Hunter Mahan will be embraced.
At the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children event in Las Vegas in two weeks, where he is scheduled to make his first appearance in a tournament since the Americans lost the Ryder Cup, he will get a quick sense of all the new fans he won over in his loss. The encouragement's coming. You can be sure of it.
Mahan will feel the same enormous new support that Dustin Johnson felt in the wake of Johnson’s PGA Championship loss this summer, when galleries at the BMW Championship adopted Johnson and rooted for his rebound there. Mahan's going to feel that new kind of love, too.
For so long, we believed the Americans didn’t care as much as the Europeans about the Ryder Cup.
Mahan is proof that’s no longer true, and maybe never was as true as we believed.
In time, Mahan will be remembered as much as the face of how passionately Americans care about the Ryder Cup as he will for losing the anchor match to Graeme McDowell, for chunking a chip at the final hole
in the final act. The pain Mahan showed in the news conference after Monday’s loss touched golf fans around the world. His tears were proof this American team cared so much it hurt.
Americans loved that, even in the loss. Europeans loved it, too, and respected it, even in their festive celebration after.
You get a sense of that on Mahan’s website and on his Facebook page in the hours after the loss.
We cry when you cry . . .
I am an Englishman, but I have total respect and admiration for you . . .
You’ll live to fight another day . . .
Your valiant effort to battle back and make this a most memorable Ryder Cup will not be forgotten . . .
I feel sorry for the European players you will face in future Ryder Cups . . .
Thanks for the courage to be the last man standing . . .
There are pages and pages of comments just like these on the wall of Mahan’s Facebook page.
Mahan saluted fans for their encouragement in a message on his website, www.mahangolf.com:
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the fans who have been so supportive of me and the rest of the team through my website, Facebook, Twitter, text, email, etc. Your support means a lot to me. While I’m clearly disappointed that we did not win this year’s Ryder Cup, the experience was extremely valuable and one I’ll learn a lot from. I’m already looking forward to winning back the cup when the event returns to the US at Medinah Country Club in 2012!
That Mahan’s returning to action so quickly at the Timberlake event in two weeks is a good thing.
It can’t hurt to feel the boost golf fans can give him sooner rather than later, because the added whammy to his heartache is that it comes with the PGA Tour season’s biggest events already over. There’s an entire offseason he could dwell on the Ryder Cup loss. According to his management team, the week after Timberlake’s event, he’s scheduled to head overseas for the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. In December, he’s planning to play the Chevron World Challenge.
There’s another larger event after these that trumps the golf, a life-changing event. Mahan’s getting married in January outside Dallas.
In the wake of the Ryder Cup loss, Mahan’s American teammates set the tone for what we can expect from fans when Mahan returns to play.
“If you go up and down the line of the Tour players in Europe and U.S. and asked them if you would like to be the last guy to decide the Ryder Cup, probably less than half would say they would like to be that guy, and probably less than 10 percent of them would mean it,” Stewart Cink said. “Hunter Mahan put himself in that position today. He was a man on our team, to put himself in that position.”
Cink’s response got applause from the rest of his teammates.
Jim Furyk also drew applause when he spoke of Mahan’s pain in the end.
“We know what it means to us,” Furyk said of the Ryder Cup. “Whatever you all thought in the past, whatever you've all written in the past, it's your observations, the way you feel. But that judgment . . . we know what it means. I'm glad maybe finally you've all figured it out.”
Mahan made the strongest case in the pain he felt, and he’ll be embraced, even in his loss, for making the Ryder Cup matter even more.