By Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
KOHLER, Wis. -- Hunter Mahan likes the idea of being included in any conversation that revolves around identifying the next great young American golfer.
Mahan is on a short list of accomplished candidates, along with Anthony Kim, Dustin Johnson and Sean O'Hair, who also land in the under-30 demographic that is receiving a lot of attention this week at the 92nd PGA Championship.
The spotlight is brighter this week for Mahan, who is coming off an impressive victory at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. That win, the third of his career, clinched his spot on the Ryder Cup team and boosted him to No. 12 in the Official World Golf Rankings. The only player younger than Mahan, 28, in the rankings is 21-year-old Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland at No. 8.
"I think the next goal for a really young American is winning a major," Mahan said. "That's probably goes for the young Europeans, as well. That's everyone's goal to win a major because it really solidifies yourself of your greatness in this sport."
Mahan admitted he feels pushed by O'Hair and Johnson, who also have three victories apiece, and Kim, who has won twice. He said the competition between the younger players is felt, even though it may not be verbalized.
"I don't want them having more wins than I have," Mahan said, somewhat jokingly. "I think that's a great thing. That's going to push all of us to be better and do great things. I think we're all capable of doing a lot of great things in this game and I think we already are. So it's pretty neat."
Much has been expected of Mahan since he became the nation's No. 1-ranked amateur in 2003 and made the decision to become a professional. He joined the PGA TOUR in 2004 and won for the first time in 2007. He was chosen for the 2008 Ryder Cup and the 2009 Presidents Cup, and said he was pleased at securing his place on this year's Ryder Cup team that will compete in Wales.
"Sometimes you don't know what you're missing, but I know what I'm missing if I didn't make the team,” he said. “So that's what I was really striving for the last few months and working really hard on getting my game to where it was, kind of, last week.
"It feels great and it's one less thing to worry about in a sense because you're playing for FedExcup position, you're playing for Ryder Cup position – you're playing for a lot,” he aded. “Now I feel I can just come out here and just worry about playing golf and playing well and playing well at a tough place and at a major."
Mahan has no competitive experience at Whistling Straits; he didn't qualify the last time the PGA Championship was held here in 2004. This is the fifth time he's earned a place in the PGA Championship field; he missed the cut in 2005 and 2008, tied for 18th in 2007 at Southern Hills and tied for 16th in 2009 at Hazeltine National. His confidence has never been higher entering this week and he isn't concerned about the odds against the possibility of winning back-to-back.
"I feel good about my game," he said. "I feel good about what I'm doing. I know what I need to do to play well and to play well for four days. There's no rule that you can't keep winning. So I feel great about my position and what I can do this week."