GOLF Magazine Interview: Hunter Mahan

GOLF Magazine Interview: Hunter Mahan

"Golf never really had the best athletes. They all played football and baseball and basketball. Now good athletes are playing golf."
Angus Murray

The Ryder Cup is not won or lost by one man. But it
can seem that way. Especially when the competition hinges,
as it did in October, on the final, nerve-shredding singles
match. “There’s nothing like being the 12th man in the Ryder
Cup,” says Hunter Mahan, who along with Europe’s Graeme
McDowell filled the anchor slot in Wales. “And then to have it come down
to you, with everyone against you…” That was the scene on the tee of the
par-3 17th hole at Celtic Manor, with Mahan needing to win the last two
holes to retain the Cup for the United States. What followed — a heavy 4-iron,
a stubbed chip and a 3-and-1 loss — was uncharacteristic of a player who
exudes California cool and Texas grit. Yet it was hardly shocking, because
Ryder Cup pressure can make the world’s best tremble. Mahan remains
upbeat about his 2010 Ryder Cup experience, which is a good thing, as the
28-year-old three-time Tour winner has many more Cups to come. Just days
after returning from Wales, Mahan discussed the Ryder Cup “tornado,” how
he unwinds, and why he’s rarely without his trademark shades.

Walk us through those last two
holes at the Ryder Cup.

After I made the birdie on 15 I was
1-down, and I thought I had a chance.
Sixteen, 17 and 18 are good holes where
things can happen. McDowell had a perfect
shot on 16. He just played that hole
beautifully and made a great birdie. It
really turned the tide of the match. If I
had made that putt it might have turned
the momentum to our side.

What’s going through your mind at
the 17th tee?

There was no question that we had
to win the last two holes. There was so
much going on at 17. It was like nothing
I’ve ever felt playing golf before. I never
saw so many people and I never felt so
much energy. At a tournament, you’re
not used to people rooting against you.
In 2008 [at the Ryder Cup at Valhalla],
everybody was for us, and here it was the
opposite. It was a crazy hole, but it was
fun. [McDowell] hit a good shot. I was
feeling a lot of adrenaline and I should
have taken more time [on my tee shot].

Your tee shot was short, which
left you with that fateful chip shot.
What happened?

I knew [McDowell] was going to make
par. There was no question I had to make
it, and it was a shot I definitely rushed.

How did you end up as the anchor?
I had asked to go first. I just wanted
to get out there. But in the first lineup
Corey [Pavin] made, he had me last. The
more I thought about it, I thought it was
a great play. Because of the way I play,
I’m going to be in a lot of holes and [the
anchor spot] fits my style. I thought it was
perfect. I was right where I wanted to
be. I couldn’t have been more excited to
be in that position, and I hope I get that
opportunity again. It’s the best spot in
golf. I’ve been in the thick of two majors
and it was nothing like [the Ryder Cup].

Not many Ryder Cups come down
to the last match. Do you think
you could get another chance?

It might happen in two years because
of how close our teams are. It’s really 50-
50, and everybody on both teams realizes
how much fun it is and how hard it is to
win at that level.

You earned 3.5 points on the
winning U.S. Ryder Cup team in
2008. What stands out most from
your experience this time?

How the team bonded and how close
we became. There were so many new
guys on the team, we were curious how
the personalities were, how they were
going to react to stuff. We had an absolutely
unbelievable time together hanging
out and we learned a lot about each
other. You learn a lot more about people
when bad things happen than you do
when good things happen. I just take
back all the great times we had and how
much fun we had and how close we got —
obviously, some guys closer than others.
I think everyone realized how important
the Ryder Cup is to us.

You teared up when facing the
media after your singles match
this year. Why were you so
hard on yourself?

That’s how I am. I’m working on not
being so hard on myself. The biggest
problem for me is that [I was] stuck in
it. I was stuck in this tornado of the Ryder
Cup, so I was always reminded of it. It
was hard to get out of it and have some
free time to just let things settle. It just
was an onslaught of getting done, being
in the locker room, the closing ceremonies,
speaking to the media, going to the
hotel. It was just never-ending, being reminded
of what happened. That was the
hardest part.

So you couldn’t escape it.
Yeah, it was not being able to get an
hour of just relaxing. Because there’s nothing
like being the 12th man in the Ryder
Cup, and then have it come down to you,
with everyone against you and against
what you’re trying to do, and then being
behind in the first place. I wasn’t even
tied. I was behind the whole day. There
wasn’t a lot [fan support] on our side, for
one, but it was definitely a position that
I would die for the chance to be in again.

Did anyone say anything to you
afterward that was particularly
meaningful or helpful?

The Ryder Cup is so emotional. It’s impossible
to explain to anyone who hasn’t
played it. Stewart Cink was exceptional
in the press conference and I appreciated
that. Jim Furyk talked to me about how
he was in a similar position in the late
1990s. Everybody on the team came up
to me. They were fantastic.

You had your best year as a pro
in 2010, with two wins, including
a World Golf Championship.
Was there a sense of everything
falling into place?

I felt like things were getting better,
but I was much more inconsistent this
year than I was last year. I knew I was
on the right path, but I wasn’t getting the
results I was looking for. I knew what
I was doing was right, and I figured if
I kept doing the right stuff, the results
would happen. I had a couple of good
peaks for some good events. It’s just an
accumulation of things, getting better
every year. There’s a lot more going on
for me personally this year — I’m getting
married — and everything affects your
game and your golf. It’s just life. You put
a lot of time into practicing, and personal
stuff has an impact on those things.

It’s been building for a while, but
2010 felt like the year the post-
Tiger generation really broke
through. Would you agree?

I think so. The new guard comes in
and it’s just a natural evolution of the
game. It happens. We’re seeing a lot
of good young players coming out and
winning. They’re stepping up on Tour
without much of a learning curve, just
playing and having no real conscience
and no real fear of anything.

Other than a little hip-hop style,
what stamp is your generation
putting on the game?

Golf never really had the best athletes.
They all played football and baseball and
basketball and other sports. Now good
athletes are playing golf. You see it in
their golf swings. They’re not all the
same anymore. They’re different. Rickie Fowler raced motorcycles. Look at Dustin
Johnson. He’s a freak of an athlete. He’s
got huge hands, long arms, he’s tall and
he can jump through the ceiling.

If you guys are seen as real
athletes, does that give golf
a broader appeal to fans?

I think so. There’s always been a debate
whether golf’s a sport or not. To me
it’s a no-brainer, but to other people it’s
a question. Well, I’ve watched great athletes
like Michael Jordan play golf and
they don’t play very well, and they don’t
look very athletic when they’re swinging
a club, so there’s no doubt that golf’s an
athletic sport.

Who’s the best player in his twenties?
It’s so hard to say. That’s something
the media likes, but it fluctuates every
tournament. Someone wins a tournament
and they’re the best twentysomething.
Then someone else wins a different
tournament and they’re the best
twentysomething. I don’t think we as
players look at it that way. We look at it
as whoever is the top in the World Rankings,
whoever that guy is then he’s the
best twentysomething.

Are you in the mix?
I think so. Winning that WGC event
and two in a year helped me out a ton.
Other than the majors those WGC events
are the biggest events we have. That’s
something nice for me to put on my résumé,
I guess. But Dustin Johnson was
up there in a couple of majors this year.
Anthony Kim is playing great, and Martin
Kaymer has won a major. It’s easy to
say Martin is the best because he has a
major and not many guys have those.

Who’s the best player, period?
[Pauses.] I would probably say Matt
Kuchar, followed by Jim Furyk, just based
on the FedEx playoffs and [Kuchar’s]
consistency. Kooch would be 1A and
Furyk would be 1B.

You’ve had top-10 finishes in every
major except the PGA. Which one
do you think gives you the best
chance to win?

I played well at Augusta the last two
years. I love playing there. It’s just an
incredible place. I feel like my game can
be good at any of the venues because
I hit a lot of fairways and I hit a lot of
greens. But to win a major I need to make
some more putts and make a few key
up-and-downs during the rounds. That
will help out a lot.

Has winning a major been harder
than you thought it would be?

No. It’s hard. It’s four times a year
and it’s somehow peaking at the right
time. You look at great players who’ve
won one major. Jim Furyk has won one.
Davis Love has won one. Phil’s only won
four and he’s won almost 40 times on
Tour. The group of multiple major winners
is tiny, and you have great players
who have just one. Steve Stricker has
probably played better than anyone the
last two years and he doesn’t have any.
It’s difficult.

Your coach, Sean Foley, is known
for mixing philosophy and hiphop
into his teaching — and more
recently for working with Tiger.
What’s he like?

Sean is different. He can be borderline
cocky and arrogant, but he’s very smart
and he works extremely hard at knowing
the swing, and the fundamentals and
biomechanics that go into it. Which is
good for me, because when he tells me
something I know it’s not an opinion or
a theory, it’s a fact. And he’s a very good
communicator — he knows what to say to
us, how much to say and at what time.

What’s the difference between how
Sean works with you and Tiger?

Tiger and I might do the exact same
thing but we have opposite feelings for
it. So Sean has to know that and think,
“How am I going to communicate to
Tiger and Hunter how to do the same
thing, but in a different way?”

Do you feel like Sean’s inside your
head, like a mind reader?

We just talk a lot and communicate
a lot. A lot comes from us telling him
what we’re feeling and what we feel that
works and doesn’t work. A teacher can
take you to a place, but you have to go
the rest of the way. He can’t take you to
the promised land. He can help you but
you have to figure out, “OK, this is what
he’s saying, how do I manipulate that so
that I feel comfortable with it and get the
result that I want.”

Do you worry about Foley not
having time for you now that he’s with Tiger?

That’s a big misconception. When
Tiger worked with Butch Harmon, Butch
worked with a lot of guys. Hank Haney
had Mark O’Meara before Tiger and that
was it. I don’t think guys looked at Hank
and said, “I want to work with that guy.” I
just don’t think he was that kind of coach.

You’re getting married in January.
How did you meet your fiancée,
former Dallas Cowboys
cheerleader Kandi Harris?

Through a friend of a friend. Her sister
married Jason Enloe, who plays on the
Nationwide Tour, and Jason knows my
sports psychologist. It was just one of
those things where he said, “You should
meet her and I think you two would really
get along.” [Cheerleading] was a
very small part of her life. She did it for
a couple of years and had a great time.
It’s funny. If she was a cheerleader for
any other NFL team, it probably wouldn’t
matter. But being a Dallas Cowboys
cheerleader gets more attention.

Did Kandi follow golf before she
met you?

No, not at all, but a good thing about her
is her passion for what I do. She understands
it and she understands what I put into it and
how much I love it. She just cares. She had
an unbelievable time at the Ryder Cup. She
wants to be involved. She just loves watching
me play. And if she was still cheering, I
would love watching her cheer.

How do you spend your downtime?
We come home and chill out for a few
days. Maybe check out a movie. I like
cars and I’m always intrigued by what’s
coming out, but I have somebody who
works on them. I’ve got season tickets to
the Cowboys and we’ll go to Mavs games
when they’re in town. I love looking at
homes, reading up on design.

Now that you’re getting hitched,
will you have to forfeit an
Entourage-like lifestyle?

[Laughs.] No. I was an only child. I
like my alone time. I don’t need a lot of
people around me, I just like chilling by
myself. We’re moving soon, a little closer
to Dallas, and we’re looking toward a future
with kids.

Last question. The sunglasses: Do
you wear them just to look cool, or
do they in fact help your game?

I’ve worn them playing since I was 12
years old. My dad wore them, so I wanted
to be like him. Now I have to have them. I
couldn’t walk outside without sunglasses
anymore. My eyes are too sensitive. But
it’s also something not many people wear
on the course. I can be creative and I
have a great partner in Sundog. It’s fun
to be different in that sense. Luckily with
technology you’ve got lenses that can help
you see the grass better on the greens.
Eventually maybe you’ll just push a button
and the sunglasses will tell you what
shot to hit [laughs].

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