Tait: Hunter Mahan globetrots for golf

Hunter Mahan is playing this week in Qatar and will fly back to California next week to play at Pebble Beach.

Hunter Mahan is playing this week in Qatar and will fly back to California next week to play at Pebble Beach.

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DOHA, Qatar – American Hunter Mahan didn’t really know what time zone he was in. No wonder. He was 11 hours ahead of where he should have been. He’d just flown 8,385 miles and spent 17 1/2 hours in the air just for a game of golf.

Mahan tied for sixth in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines last week, then jumped on a plane in San Diego and spent nearly 12 hours flying 5,500 miles to London. After a five-hour layover, he boarded a flight to Doha and sat for another 6 1/2 hours on a 3,232-mile trip to Qatar’s capital city for the $2.5 million Commercialbank Qatar Masters.

And here’s the rub: Mahan will do the same in reverse just to get back to California for next week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He could have been forgiven for taking next week off, but Mahan finished second at Pebble last year. No wonder he wants to get back to happy hunting grounds.

“This is really my first experience of playing outside the PGA Tour,” Mahan said. “It’s something I wanted to do, and the right opportunity came about.

“I’ve heard great things about playing in Qatar from fellow players, so this was a good fit really to kind of test my game abroad.”

Don’t expect Mahan to play more European Tour events, though. Qatar probably will be a one-off.

“It’s going to be difficult because the PGA Tour is my tour. I don’t have any plans in the near future to join the European Tour and play two tours.

“I’m pretty impressed with how guys like Luke Donald do it. I’m impressed with how well they play overseas. I think part of the game now is to travel. It benefits players to travel a little bit and kind of see the world and some new golf. It’s pretty exciting.”

Especially exciting when that big, fat appearance fee from Commercialbank and the Qatari government is deposited into Mahan’s bank account. That’s the real incentive that has dragged the former Oklahoma State player through 12 times zones to Doha.

How much Mahan is being paid is a matter of conjecture, with estimates in the $200,000-$300,000 range. He’s not the first American to take money from the Qatari government, and the oil-and-gas-rich state has plenty of if. Steve Stricker left his comfort zone last year pick to up a heap of Qatari riyals.

And who can blame Mahan. After all, European players such as Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell aren’t in Qatar because they love the city of Doha. They’re here for the same reason: money.

The difference between Mahan and the Euros is that Qatar is part of the European circuit. It’s part of the desert swing of Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai. It makes sense for them to play the Middle East tournaments before they head to the United States to start their PGA Tour seasons.

Besides, the Europeans are used to globetrotting. Mahan isn’t. There’s a danger that he might not be giving himself the best start to his 2012 campaign.

“I don’t see that being a problem,” Mahan said.

Let’s hope not. Let’s hope Mahan isn’t burnt out when the Masters rolls around. Otherwise, his Qatari experience might turn out to be a very bad investment.

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