Hunter Mahan has a lot to play for right now — he’s currently tied for the lead at The Barclays (with half the field still out on the course), the first of four legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, after firing a five-under 66 in the first round. Coming into the week, he’s ranked no. 62 in the points standings and he’s hoping to do some moving over the next three events and make the top 30 to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship.
Then, there’s the Ryder Cup — the top 9 automatic berths have already been set, but there’s still one way to make the team of 12. With U.S. Captain Tom Watson pondering his three captain’s picks, which will be announced September 2, Mahan is looking to impress him in the next two events.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot to play for, and now is the time to trust everything and just go out there and just play golf,” said Mahan in his post-round press conference.
“It will be a bonus to make it to Atlanta and it will be a bonus right now to make The Ryder Cup Team. So I have nothing to be nervous about or get out there and doubt myself. I have to trust myself because everything I’m doing is good and everything else will kind of take care of itself.”
Mahan hasn’t had a poor season by any means, but his last win on Tour came in 2012. This year he’s had five top-10 finishes, including a T7 at the PGA Championship.
“I definitely went through a period where I didn’t hit it as well as I normally do, and I think that kind of weighed on me more than it should have,” he said. “Got a little bit too frustrated at times more than I should have.
“I feel like it’s a good time, good opportunity, being 33 years old, to look at myself, look at my game and look at how I do things and examine them; and am I getting the most out of myself every week, every day, am I working the way I need to, and just question everything and make sure I’m doing the best that I can with what I have.
“So I’ve been thinking about that over a month or two, thought fully about it and I think right now in the last month or so, I’ve really been focusing on the details of myself and my game. Making sure that I don’t waste any shots on the course and when I’m practicing. I want to make sure everything is very, very precise and treat it the right way to get the most out of myself.”
Mahan finished 25th in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings, which closed following the season’s fourth and final major, the PGA Championship. As a player who’s been picked for three teams — one Ryder Cup and two Presidents Cups — he’s familiar with the so-called stigma that comes along with being a pick versus qualifying on merit.
“That’s my thing, I’ve always been (no.) nine or ten (in the points standings),” said Mahan. “It not like, okay, I’ve been 20. But I’ve always been right on the edge and that’s always bothered me because it’s like, I want to be in it and don’t have to worry about it.
“But I’ve always been right on the cusp there.”
Regardless, having been part of a number of teams, including the victorious 2008 Ryder Cup squad, Mahan is thirsty to get back on another one.
“There’s nothing like playing a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, a team event like that,” he said. “I mean, it really has taken a life of its own since (Paul) Azinger became captain and kind of invited made the crowd a part of the event. I think he was the first one to really do that and since then everyone uses the crowd to their advantage because it is an advantage, 100 percent.
“It’s such a unique, special event to be a part of and every player that has played in one every player wants to be a part of one but once you have been, you want to get there almost even more than guys who haven’t just because you know what you’re experiencing and you know what you’re missing.”
Mahan missed qualifying for the 2012 Ryder Cup team, but he’s not counting out his chances of making it as a pick this year, particularly since he’s got a decent record in these types of events, not to mention with his consistent game, he’s an easy player to play with in both four balls and foursomes.
“I got a pretty good record, pretty good singles, teams and stuff,” said Mahan. “I think I’m pretty easy to get along with and get along with a lot of different guys and stuff like that. We all love to play in them but I think some guys maybe get into more or relish it more than others. It’s so much fun to be a part of that week and that event.”
Perhaps good news for Mahan is not only his current position at The Barclays, but his past record at Ridgewood Country Club, this year’s venue — he owns the course record, 62, which he posted in 2008. Another positive sign for him is the fact that he’s the only player to have competed in all 29 previous FedExCup events and one of the three to have qualified for the Tour Championship since the start of the Playoffs.
When it was pointed out to him he was right on the cusp of potentially being selected as a captain’s pick again, Mahan simply smiled and said, “Absolutely, you never know…”