LAS VEGAS – Only a short time had passed since the shock had crashed down and seemingly all had put their embrace upon him.
One by one, 11 teammates told him how much they thought of him, and so did the captain and his assistants. And when finally he thought he had escaped to the quiet of another room, a couple of the wives found him and applied tearful hugs.
So many tears had fallen around him that it appeared as if River Usk were flowing through the American team room at Celtic Manor.
“Finally, I said, ‘Leave him alone. He’s heard enough,’ ” Davis Love III said. “I mean, it’s like when a family member dies. You can only hear people tell you how sorry they are for so many times.”
In other words, Love was suggesting people allow Hunter Mahan to get on with the business of being Hunter Mahan.
That that business took Mahan to Sin City had twists to it. Usually, this town is about people down on their luck, but Mahan is at the other end of the spectrum – and shame on you for thinking otherwise.
But you say he was on the short end of a match that decided Europe’s victory in the Ryder Cup? Well, guess what? He’s over it and has been, well, since when?
“It was over with the handshake,” Mahan said of his match with Graeme McDowell. “It was done.”
At least in his mind it was, though as Mahan prepared to play in his first tournament since that Ryder Cup, he patiently stopped and talked with media folks who don’t quite share his sentiment. Thus did he prepare for the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open by rehashing the Ryder Cup, specifically that 12th and final singles match that tipped the scoreboard in Europe’s favor.
First up, he’s fine.
“No question, it was one of the great experiences a golfer can ever have,” Mahan said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a position like that again. There are a lot of good things from that week. Nothing bad came out of it.”
OK, let’s massage that a bit. Some things bug him. For one, people want to compare Mahan to Bernhard Langer at Kiawah Island in 1991. Are you kidding? That’s kiwi to watermelons.
“I’ve heard that,” Mahan said, shaking his head. “No way. Bernhard was standing over a putt to win the cup. I can’t imagine that.”
Which brings us to this: Over time, people are likely to blur the complexion of that day and that final singles match. What ended as a 3-and-1 win for McDowell does not do Mahan justice.
“He played great,’’ said Mahan’s caddie, John Wood. “He just couldn’t get a putt to drop. If we played it again and you tell me he’s going to play like that, I’d take it and like our chances.”
After 14 consecutive pars, Mahan was 2 down. Then, his first birdie. One down.
“I’ll never forget the scene on 16, just looking down at the green and seeing a flood of people,” Mahan said.
What followed is out of focus, because McDowell’s gut-check of a birdie at 16 put him 2 up, then Mahan made his only bogey of the day at the next hole to end things. “Seventeen,” he said, “is a blur to me.”
Pushed and tugged in every direction – team room, closing ceremonies, media center – Mahan barely could catch his breath, let alone check his emotions. So, when a reporter addressed Mahan, he thought he was ready. He obviously wasn’t. Words didn’t emerge. Tears did.
“I didn’t think I’d have the emotions like I did,” he said. “I wanted to answer the questions. I didn’t want to hide or anything . . . but I just couldn’t do it.”
What followed was consummate teamwork. Phil Mickelson stepped in, then Stewart Cink and Steve Stricker, until finally Jim Furyk admonished those who questioned American pride.
Ask about the match, and Mahan is fine. Ask about friends rushing to his aid, and he chokes up. “That means the most,” he said. “It will linger forever.”
Months before the Ryder Cup, Ping had enlisted Mahan to appear Oct. 9 at Karsten Creek at his alma mater, Oklahoma State. It was the annual Ping Invitational, a heralded AJGA event, and 72 players and their parents would be there, only five days after the Ryder Cup ended. It couldn’t have been easy, but it was vintage Mahan, for he never wavered.
“He spent 31⁄2 hours with the kids,” said Chance Cozby of Ping. “We had asked all the kids to list questions for Hunter, and we had a lot of questions.”
A lot of people have, and Mahan has done his best to answer all concerns.
Interestingly, he said he had wanted to go out first that singles session, and when he was slotted 12th, “I was surprised. I hadn’t played my own ball (he had played two alternate-shot matches), and I hadn’t seen the golf course as much as everyone else,” Mahan said.
But he certainly accepted the anchor position and insists he is not unhappy with how he played. He gives McDowell all the credit and concedes he is concerned that some will assign him blame.
“Hopefully, people will realize
it’s not like I choked,” Mahan said. “Graeme stepped up.”
In so many ways that are more important, so, too, did Mahan.