NEWPORT, Wales — Corey Pavin has a dream. It’s to see 50,000 spectators at Celtic Manor on Friday morning but hear nothing. No chanting. No “ole, ole, ole.” Only silence.
To achieve that, he knows his team will have to get off to a flyer and post red on the leaderboard early. But Pavin’s dream could turn into a nightmare if Hunter Mahan’s wishes come true. The 28-year-old speaks softly and hides behind his wraparound shades, but this shy, mild-mannered Californian is a gunslinger. Think David Duval meets Dirty Harry.
And Mahan likes noise. Lots of it. And not just cheers from U.S. fans, either. This Ryder Cup could get rowdy. A little too rowdy for his captain’s liking, but just right for Mahan.
“I love that edgy atmosphere with the spectators almost being like a football crowd,” said Mahan, who was 2-0-3 in his Ryder Cup debut in 2008. “You know, you almost want the crowd to boo us.”
Mahan has a reputation as a hustler on tour, too, playing money games to relieve the boredom of five-hour practice rounds. And he’s not afraid to bring his hardball attitude into competition.
“In certain situations, it’s fun to trash-talk,” he said. “Sometimes I wish I was good at basketball because that sport is so one-on-one. You just look at the guy in front of you and work out how to beat him. I love that it’s mano-a-mano. That’s why it’s great when we play match play. I love it. I wish we would play more.”
Pavin nearly fell off his chair when he heard. “There’s no place for booing,” he said quickly. Mind you, Pavin is not averse to courting a spot of Cup controversy himself. Remember the Desert Storm camouflage caps at Kiawah Island in 1991? That was Pavin’s idea, on his debut. So maybe Pavin sees a little of himself in the feisty Mahan. Maybe he is secretly pleased he has someone on his team who could irritate the Europeans.
Maybe Mahan is this year’s Anthony Kim, who got under Sergio Garcia’s skin at Valhalla in 2008 while thumping the Spaniard in their singles match.
This is not the first time Mahan has been outspoken. Before the 2008 Cup in Louisville, Mahan dumped on the Ryder Cup even though he’d never played in it.
“The whole week is extremely long,” he told GOLF magazine. “You’ve got dinners every night — big dinners. You’re just a slave that week. At some point the players might say, ‘We’re not doing this any more.’ From what I’ve heard, the Ryder Cup just isn’t fun.”
But when Paul Azinger picked him as a wild card, Mahan saw the light. He was one the stars of the victorious U.S. team, playing all five matches and winning three-and-a-half points in an undefeated debut.
“I love the Ryder Cup,” he says now. “It’s incredible. The history. The passion. The energy. I’ve been to great sporting events like the Super Bowl, but there’s nothing cooler than the Ryder Cup.”
Mahan was intent on playing his way onto the team this time. He did so with two victories on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Only Masters champion Phil Mickelson finished ahead of him on the qualifying points list.
“I’m proud that I’ve been able to do it,” he said. “It definitely felt odd being a captain’s pick. You want to play well to let everybody know you weren’t a bad pick. I wanted to make the team this time so bad.”
Mahan is often labeled a loner and admits that maybe he is.
“I’m happy in my own company,” he said. “I don’t always need to have a bunch of people around me.”
Doesn’t sound much like the ideal DNA required to make a great Ryder Cup team player. But the bigger the stage, the more Mahan loves it, and the louder the crowd, the more he is inspired.
“To get on the Ryder Cup team is crazy,” he said. “I used to watch it on TV, and now to be a part of it is amazing. The fans are going to be crazy, and they are obviously going to be cheering hard for Europe, and you should use that and have fun with it. It’s not personal out there. It’s not like they really dislike you. It’s not life or death. It’s just golf.”
Mahan might just change his mind if the home fans really do start to boo him. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.