PLANO, Texas – A week removed from a T-12 finish at the Masters, Hunter Mahan stood on a corner of the range at Gleneagles Country Club and opened a junior golf clinic with this statement: “I haven’t hit balls in a few days, so I don’t know where it’s going to go.”
But as Mahan was introduced to an assembled gallery of junior players, parents and tournament officials to kick off the weekend’s AJGA Under Armour/Hunter Mahan Championship, he hit crisp irons and joked with the emcee about the stats he has compiled so far in 2012. Yes, he’s the only PGA Tour player with two victories this season. Yes, he’s No. 2 on the FedEx Cup points list and, yes, he’s No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking. By the end of the afternoon, the gallery was calling out specialty shots.
Under Armour/Hunter Mahan Championship
Gleneagles CC, Plano, Texas
Par 72, April 14-15
Can you hit the Bubba shot? Show them a knock-down. Driver off the deck.
Sandwiched by the swing demo was an intense question-and-answer session with Mahan that covered seemingly every topic, from fitness to his work with a sports psychologist to the Golf Boys video in which Mahan co-starred with Masters champ Watson, Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane. Don’t expect a part deux, Mahan explained, and also don’t be too quick to pin the idea for the music video on Mahan. That, he explains, was all Crane (already famous for his series of golf work-out spoofs on YouTube), which prompted one member of the gallery to ask if they worked out together.
“No, we do not work out together,” Mahan said. “That would be embarrassing.”
This weekend marks the fourth time that Mahan has hosted an event on the AJGA schedule, and he references a PGA Tour idol from his junior golf days when he talks about the appearance. That would be Justin Leonard, and Mahan hopes to do for this generation what Leonard did for Mahan’s.
“I was in awe of him, and to come back here and do the same thing that he did for the kids that I’m doing for them, it’s really surreal to think that I’m in that position,” Mahan said. “I’ll try to be a good role model and give them any advice that I can. ”
For Katharine Patrick of Houston, seeing a Tour player come back to his AJGA roots is especially meaningful. As a local, she pointed out another bond.
“This was really awesome, because he had just won the Shell Houston Open, and I was there to see it,” said Patrick, 14.
Part of the week’s theme is college golf, and the tournament layout supports that. It’s the only one on the AJGA schedule that features 36 holes on Day 1, which mirrors the popular college format. For his part, Mahan spent considerable time talking about his time at Oklahoma State. When asked for his back-up plan to professional golf, Mahan paused thoughtfully. There wasn’t one. Would he recommend that line of thought?
“I recommend doing what you love, and doing it as long as you can,” he said.
And for that, the crowd was silent.
Five players to watch
The defending champion: Branson Davis. The 17-year-old won this event after two holes of sudden death in 2011, and has had one other AJGA win since, which happened to be at last week’s Goodman Networks Junior at Traditions. He’ll join the Georgia roster in the fall of 2013.
Another one on a run: Sierra Sims. The Austin native also is coming off a win at last week’s Goodman Networks Junior, her second career AJGA victory but her first in the past 2 1/2 years. Sims gave herself a huge advantage with an opening-round 67 in that event, and also shot a second-round 67 at the AJGA Annika, proving she can go low.
The Junior Solheim Cupper: Summar Roachell. The Arkansas commit had a stunning summer, what with a trip to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Girls’ Junior and a captain’s pick for the U.S. Junior Solheim Cup team. She has to be digging out memories this week of finishing runner-up at last year’s Hunter Mahan Championship.
The kid brother: Michael Werenski. Except at 17, he’s not such a kid anymore. Werenski’s older brother Richard plays for Georgia Tech, and highlighted his junior career with three top 10s in AJGA invitationals. Michael, also known as Mickey, has won three IJGT titles in the past two years, but has yet to score an AJGA victory.
The Texans: There are 32 of them in the 72-player field (20 boys, 12 girls), and local knowledge might come in handy around Gleneagles if a howling Texas wind picks up.