Hunter Mahan has a pretty good standard for how he’s doing as a player. The moderator got things kicked off in Mahan’s media session at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship by asking:
You took some time off last fall and you’ve been rounding into form, do you feel like you’re getting where you need to be?
You know, I don’t know where — I don’t know. I think I’m getting better. I’m a better player than I was last year. I’ve got a lot of room to improve and to be where I want to be. It’s tough to say. But I feel good about this week and where my game is at. So if I’m a better player than I was yesterday then that’s a good improvement.
In answer to a question about what he remembered about his first year at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain, he sort of swung it around and gave a pretty good scouting report on the course. What’s the old saying, “Hindsight is 20/20 vision?”
Well, you’ve got to get used to this course, and you really have to know where you’re going to hit all your tee shots. Figuring the lines off the tee is very important. You can hit some pretty good shots, and end up in the rough or even the desert, depending how the hole is playing. You really have to know the golf course and where you want the ball to end up.
And really get used to these greens. These greens have a lot of slope. If you don’t know where to miss it at this place, you can leave yourself some very difficult shots. This is a course that I think the more times you play it, the better understanding you have of it and how to play it and how to attack it from different angles.
In Patrick Reed’s post-round comments in his victory over Graham Delaet Wednesday, he said virtually the same thing. Daleat had taken a more expedient line off one tee that Reed never even saw in his practice round.
As the parade of players came through the media center on Tuesday, they were all talking about getting it cranked back up for the season (with the exception of Rory McIlroy, who had played into the Middle East tournaments). So I asked Mahan what his process was and how he would know that he was ready.
You know, I think it’s always a fine balance of getting rest and getting rested coming into this year. And then putting the work in to make sure you get better and improving in the areas that you need to improve in. There’s a fine balance of that. Like I said, I think I need to get a lot better in a lot of areas, and it starts today, start working on that.
I don’t think — for me it’s not about being ready or getting to a certain point, it’s just every day making sure that I’m not worrying about the results as much as I’m worrying about how am I performing on the golf course, not from a score perspective, but how am I playing, what am I doing right, what am I doing wrong, and how do you need to improve. For me I get too stuck in results sometimes and how I finish, and that’s the important thing. I think I’ve played well in some tournaments, but I did a lot of things poorly and I just got not lucky, but my talent got me through.
There’s a lot of areas that I need to improve in and it’s got to start today and I have to make an effort to do that and not worry about how you finish in the tournament but how do I get better that day. It’s easy to get lost playing week after week after week and getting stuck into, well, I think I’ve got it figured out. And then all of a sudden, you realize you don’t have anything figured out. It’s golf. It’s a very humbling sport. Every day I have to put my full attention to getting better or I’m going to get worse.
So what are the areas that he feels he needs to improve? Keep in mind, we’re talking about a world-class player, No. 33 in the World Golf Rankings and listen to how discriminating he is:
I just need to get consistent going into — I think mentally in every round. I want to make sure that I play 18 holes and I’m not beating myself up too much or getting too hard on myself because I didn’t play well. I need to just do a better job of hitting, getting into my shot, seeing what I want to do and then not really caring where it’s going, but just making the best swing I can, and then moving on to the next shot.
I just analyze too much on the golf course. I’m trying to be too perfect sometimes. I need to let myself go and forget the results, but be more into the process of where I want the ball to end up. And then move on and do the next one. The golf course is no time to analyze yourself. That’s for after the round. And then to make the necessary adjustments going into the next round.
We all look to guys like him for inspiration (I know I do because I’ve heard and seen him hit his irons; it’s the sound that matters the most). Here’s who he drew inspiration from when he was coming up:
I always liked watching Justin Leonard, being from Dallas. I always liked watching him play, the precision that he would play with and shaping the shots right‑to‑left and left to right, kind of seeing the course from a different perspective.
I always liked David Duval and his kind of stoic attitude on the course. No matter what was happening, you could never really tell. He never seemed phased by anything. He always was just such a grinder out there. He was never really — never seemed afraid to fail.
I always liked watching Tiger play. I think Tiger and David were two different personalities on the course, but they were who they were. And Tiger showed us it was okay to be emotional and excited and kind of get after that. I think he also showed us golf is a sport and you’ve got to treat your body and treat your mind right if you want to be great at this sport.
As I write this, Mahan is locked in a tight battle with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano from Spain: All Square through 9. I watched the Spaniard warming up; it was impressive.