PARAMUS, N.J. – Hunter Mahan understands there’s a stigma about him being named to United States teams.
On three separate occasions – once for the Ryder Cup, twice for the Presidents Cup – Mahan finished just outside the final automatic qualifying position on the points list, but was named to the roster as a captain’s pick.
He also understands that being named to a team is much better than not making it at all.
With nine players having already qualified for this year’s U.S. team, Mahan’s only option now is to impress Tom Watson over the next two weeks in hopes of receiving one of the captain’s three wildcard selections on Sept. 2.
An opening-round 5-under 66 at The Barclays on Thursday is certainly a step in the right direction.
“It will be a bonus right now to make the Ryder Cup team,” Mahan said after a six-birdie, one-bogey performance. “So I have nothing to be nervous about or get out there and doubt myself. I have to trust myself, because everything I'm doing is good and everything else will kind of take care of itself.”
Mahan has seen his share of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to the Ryder Cup in recent years.
Back in 2008, he was part of the last winning U.S. team, posting an undefeated record. In 2010, his duffed chip in the decisive singles match against Graeme McDowell led to tears in the aftermath. And two years ago, he was on the short list of potential captain’s picks, only to be left off the roster.
“There's nothing like playing a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, a team event like that,” he explained. “I mean, it really has taken a life of its own since [Paul] Azinger became captain [in 2008] and made the crowd a part of the event. I think he was the first one to really do that and since then everyone uses the crowd to their advantage because it is an advantage, 100 percent.
“It's such a unique, special event to be a part of and every player wants to be a part of one. But once you have been, you want to get there almost even more than guys who haven't just because you know what you're experiencing and you know what you're missing.”
If he’s going to remain in consideration, this is a perfect week to state his case.
Mahan owns the course record at Ridgewood Country Club – a 62 that came six years ago. He also tends to heat up this time of year. He is the only player to have competed in all 29 events in the FedEx Cup playoffs and one of just three to play in the Tour Championship each year since its inception.
He’ll also offer some intangibles as his rationale for why he thinks he’d be a valuable member of this year’s team.
“I’ve got a pretty good record – pretty good singles, teams and stuff,” he said. “I think I'm pretty easy to get along with and get along with a lot of different guys.”
It’s out of his hands now. All Mahan can do is play as well as he can over these next two weeks, and hope Watson is keeping a close eye on him.
As for whether he might add to that stigma of always being a captain’s pick soon, he just smiled and said, “You never know…”