
Everybody is obsessed with anointing The Next Tiger. Where is he?
Yeah, everyone's looking for the next young American to show himself. At the beginning of the year it was me, then Sean [O'Hair] won and it was Sean, then Anthony [Kim]. Everyone's looking for the next player to challenge Tiger. I don't think it'll ever happen, so I don't know what they're looking for.
It'll never happen?
It's unrealistic because what you have to do to catch him is mind-boggling. Logistically it's impossible. One guy has done it, and that was Vijay [Singh], who won eight times in a year, and he just nipped him [in the World Ranking]. I don't understand why chasing Tiger is such a big deal. All I'm doing is trying to play as well as I can. That's it trying to win as much as I can.
Nine different twentysomethings have won on the PGA Tour in 2008. Is this the dawn of a new era?
It takes young guys a while to figure out how to play on Tour. It's not easy. Anthony is such a rarity. But what you're seeing now is a changing of the guard. Freddie [Couples] and Davis [Love III] and players like that have been around forever, been good players forever. This is the natural transition of guys coming up.
Most of you guys still aren't household names. If Tiger pulled an Annika and decided to retire, the Tour would be in deep trouble, no?
Monumental trouble. The Tour would never admit it but they need Tiger way more than Tiger needs the Tour. It's tough people don't know the younger players. If you ask most fans following a tournament to write down who they know, they'll write Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
So shouldn't the Tour do more to promote up-and-comers like you?
Personally I think they do a lot more for the international players. They try to get Camilo [Villegas] out there as much as any player I've ever seen, basically because while he's good-looking and young, he's also Colombian. He's Latin. They don't do the Americans many favors.
Do you feel slighted?
Yes and no. I understand where the Tour's coming from. They want as much parity from different countries as possible so they can hit each market and gain as much money as they can. But when it comes to American players they don't do as much as they could. As in anything, money talks.
After finishing 16th on the money list in 2007, you've slumped a bit. How do you assess your game?
I feel like I'm a better player than I was last year. I just haven't turned the corner. I haven't done all the little things as well as I need to. I've had two shots this year that cost me a minimum of $200,000 to $300,000. If I hit two good shots there, then I'm way up there.
You still worry about the cost of misplayed shots?
No, it's more about the standings. It would have been a third and a top 10. Instead it was a sixth and a 12th. That's just frustrating. Monetarily, I've got that out of my head. I like where I am right now.