New dad Hunter Mahan ready to resume major chase
By Stan Awtrey, PGA.com Contributor
Rochester, N.Y. -- Hunter Mahan may not win the PGA Championship this week, but he's the leader in the clubhouse in the race for Father of the Year.
Mahan was all smiles and sounded like a typically excited first-time father on Tuesday when he talked about his decision to walk away from the 36-hole lead at the Canadian Open so he could be present at the birth of his first child.
"Usually Twitter, they tell me how much I suck all the time and how dumb I am, so I figured somebody would say, 'You're an idiot, you didn't know what you're doing, you can't throw it away,'" Mahan said Tuesday during his news conference at Oak Hill. "But I didn't see that. It's been pretty much a consensus of people saying I did the right thing."
All the excitement happened two weeks ago. Mahan had opened with rounds of 67 and 64 and led the Canadian Open by two shots. He was warming up on the range at Glen Abbey when his agent, Chris Armstrong, approached him with the long-awaited news. Kandi Mahan had called several times to say her water had broken and the baby was on the way.
That's when Mahan turned into his own travel agent. He began looking for the fastest way to get back home to Dallas, finally hitching a ride on a buddy's corporate jet that got him home around 6:30 PM. By 7:15 he was by Kandi's bedside, where he remained until Zoe Olivia Mahan was born at 3:25 PM.
"If felt like 30 minutes when it was said and done," he said. "It was a wild day. But you know, I wouldn't change it for the world, so it was a great experience."
Mahan withdrew from last week's WGC Bridgestone Invitational to stay home with the family. He had more important things to do. There was a baby to hold, clean and feed.
"Staying home last week, really just cherishing that time and being with Kandi and Zoe and my parents were there ... It was a great time," Mahan said. "I really soaked it in and appreciated it and used it wisely."
Mahan must now learn how to juggle family and career. He's spoken to Justin Leonard, Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar, to get some ideas about mixing fatherhood and professional golf. The process that once seemed intimidating, now seems quite natural -- even the part about leaving home to continue his career.
"I felt like I got that out of my system to where I can come back and be focused and play," Mahan said. "I knew if I tried to maybe force it and play last week, I would have wanted to be in two places at once and just wouldn't have worked out. But I felt prepared to leave them and I felt prepared to be here."
This week any separation anxiety will be eased by the videos and photos that he receives electronically from Kandi.
So now he's at Oak Hill for the PGA Championship, trying to win his first major title. Mahan has had opportunities this year. He was in the final pairing at the U.S. Open and the British Open, but couldn't close the deal. (He did get an earful on Twitter both times that happened.) He wound up tied for fourth at Merion and tied for ninth at Muirfield. At age 31, he's in the same demographic as recent first-time major winners Adam Scott and Justin Rose, who were both 32.
Mahan said he's excited about his chances at Oak Hill. He referred to it as a "ball-striker's place" with small greens that are receptive to good shots.
"There are a lot of ways to play this golf course, but good iron play is going to be huge, because you've got to know how far you're hitting it," he said. "You can make a lot of good swings out here and just make bogeys and doubles pretty easily. So if I can do that, which I feel good about, I think I'll have a chance on Sunday."
And a Wanamaker Trophy might look pretty good sitting next to Zoe's crib.