New dad Mahan hopes to keep feel-good story going

By Jason SobelAugust 6, 2013, 4:48 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Already looking comfortable and confident, Hunter Mahan is asked about his strategy. After all, everyone has a different way of approaching things in an attempt to keep a clean sheet. He thinks about it for a few seconds, then reveals what’s been working for him.

“You can't be afraid,” he says. “You've got to be aggressive.'

Is this his blueprint for playing Oak Hill Country Club this week?

Nope. It’s his theory on diaper changing.

Over the past few months, the sporting landscape has been littered with tales of suspensions from performance enhancing drugs. Rumors of college athletes receiving illicit payments. Even allegations of homicides. The back page has become a police blotter.

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“I think people were just ready for a great story in sports,” suggests Mahan.

He’s right, of course.

While Mahan didn’t wipe the sports ledger clear of those unsavory narratives, for at least one day he offered hope to all fans who had lost it. For one day, he showed us there is more to athletes than money, power and greed.

You know the story by now: Leading the RBC Canadian Open entering the third round, he was on the practice range when he got a call that his wife, Kandi, had prematurely gone into labor back in Dallas. He didn’t hesitate. Mahan promptly withdrew from the tournament and flew home, easily arriving in time to see the birth of the couple’s first daughter, Zoe Olivia.

In a sport where withdrawals barely make a blip in the daily agate, Mahan’s decision raised eyebrows and drew applause. He was universally lauded for choosing family over career, garnering so much attention for it that he, wife and baby even made appearances on “Good Morning America” and “SportsCenter.”

“The feedback's been incredible,” he says. “Obviously the attention that's surrounded it has been unbelievable, as well, very unexpected. But the feedback's been 100 percent great. I think everyone can kind of relate.

“I haven't met anyone who has said I made the wrong decision. I went on Twitter just a little bit kind of after everything to see what the response would be, because usually [on] 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 away.’ But I didn't see that. Maybe I didn't look far enough down.”

This week, he’ll play his first competitive tournament as a father after skipping last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He isn’t just an honorary hopeful here at the PGA Championship, either. Mahan has played in the final pairing in each of the last two majors, though a pair of sullen Sunday afternoons left him in a share of fourth place at the U.S. Open and ninth at the Open Championship.

Even so, he views the experiences as more positive than negative.

“It's been very encouraging to be in the final group in a major,” he believes. “You're in the last group out there, and you get to see what everybody else does. You can see why Tiger and why those guys want to be in the last group. I feel like it's somewhat calming in a way, or at least that's what I felt, because you know kind of what everyone is doing and you get a sense of everything.”

If there’s a major championship venue built for Mahan’s game, it just might be this one. Oak Hill will require players to bash long, straight drives, which suits him just fine. With an average distance of 291.1 yards and an accuracy percentage of 66.34, he ranks ninth on the PGA Tour in the total driving category.

“I think I can use my driver as an advantage to get up there further, to put the ball in play,” he explains. “The greens are small. If I can give myself wedges and 9-irons where other guys are hitting 7s and 8s, that’s an advantage for me.”

There’s no doubt Mahan gained more fans with his now-famous decision of two weeks ago. Fathers who understand that being a parent takes priority. Mothers who know how important that support can be. Children who don’t take such sacrifices for granted.

Anyone, really, who in the dark cloud of the sporting landscape witnessed a sliver of silver lining in the feel-good story that Mahan produced.

They’ll be rooting for that story to continue this week at the PGA, rooting for Mahan to finally overcome his final-round struggles in a major and bring home the Wanamaker Trophy to Kandi and Zoe Olivia.

“He kissed Zoe a hundred times before he left,” Kandi says. “Of course we miss him so much, but I send pictures and videos all day and we will be cheering him on come Thursday.”

Not that Mahan did any of this for the fanfare or the adulation or the attention.

He did it for his family. He did it because it was the right thing to do.

“I wouldn't change it for the world,” he says. “It was a great experience.”

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.