Winning a golf tournament. Helping deliver your own child.
I’ve done each once in life, 15 years apart. And, I can assure you that winning the Junior Club Championship at Bay Hills (not Bay Hill) has nowhere near the place in my heart as my beautiful son.
No one will fault Hunter Mahan for ditching the weekend at the RBC Canadian Open.
With a two-shot lead and a spot in the final group on Saturday afternoon, Mahan’s plans changed rather abruptly when, before his tee time, wife Kandi called Glen Abbey G.C. to tell him she was in labor. The former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader was going to deliver the couple’s first child soon.
Channeling Phil Mickelson at the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst — sans beeper, of course — Mahan promptly withdrew from the tournament to fly home to Dallas for the delivery.
A little over 13 hours later, daughter Zoe would arrive, some three weeks early. Weighing in at just 5 lbs. 11 oz., Zoe is truly a little bundle of joy.
Mahan had no idea that phone call was coming. Premature births happen all the time, but it’s not hard to the 31-year-old’s surprise when agent Chris Armstrong hurriedly approached Mahan on the driving range to apprise him of the situation.
Fortunately, Mahan has the means to respond in a way probably every person on Earth would want to — be there, in the delivery room, for the life-changing moment.
Yeah, the Oklahoma State product was giving up on the strong prospect of a sixth PGA Tour win and the $936,000 million first-place prize, but he’s already bagged $2.4 million this season and $24 million in his career. He’s in good shape financially.
The implications for the Mahans’ joint checking account are not what make this story so interesting. Rather, it’s that his forebears built a PGA Tour where shunning seven-figure paydays for a hospital bill is even a viable option.
For various reasons, several of golf’s most prolific champions from a bygone era never even had a child. Ben Hogan never had kids. Robbed of the chance to have offspring because of childhood typhoid, Byron Nelson wasn’t a dad.
Touring professionals had to sacrifice a lot to chase their dreams.
Money was sparse and hardly ever guaranteed. Earning enough money to live comfortably took priority over stuffing a college fund.
A road trip was just that. The era of affordable aviation wasn’t yet at hand, much less mobile phones. Dropping everything to fly home for a birth, or the start of the nine-month journey for that matter, was not a simple proposition.
Then again, Billy Casper had 11 kids, having adopted a half-dozen of them. He found a way.
Though Arnold Palmer had two daughters, Jack Nicklaus was a shining example of a man who could balance the weight of fatherhood and being golf’s greatest name.
In total, Nicklaus had one less kid than green jackets won — a 6-5 margin.
Nicklaus was there for the birth of his first child, son Jackie. He left the golf course, like Mahan, in Columbus to greet him. But Nicklaus wasn’t in the delivery room.
When a nurse brought out Jackie for the Golden Bear to see, he dropped like he had been hit with a tranquilizer dart. Nicklaus had fainted, needing to be awoken with smelling salts.
He did the exact same thing with children Nos. 2 and 3 — faint, that is.
This generation’s two greatest players have bigger-than-average families.
Despite his chronic infidelity and now-fractured marriage, Tiger Woods and ex-wife Elin Nordegren produced two beautiful children. Woods makes it very clear that his children are his priority, even above passing Nicklaus, though he has a better chance to do that in majors than children birthed.
Phil Mickelson and wife Amy have three kids who travel the world with them. Mickelson’s seven-figure-fueled appearances at some international events double as learning excursions for the Mickelson family.
Ernie Els has two children. Son Ben, born in 2002, is autistic — a fact that depressed Els for years. But Ben is Els’ inspiration, driving the South African to raise copious amounts of money to help families raise children who face autism. Major wins or major impact? Els made the right choice.
So did Mahan. He and Kandi now have a long journey ahead of them. There will probably be some sleepless nights — induced both by Zoe’s crying and the sheer anxiety of fatherhood.
It’s a long journey that goes by quickly, so being there for the start of it is the greatest prize Mahan could have won this season.
The last group of a major on Sunday pales in comparison to the first group photo as a new family.