Hawk's Nest: Mahan balancing fame, fortune, family

By John HawkinsAugust 25, 2014, 1:40 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – Hunter Mahan never totally lost his way, but after winning twice in six weeks and climbing to fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking during the spring of 2012, he managed not to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team that fall. Current skipper Tom Watson can only dream of such depth.

He spent much of 2013 making a lot of money, but not a lot of weekend noise – a pair of T-4s and a T-9 from the West Coast swing onward. Another winless regular season in 2014 left Mahan well removed from the Ryder Cup radar, but Sunday’s come-from-behind victory at The Barclays is about as positive a scenario as Watson and the Yanks could have hoped for.

Nobody’s going to come right out and say how weak this U.S. team is. Once the FedEx Cup playoffs started, the only way for it to get any better was if someone with Ryder Cup experience won a premium-field event, which just happened.

When I spoke at length with Mahan during the 2013 Travelers Championship, he looked and sounded like a guy who was burned out. The previous Sunday, he’d been paired with Mickelson in the final group at the U.S. Open and would finish four shots behind Justin Rose.

His wife was eight months pregnant with their first child, something he was very excited about, but it was fairly obvious the prospect of juggling fatherhood and a top-tier career was causing Mahan some anxiety. It was like a very laid-back dude woke up one morning and suddenly realized he wasn’t playing for fun anymore.

“I don’t think there were any focus issues,” Mahan’s longtime caddie, John Wood, said Sunday evening. “It was more of Hunter just figuring out a new way of life.”

As glamorous as the Tour life can be, more than a few players grow tired of the annual grind. When he was feeling old one afternoon, Fred Couples told me that once you’ve played TPC Las Colinas 60 or 70 times, the thrill of competition – and all the upsides of being one of the world’s best golfers – can become a bit harder to find.

Mahan is a thinker. Soft-spoken, but clearly introspective. His passion for playing in team events is something he has made clear to me on several occasions, and Watson would have to go out of his way not to pick him. I can’t imagine that happening.

HE BASICALLY HAD the practice green to himself about an hour before his tee time Saturday afternoon, just him and Fluff on another weekend in the mix. Many Tour pros would prefer not to be bothered at that point in their preparation for an important round. Their body language sends the message. After 20 years, you know how to read the vibe.

But Jim Furyk has also been around a long time. He knows it’s a big deal and all, but he’s fully aware that a few minutes of casual conversation with a familiar face isn’t going to lead to a higher score. After we exchanged pleasantries, I told him I’d be spending the afternoon on the course, kind of like a real fan, eschewing my inside-the-ropes access to take in the atmosphere of a New York-area sporting event.

Furyk seemed to know exactly what I was looking for. “You’ve gotta go to the fifth green,” he said without hesitation. “You’ll get plenty of stuff there.”

For all the fuss made about the intensity of fandom in the Big Apple, Saturday’s galleries at Ridgewood were as tame as the ones you’d expect in Topeka. Some of that had to do with timing. Friday afternoon golf crowds tend to be more boisterous, perhaps because of a surplus of adult beverages, while all the dials are turned up on Sunday, when a winner is crowned.

One thing about New Yorkers: they acknowledge excellence and are indifferent to mediocrity. At some Tour stops, they applaud if a player gets the ball airborne or after he taps in a six-inch putt for bogey. When Zach Johnson parked a wedge 12 feet below the pin at Ridgewood’s driveable, par-4 fifth, there was virtually no reaction.

When Matt Kuchar almost jarred his second shot from a similar distance less than a minute later, the crowd went nuts. And when Justin Rose, playing in the very next group, not only drove the green but came within eight inches of making a hole in-one, you’d have thought Derek Jeter homered in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Red Sox.

Pro golf doesn’t have civic allegiances. There is no home team to live and die for. Almost every player is warmly received, but the element of an emotional attachment doesn’t exist. Every fan has their favorites, of course, but only a handful of Tour pros inspire a tangible level of partisanship.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, obviously. John Daly for sure; Fred Couples to a certain extent; and despite persistent criticism of his bratty behavior, Bubba Watson has probably worked his way into the group. Bubba’s following at Ridgewood was twice the size of Rory McIlroy’s, evidence that dynamics are as important as deeds.

As I was preparing to leave Furyk to go about his business, he thought of another place on the grounds that captured the essence of New York. “Right over there,” he said, pointing to the area where patrons gather to collect autographs.

“Most places, it’s pretty orderly, the kids are polite. Here, the parents are almost pushing them at you. ‘Get in there, Johnny! Get him now!’ I think it’s fair to say we don’t get that everywhere.”

THE PGA TOUR lost one of its sharpest minds earlier this month when Joe Ogilvie announced his retirement from pro golf. Ogilvie, who turned 40 in April, is a Duke graduate with a degree in economics, which explains why he’s leaving the game to take a job in the financial industry.

He’s a good friend and an exceptionally valued source – Ogilvie is the only Tour pro whose wedding I attended. And while those with more successful playing careers have perfected the art of saying nothing, Ogilvie is incapable of not speaking his mind.

Those in my business who have gotten to know him over the years will attest to his vast knowledge of the Tour’s operating procedures (he’s a former policy board member) and willingness to question the empire in Ponte Vedra Beach. In a world where most of the smart guys forever toe the company line, Ogilvie was an iconoclast, an independent thinker with a bottomless well full of fresh ideas.

His lone victory came at the old Milwaukee Tour stop in 2007, but for a five-year stretch from 2004-08, Ogilvie surpassed $1 million in earnings every season. In recent years, he has received more attention as a possible successor to commissioner Tim Finchem than as a competitor, but Ogilvie never saw himself getting the job.

“I’m too critical of the operation,” he would tell me. As was almost always the case, the man had a point.

GOLF AND THE Olympics have always seemed like weird bedfellows, in my estimation. The “growth of the game” agenda has always served as a convenient reason for certain organizations to fatten their profit margins – the PGA Tour is supposed to be a sports league, not a moral compass.

Besides, international growth doesn’t seem like a realistic option in a game where exclusivity and cost remain two very obvious hurdles. Camp Ponte Vedra was the driving force behind golf’s debut in the 2016 Summer Games, ostensibly for its own long-term fiscal health – South America represents an untapped commodity in this decade just as China was in the last.

All that said, it was nice to hear Phil Mickelson reaffirm his desire to compete in the ’16 gathering last week at Ridgewood. “After the Ryder Cup, I’ll probably take the rest of the year off, work on my fitness and my golf game and really focus on 2015 because that’s when points start accumulating for the Olympics,” Lefty said.

“I don’t know why it’s important to me, but it is. I want to be a 46-year-old Olympian,” he added. “That’s pretty cool.” As regular readers of this column might know, a motivated Mickelson is a productive Mickelson. And a productive Mickelson is a huge asset to our game, regardless of which continent he’s playing in.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

Getty Images

Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."