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August 2, 2007

Hunter Mahan


NELSON SILVERIO: Welcome, Hunter. Thanks for spending a couple minutes with us. Why don't you just take us through how the course is playing out there today.
HUNTER MAHAN: Early morning it was a little soft. You could be aggressive with some of your approaches. You know, I think it's probably going to be playing the easiest it's going to play all week. It was nice to take a little bit of advantage of that.

Q. I was looking at your chart for this season. Early in the year you had some periods where you didn't make cuts, and now you've got periods where you not only make cuts, you win or almost win. What's been the difference?
HUNTER MAHAN: You know, it hasn't been physical. Some of my best ball-striking weeks I was missing cuts. I just wasn't playing good golf. There's a big difference between going out there on the range and hitting it great and doing all the things you're supposed to do, but then when you go out on the course it's a different story.
I just mentally got a lot better. I stopped getting mad at myself. I took control of my game and the way I was going to play out there instead of letting the game control me. You know, just been controlling myself a lot out there and letting myself play and letting my talent take over.

Q. Did you get mad on 17 today?
HUNTER MAHAN: Not too bad. I wasn't real happy with myself.

Q. What did you do?
HUNTER MAHAN: Well, I just kind of pulled a 3-wood a little bit. I didn't have a stance. The lie was okay. I could have gotten on the green but my feet were in the bunker. I chipped out and hit a real bad approach, hit it left and made a mess of it. But other than that, I played great. Other than that, I played good on about 17 holes as I could.

Q. When you have a little boo-boo like that, are you a little more patient in terms of thinking, okay, let's get on with it, than you might have been say in May, June?
HUNTER MAHAN: For sure, because I played -- I mean, I played seven flawless holes, and if I did that, I probably would have lost it. I was trying to play perfect beforehand, now I'm just trying to go out there and play, and something like that, forget it, especially on a course like this where it's so tough. You've got to hit it and move on. If you string a couple bogeys together you're climbing uphill on this golf course. It's not going to be easy to shoot a 64 or 65 on the weekend and move up. It's going to be pretty tough to do that.

Q. A couple guys I guess putted it off the green. How tricky were the greens?
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, I mean, this is my first time playing here, and I remember playing on Tuesday, and I hit a couple putts so far by the hole I didn't know what I was doing. After the last couple weeks they were pretty slow. Coming here was a big change. I've been trying to take as many notes as I can on the greens and figure out where the fast putts are. I mean, they are really, really good right now. I mean, they are fast but very fair. But you've got to pay attention. If you lose a little bit of focus and kind of worry about the lines too much, you can definitely knock it by quite a bit.

Q. Are you at a point now where you expect this?
HUNTER MAHAN: I don't know if I expect it as much as I'm just trying to -- as much as I'm just playing golf. I'm just trying to enjoy it. I just don't look -- you know, it's just exciting to play this good, to feel like I'm finally reaching my potential and finally playing the way I know I can and just going out there and just letting it go.

Q. When is the last time you felt this way?
HUNTER MAHAN: Probably in college and stuff. In college I definitely expected to play good, definitely expected to win tournaments. I never thought twice about it. And that's the way you've got to play. You just go out there and play and not worry about where you are in position because you know you're going to play good. It's a nice feeling to know that I have a great chance to play good this week.

Q. What got you out of that feeling, and how did you get back into it?
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, well, being a professional golfer and being a college golfer is about as different as they could be. College, you think you've got worries, you think you have stress, but when you come out here in the real world it's serious stress and serious problems. When you're on TOUR, it's by yourself. It's a big change, it really is. It's a lot bigger than I thought it was, and it knocked me down for a little while.
You've got to learn how to play professional golf, and it's not easy, and it's a big change because over a four-day period you hit a lot of shots. Every shot counts. Any shot you can save counts as money, and that's important. You save a shot a day, that's four shots a week, and then you add it all up, and you -- all the great players, they don't throw shots away, everything is very, very tight. There's never a shot that they get loose out there. It's hard to explain, but playing golf out here, it's a big difference. It's not easy.

Q. Is it more nerve-wracking?
HUNTER MAHAN: It is because if you don't play well then you have to go to the Nationwide, and if you're not on Nationwide then it's Texas tours. You're driving to each tournament. You hear of a lot of guys driving everywhere 40 weeks a year, and it doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun to me.

Q. You've got enough cars for it, though?
HUNTER MAHAN: I do, I could change it up. But there's just a lot more to it, and I think the more I simplify it and try to go out there and play golf, it makes it a lot easier.

Q. Last week on TV they were talking you up about the next guy who's ready for a major breakthrough. Are you tuning all that out or are you thinking the same thing yourself?
HUNTER MAHAN: Well, it's flattering to hear people say that. That's a good thing. You want to hear people say that you can win majors. I love playing majors. It's the most exciting time of the year. Going over to the British Open was awesome. Me and my caddie both had a great time doing it. It's an opportunity to go out there and play good. I just get excited about it. I think I feel more comfortable there than anywhere else, especially going to Tulsa and Southern Hills where I've played pretty good before, so it's exciting to think about going there and having a legitimate chance to win.

Q. You said that being a professional golfer is not very easy. What's the hardest part about being a professional golfer?
HUNTER MAHAN: You see a lot of guys, they come out, they might miss the cut by a ton and the next week they win. You're playing so much, it's forgetting all the bad stuff and moving on. I was holding on to too many negative things and carrying them with me every week and I was getting beat down every week. When guys have a bad week they just toss it and forget about it. I had a hard time doing that. You have to have a short memory out here because if you play a lot of the time and you start missing cut after cut, it wears on you, beats you down. You take three bad weeks and it feels like two months. It's just a grind. You're playing a ton of golf over six, seven months and trying to just release that and make it easy on yourself and relax a little bit and that allows you to play better. I was carrying so much negative stuff with me every week.

Q. How much of an impact did the heat and humidity have out there?
HUNTER MAHAN: None. In the morning it was fine. This weekend will probably be -- it shouldn't be much hotter. We'll have to see. It's going to affect the course more than anything else.

Q. You were pointing in the early part of summer where you were kind of fluttering along. Could you have imagined you'd be here for one thing, in good shape for the TOUR Championship and all these majors? Could you have seen that happening early June?
HUNTER MAHAN: I didn't see it. You know --

Q. Could anybody see it?
HUNTER MAHAN: The people around me, my psych guy and my swing coach Marius and my caddie, they saw it. They knew I could do it. I was so negative toward myself, I thought I was the worst player in the world. I didn't see it. After I qualified for the Open, I just made a choice not to do it anymore, not to be negative, not to have self-pity and feel sorry for myself. That's going to get you nowhere quickly. I decided to stop doing it and take control of what I was doing. It's been good ever since.

Q. Is there one shot, one round, one tournament?
HUNTER MAHAN: It was pretty much the second round at the Open qualifier. I shot 73 the first round, like an amateur. I turned about a 68 into a 73 pretty quickly.

Q. Which qualifier are we talking about?
HUNTER MAHAN: It was the U.S. Open qualifier in Dallas. I turned a 68 into a 73 pretty fast, and was just throwing shots away like it was just nothing.
And then my psych guy, he just laid into me. He said you can't play golf like this. He was totally right. It was nothing I didn't know, but it was great to hear it. I played great, shot 63 and qualified for the Open. Then played pretty good in Memphis and have been playing good ever since. That would be pretty much the defining moment.

Q. What was the conversation like? This was after the first 18 holes in Dallas?
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. He pretty much said you should go home because if you play like this it's not going to do you any good. He was pretty much right. It was self-pity, feeling sorry for myself, expecting bad things to happen. And I got bad things to happen.

Q. Did you agree with him right then, or was it hard to listen to?
HUNTER MAHAN: It was hard to listen to, but it was completely right. You tell yourself you suck and you're going to get a bad break, and guess what, you suck and you're going to get a bad break. If you're a great player, you think, I'll figure this out, it's no biggy, you'll probably figure it out. I sat there in the locker room thinking this is a big moment right here and I'd better wake up and play golf and go enjoy it because physically I can do it and I have to let myself do it.
My college coach told me my whole college time, you have to figure out how to let yourself play. Let yourself go out there and play. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about because I was trying to. But I was getting in my way the whole time. I'm finally letting myself play, letting myself -- all the work I've put on my swing and everything else, finally let it go, and it's been pretty good.

Q. Was he yelling at you, your coach, in Dallas?
HUNTER MAHAN: Somewhat, yeah (laughter). But it was from the heart, and it's because he cared. It wasn't because he thought I was a piece of junk or anything. I've known him for a while, and we're really good friends and I respect him a lot and his opinion means a lot to me. It was not like someone just yelling at you, it was like a parent telling you this is ridiculous, this is stupid.

Q. Where did you hook up with him?
HUNTER MAHAN: I knew him -- we played golf in California together when I was like 11. He was on TOUR. I knew him then, and then I moved to Dallas, kind of lost touch and stuff because he was playing and stuff, and then he started working as a sports psych guy, got his degree in California and started doing that full-time. Saw him on the road, he was working with a couple Aussies. He's an Australian. So I was kind of fluttering there and needed to talk to somebody, and he was perfect for me.

Q. That's Neale Smith?

Q. Now that you've had a good first round, are you in the mindset you can win this? What's your goal?
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. It feels good. I love this golf course, sets up well for me. You know, you're not going to get to 20-under out here for sure. If you get to double digits it's a good score. I love the greens. They're fast but they're so true. You get what you see. I feel a little inexperienced on them. That's about my only thing I'm a little concerned about, the fact that Tiger has been here forever and knows this place pretty well. That's the only thing that kind of concerns me. I'm not quite certain on some putts. But other than that, I feel very excited to play.

Q. They said No. 12, we've heard from about three golfers that the pin placement is such that you can putt the ball off the green, and yet you birdied this hole. How did you do that?
HUNTER MAHAN: I hit it about three feet.

Q. What did you hit?
HUNTER MAHAN: 7-iron. A nice 7-iron, just a little bit of wind in my face. It was the perfect club, so I just swung it, made a great swing. That is definitely -- I think in the morning it wasn't too bad. It was only my third hole. But I could see in the afternoon -- there's a couple putts out here going from back to front, right when kind of the greens would roll off, they're deadly fast. You have to pay attention.

Q. Could you talk a little bit more about your other birdies?
HUNTER MAHAN: 2 is a par 5, hit a 5-wood in there about 20 feet, two-putted it.
3, just hit a good 3-wood, hit a sand wedge in there to about four feet.
5, par 3, it was playing like 188, downwind, hit a 7-iron 20 feet past the hole, pretty straight putt actually. Probably the straightest putt I'll have all week. Made that.
Birdied 7, just hit a good 7-iron about ten feet, made that. That was a pretty straight putt, too.
And then birdied 8, just had a sand wedge in there left, hit it in there four feet, made that.

Q. Did you have a bogey somewhere?
HUNTER MAHAN: I bogeyed 4, hit it in the left rough over there. No, I hit that fairway actually. Big slope right to left there. I hit it in the left rough there, hit it short left of the green, not a very good spot for that pin, didn't hit the best chip and just didn't play the hole great. Just made bogey there.
NELSON SILVERIO: Thanks, Hunter.

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