BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — He complained about the money, control, time and extravagance at the Ryder Cup, some of the same issues that David Duval raised nine years ago without ever having played in one.
At least Hunter Mahan did not call it an exhibition.
The 26-year-old American has a lot on his plate at Oakland Hills this week. Mahan is trying to validate his potential by winning the final major of the year. He is No. 10 in the Ryder Cup standings and needs a strong week to qualify. And he is busy making the rounds with PGA of America officials, apologizing for critical comments about an event he has never played.
“They took it personally, and I don’t blame them,” Mahan said after meeting with PGA president Brian Whitcomb and CEO Joe Steranka. “I deserve what I get. I take full responsibility for what I said.”
Mahan brought the wrong kind of attention to himself with an interview in GOLF Magazine in which he was asked to explain why the Americans keep losing the Ryder Cup. Among other things, he said the PGA of America “could care less about winning” because they decide where it is played based on where it can make the most money.
“And from what I’ve heard, the whole week is extremely long,” Mahan said in the interview. “You’ve got dinners every night – not little dinners, but huge, massive dinners. I know as players, that’s the last thing we want to do. We want to prepare ourselves. That’s part of the whole thing: You’re just a slave that week.”
Mahan thought the interview, which took place in late spring, was going to be about his love for cars, especially with the PGA Championship coming to Motor City. Only when he read the interview did he realize there might be a problem.
“Then my dad called and said he heard it on The Golf Channel,” Mahan said. “I guess they hammered me pretty good, and it kind of erupted from there.”
Give him credit in one respect. In an age when athletes routinely blame the messenger, Mahan never said he was misquoted or taken out of context. He immediately called U.S. captain Paul Azinger to apologize. Whether it hurts his chances of being a captain’s pick if he doesn’t qualify remains to be seen, although Azinger said he wasn’t losing sleep over the interview.
“I want guys playing good,” he said. “I’m not going to hold a grudge over that.”
Next up came Mahan’s meeting with the PGA of America brass, which accepted the apology but still sent a message.
“It was a chance to enlighten him about the Ryder Cup and PGA of America activities,” Whitcomb said Tuesday morning. “We saw a talented young man who would like to play in the Ryder Cup and knew he had made a mistake, and was looking to amend those mistakes. I appreciated that.”
Steranka felt like he had been through this before.
“Those comments sounded like they were 9 years old,” he said. “Because they are not relevant to what the Ryder Cup is today.”
Mahan knows what Ryder Cup competition is all about.
He was in the gallery at Brookline in 1999 after being invited to play in the Junior Ryder Cup. Oddly enough, that was the year Duval and Tiger Woods led a mini-revolt over Ryder Cup income that led to each player being allotted $200,000 for charity.
“It was intense,” Mahan said. “The crowd, you could hear it a mile away. We had to sit at one hole and wait for people to come through, and it was just crazy. You could see the energy on everybody’s faces.”
Perhaps that’s why he was so disappointed to hear chatter that the Ryder Cup wasn’t what it appeared to be for all the players.
“From what I’ve heard, the Ryder Cup just isn’t fun,” Mahan said in the magazine interview. “The fun is sucked right out of it. That’s the word I hear a lot.”
That’s what should have stung the PGA of America the most.
Some of the most significant words in his interview might have been, “From what I’ve heard.” Mahan, who hasn’t caused any problems in his five years on tour, didn’t come up with stuff on his own. He developed these Ryder Cup opinions by listening to those who have played in them, and one can only assume this gripe session took place in the team room at the Presidents Cup.
“The question was, `Why has the U.S. lost?”‘ Mahan said. “Just from the Presidents Cup, having such a good time … it was disappointing to hear about the Ryder Cup, that it wasn’t as much fun. I was disappointed to hear that about an event I had looked up to as a kid.”
Mahan was wrong to say what he did in the interview, and he knows it.
But that doesn’t mean the issue will go away for the PGA of America, for it’s clear that some U.S. players still feel that the Ryder Cup is overcooked. And even though Mahan had no business asking, it’s a fair question. Of all the great courses in America, why is the Ryder Cup going to Valhalla, a course the PGA of America owns?
Then again, most criticism tends to be directed away from the real problem.
Even if players had to attend a gala dinner every night instead of just Wednesday, even if the Ryder Cup generated twice as much income, would it not be more fun for the Americans if they were winning?
Europeans wear tuxedos, too.
“I should have said in the article how much I want to change the culture of the Ryder Cup and start winning,” Mahan said.
No one would criticize that.