Balancing golf and fatherhood might take some time for Hunter Mahan to get used to.
Mahan was leading the U.S. PGA Tour’s Canadian Open two weeks ago when he withdrew to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. He is five shots off the lead at the PGA Championship after an even-par 70 yesterday, his first round since becoming a dad.
The 31-year-old Californian bogeyed two of his final four holes and trails co-leaders Jim Furyk and Adam Scott by five shots at Oak Hill Country Club, outside Rochester, New York.
“I didn’t hit it very good,” Mahan told reporters. “Drove it terrible. Not what you’re going to need to play this course well.”
Mahan missed the cut at last year’s PGA at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, and never has finished higher than 16th in golf’s final major of the season. He began his opening round with birdies on his third and fourth holes to reach 2 under. After a bogey three holes later, Mahan, who began play on the course’s 10th hole, birdied the par-5 fourth to pull within one shot of the early lead.
Two closing bogeys quickly dropped him back.
His play was far different than two weeks ago at Ontario’s Glen Abbey Golf Club. There, Mahan held a two-shot lead heading into the third round when his wife, who wasn’t due to give birth for at least three more weeks, called to tell him she had gone into labor. Mahan withdrew from the event about 45 minutes before he was scheduled to tee off and flew to a Dallas-area hospital in time to witness the birth of Zoe Olivia Mahan.
His decision to skip the chance at the tournament’s $1 million winner’s check drew praise on and off the golf course.
“People are just ready for a great story in sports,” Mahan said in a pre-tournament news conference at Oak Hill. “The feedback’s been incredible. It’s just been awesome. I think everyone can kind of relate. Everyone knows someone who has given birth or had a child and I think everyone knows how special it is.”
Coming into the PGA, Mahan had played in the final group at this year’s U.S. Open, where he finished fourth, and British Open, where he finished ninth. With five career PGA Tour wins, the decision to leave the Canadian course wasn’t difficult for Mahan, said Sean Foley, his coach.
“He’ll be a better golfer for it,” Foley said in an interview as Mahan played Oak Hill’s eighth hole yesterday.
Foley, who also coaches top-ranked Tiger Woods and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose of England, has Chinese Kanji characters for compassion, empathy, gratitude and love tattooed on the inside of his right wrist. The symbols, he said, are part of a philosophy he tries to impart to his players.
Mahan is a good student, Foley said.
“He has just recognized what real purpose is,” the coach said. “He changes diapers and everything. He sends me five pictures a day of the baby. He gets it. He’d probably rather be back at home right now, to be honest with you.”