This week marks the return of the RBC Canadian Open to Glen Abbey Golf Club after a year of polishing up our French in Montreal. As is the case in a land underrated for its golf passion, the tournament is full of local and (inter)national storylines.
The one I am most interested in is Hunter Mahan.
The man currently loitering at 71st in FedEx Cup points returns to the place where his life changed, for the better, two years ago. At 13 under and in virtual command of the tournament, Mahan disappeared from the course in a flash upon learning his wife, Kandi, was in labor. It completely changed the complexion of the weekend.
Why is Hunter Mahan my man to watch this week? I want to see what the positive
memories of the week inspire from his play. I believe in karma. Him leaving was the right decision, but it cost him a possible tournament title. Now is the chance for the golfing gods to repay him.
As he reflected ahead of the tournament, “I had a ton of people after that [who] were, I guess, proud of the decision that I made and thought I was a stand-up guy and stuff like that.”
As a young father, I was one of those who stood proud that day. This year allows us to relive the story, the madness of that Saturday disappearing act, and shine a light on the fatherhood of the PGA Tour, something I wrote about two years ago and never had the chance to publish.
July 30, 2013 - Zoe Olivia Mahan is going to get a really nice baby gift from Brandt Snedeker. He said as much after capturing the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday, a tournament Hunter Mahan was leading on Saturday before withdrawing upon learning his wife was in labor. But, years from now, when Zoe is old enough to read back through the stories surrounding her birth on July 28, 2013, hopefully she recognizes the gift her father gave her: being there.
What began as a quick-shock story surrounding the leader of a golf tournament exploded into viral conversation on morality, priorities and family. It seemed as if everybody was waiting for there to be controversy. The funny thing was, there wasn’t.
“That is obviously a way more important thing than a golf tournament,” Snedeker reflected after his victory. “I missed a golf tournament when my first (Lilly) was born and it was the best decision I ever made, and I am sure Hunter would say the same thing.”
Mahan was warming up alongside the rest of the late-afternoon wave on Saturday, then he suddenly was gone. The media actually found out about Mahan’s withdrawal before the players, and the information was disseminated to those still on the practice range minutes before the final tee times. The reaction was universally the same.
John Merrick, who would be relegated to playing solo in the final tee time, was immediately shocked by the prospect of a more lonesome walk and his newfound position atop the leaderboard. Surprised that Mahan made the decision? No.
Bubba Watson heard the news, reflected, and provided a momentary shrug, as if to say, Yep, makes sense.
Dustin Johnson, whose eagle on 18 moments after the news put him on top with Merrick, summed up the feelings succinctly: “Obviously, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t go.”
Mahan’s decision, in fact, wasn’t a decision. It was an inevitability. Some have spiced up the conversation with hypothetical situations (major, outside top 125 in FedEx Cup points, first win, etc.), but the lack of wavering in Mahan’s actions on Saturday reflects the best of the men on the PGA Tour.
Life on Tour is tough. Consistent travel, uncertainty and change are commonplace. While the payoff at the top is big, the journey is taxing. At the head of every PGA Tour professional household is a husband/father who travels 200 days a year with no guarantees. To have a sense of normalcy is key to survival and also the reason family has become not just important, but essential.
“It puts golf in perspective,” Snedeker said. “Out here, you can place too much importance on how you swing a golf club. Even though it is our career, it doesn’t define who we are as people.”
Mahan’s first moments as a father came 14 years after Phil Mickelson famously declared that he would leave the 99th U.S. Open at Pinehurst if wife Amy went into labor with their first child. Fast forward to the present, ironically less than a week prior to the Canadian Open, and there was Mickelson in a minute-long embrace with Amy and three children after his British Open triumph. He would credit them as much as his game for one of the most memorable wins of his career. They were all invested.
A week before Muirfield, Daniel Summerhays led the John Deere Classic by two shots going into Sunday. Within reach of his first win on Tour, some bad bounces and a plugged lie in a bunker at the last ruined a golden opportunity. As he climbed the 100-yard hill to the scoring trailer, he walked as if he had lost. But before he could even sign his card, two joyous little boys (Jack and Patton) raced to give a hug.
Clueless to the fate their father had just met, the unconditional love was moving, and provided immediate perspective.
Golf is a game, one that provides the world’s best with a quality life, but that life is only as rich as the family off the course. The month of July has allowed the public to peak behind the curtain and see that while ‘these guys are good,’ they are also human.
And, if the first day is any indication, Hunter Mahan is going to be a really good dad.