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March 24, 2009

Hunter Mahan


MARK STEVENS: We'd like to welcome Hunter Mahan to the interview room. Hunter is coming off his first Ryder Cup appearance in 2008. If you'd just start off and tell us about the season so far, maybe a little of what's happened since the Ryder Cup, and then we'll take some questions.
HUNTER MAHAN: Well, just kind of started this year very okay, I guess, just haven't played my best. But I've actually done a lot of really good things and actually feel like I've improved in a lot of areas. So I'm just excited about this week, excited about being here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and looking forward to having a great week. It's always special to be here with Arnold and I'm excited about this course and looking forward to having a good week.
MARK STEVENS: Do you have any interesting stories post-Ryder Cup about things that have happened out of that?
HUNTER MAHAN: Well, I think it's just amazing, the impact that the Ryder Cup had on people, golfers who watched it. It seems like any time I go to the airport or even today, you know, you walk around on practice rounds and people are thanking you for bringing back the Cup. It's just amazing how far it reached, the Ryder Cup.

Q. You mentioned you've improved in a few areas. Can you give us some specifics what you think you've improved on and how you did it?
HUNTER MAHAN: I think my ball-striking got better. I think I've just improved my misses. I feel like I know where the ball is going to go. I feel like I understand when things do go awry, I can fix them quickly on the course. I feel like my short game has gotten better, more consistent, been able to make some chips, just been able to get up-and-down easier to save some rounds, keep momentum on my side. So it just feels like the game has been a little bit easier, but at times frustrating because I feel like I haven't gotten as much out of the game as I could. So I've just got to kind of forget about results right now and just focus on playing, focus on one shot at a time, one round at a time, and just be patient with myself right now.

Q. How did you get better at those? Was it instruction, changing your technique, or just putting in more time?
HUNTER MAHAN: Little technique changes, just kind of little things. Got a new instructor, Sean Foley, worked with him kind of the end of last year, pretty much a little before the Ryder Cup, did a few things. Just been kind of working on that stuff, trying to take it step by step, not trying to do too much too fast because I still feel like I can play well and don't want to get too swing involved.

Q. You mentioned about how you were amazed at the impact the Ryder Cup had on other people. Could you talk about the impact it had on yourself as a player and being in that kind of pressure situation?
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. I mean, you've seen what pressure has done to players in that Ryder Cup, and you see why, because it's just -- you want to do it so badly. You want to win for your captain, for players, for your country. So any time you get the opportunity, you want to seize it and to take advantage of it.
But I felt like playing The Presidents Cup helped me prepare for that. I was able to get a taste of kind of international competition, and I knew what I needed to do to succeed in that kind of arena, and just went and tried to do that, tried to stay patient and tried to enjoy it and just play golf, not try to make a bigger deal -- try not to make the rounds bigger than what they were, and basically just play and stay in the moment.
You know, I had a great partner in Justin Leonard for a few matches, and there's no one better to play with in a Ryder Cup than him. He obviously made one of the biggest putts in Ryder Cup history, so just to have him right there. He was with me when I played with Phil, and he just made things a lot easier, a lot easier for me. And Captain Azinger obviously just couldn't have done a better job, with the course, with the people, with everything.

Q. Do you feel like it's easier to approach big, big, big tournaments after going through the pressure of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup?
HUNTER MAHAN: I think so. I think so. I talked to Ray Floyd and Dave Stockton and Zinger, and they said that being in a Ryder Cup situation, having those moments out there, they're great steppingstones to doing really great things in majors and in great tournaments. I definitely take that experience with me.
I'm looking forward to playing in bigger tournaments, getting in those situations and having the Ryder Cup to fall back on, all the good memories and all the good shots I hit when I needed to. It's something I'll never forget and it'll always hang with me and definitely in a positive way.

Q. You're still smiling when you talk about it?
HUNTER MAHAN: Absolutely. I mean, it was --

Q. Do you have a special memory, top three moments?
HUNTER MAHAN: Well, I mean, everything. I think it was the fact that we were all -- I think we were underdogs for the first time probably ever. We had a lot of rookies. But I think we all felt good and we were all excited to be there. Zinger was, I think, more excited than anybody else, and I think his energy just kind of went through us.
It was just amazing to have it in America, when we needed to win. I don't know if you can put into words how much we needed to win that, because it was really getting -- it was just tough. I mean, I've watched every Ryder Cup since I can remember, and to kind of see where I was going, because we were really taking advantage and dominating, so we needed to win badly. We just had a different energy I think on this team, and we were excited to be there, and boy, we just went there and played with our hearts and just tried to play the best we could.

Q. You talk about how you normally prepare for the Masters and if this Ryder Cup experience might change your preparation, something you learned from that to get ready for a big event and just kind of your thoughts on the Masters in general and how it suits you?
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, I mean, I've been there twice. '03 I was an amateur, and then last year. You know, it's such a difficult golf course nowadays. I mean, it's really tough. You need to really -- you have to think so much on the golf course. Each day is like a new day. I mean, it's a new course. The wind can make such a big difference, the weather. I mean, if it's hot, if it's cold. You really just have to really be patient and think your way around the course and just have to -- preparation-wise, I think I just have to go there and try to learn as much as I can. I'm going to go there Monday and play it a couple times and just try to see as much as I can and get comfortable with it because you need to be -- I think the course makes it very uncomfortable a lot of times, looking at some of the pins, looking at some of the greens, just any time you're unsure there the place just eats you up. You've got to be to confident in your lines and your reads and what you see and with your distances. Getting the ball pin high is very, very important there.
But I'm just going to have to prepare the very best I can and then from there just trust everything. I think from the Ryder Cup is where I learned you've got to trust yourself, trust what you've been doing and just let it go from there.

Q. How well have you gotten to know Arnold Palmer, and do you have any particular thoughts on just what he's meant to the game of golf?
HUNTER MAHAN: I don't know Arnold really that well. I saw him this week, I saw him yesterday morning, and it's so neat to have him still involved in the game of golf, still involved on the PGA TOUR. Just his presence alone is just awesome. I mean, he really -- I think he took golf to the next level. I think he made it more than a sport. It's just neat to -- it's neat to be able to ask him questions. He's very open. I remember he gave me a sponsor's invite my first year on TOUR, and I wrote him a little thank-you note after that, just thanking him for the opportunity. But we can learn so much from him, just with his interaction with the crowd and being able to play golf but keep the people involved. I think that's so important to almost thank the people while you're playing for coming out and supporting us and trying to give them a show, along with playing golf.

Q. I realize it's not in everybody's personality to be able to do the same kind of stuff that he does, to make eye contact with the gallery and so on, but how important do you think it is for players from your era and even younger than you, there are some actually younger than you out here now, to learn to do that, maybe if they can't do it while they're on the golf course, maybe off the golf course or when people come up, interacting with people, important to the growth of the sport and to continue the sport in a positive direction? How important is it for people to understand how to do that?
HUNTER MAHAN: I think it's very important. I think we're just -- golf is going to be around longer than all of us, so we want to make sure -- I want to make sure that when I leave it, I leave a good impression on people. I think golf is so popular now with TV and internet, it's just everywhere. But it's great to be able to -- I think PGA TOUR does a great job of having all the charities that they do and we get to go out to different places and meet people and interact with them and just say hello, just because you never know what it means to somebody to meet a professional athlete or to meet anybody.
I'm always shocked sometimes when people are so excited to meet me because I don't think I'm anything special, but they do, and I think sometimes you forget that you are on TV and you do kind of affect people. Like the Ryder Cup, I mean, any time there's a Ryder Cup flag or something, I always love to sign it, and I try to do -- I try to write my name the best way I can because I know those people are going to take those flags and put them on their office wall or somewhere.
It's like you're pulling them in from outside the ropes to inside the ropes when you do a great job of that, and I think people really appreciate that, because they're just fans and they just love to be involved. I know if you can just give someone once a day a little bit of a moment, I think that carries with them a long time.

Q. Speaking of interacting with the fans and all, with the economy being what it is, the commissioner has kind of had everyone on an embrace-the-fans, embrace-the-experience, that kind of thing. Have you personally done some extra things that you maybe wouldn't have done a year or a year and a half ago?
HUNTER MAHAN: I've definitely looked at my schedule and tried to see if there's anything, another tournament I can play or do something like that. So I'm trying to find the best way to play golf but definitely help the TOUR any way I can. Obviously any type of media I can do every week is important to get people to come out here and support us, or if we need to go to a tent to meet a title sponsor, I mean, I think that's very, very important, and definitely have pro-am days, really make sure the amateurs have a great time and that they know that their support is very, very important to us, just make sure they're having a good time and enjoying themselves.
As players it's our responsibility. It's our TOUR. We need to do a good job of that every day, every week. I mean, this is a great sport for all ages; from 10 to 80 people can play. We need to do a good job of making sure that this TOUR is around a long time.

Q. And on a personal note, since our economy is based a lot on consumption and you have more disposable income than the average person, are you doing anything, buying anything to help out production, buying a new car, a new house?
HUNTER MAHAN: Well, I mean, not too much right now. I mean, this is a tough time of year for me because I'm not home very much. I'd like to be. I would love to be home looking at different things, but man, I just don't have the time to right now.
Q. Jim Furyk, for instance, needs some hurricane shutters. That's what I mean.
MARK STEVENS: Actually one thing Hunter is doing to give back, might be a good segue, is really his career has come full circle, and the last thing he wants to close with is he's got the Ryder Cup win, he's got a PGA TOUR win, he had a stellar college career, and it all started in his junior career, and he's giving back this year; he's going to put his name on an American Junior Golf Association event. He's teaming up with Under Armour.
Just some of the things he mentioned in the press conference here, writing thank-yous to Arnold Palmer after he gave him a sponsor's exemption, those are the types of things he learned in junior golf. I know well because I worked there 10 years ago, 12 years ago when Justin Leonard had his name on a team championship, and I remember the excitement on these guys' faces when they got to go meet Justin and play in that event.
Well, Hunter is going to start an AJGA event in his name. It's going to be April 24th through the 26th. If you kind of want to talk about that and the things you're going to do with this tournament.
HUNTER MAHAN: Yes. I'm very excited about it. Like you said, I played the Justin Leonard tournament years ago. I don't know when that was, '97, '98, and obviously seeing Justin Leonard come out each day and watch golf, it was just an incredible moment. I mean, he's an icon in Dallas, and that's where the tournament was. So to see him there was just unbelievable.
And I remember, I think it was last year, when the AJGA was out in McKinney where this tournament is going to be, this is an existing tournament, so I was out there practicing, and watched a little of the golf, watched some of the juniors go out there and play. When I was there I thought a little bit about, hey, I think it would be pretty neat to have a tournament of my own and to partner up the AJGA, and I thought it would be an incredible opportunity and a great thing to give back.
The AJGA is such an amazing organization to run these junior events and to get the best players in the world almost every week during the summer to where kids come out and play and have a good time and build relationships that they'll have for a long, long time. I still see guys out here that I played with when I was 12, 13, 14, 15 years old, so it was just a no-brainer.
To have Under Armour as kind of the title sponsor was awesome. I've been with them since I turned pro, and they've been just an incredible company to work with. I know they're very excited, and I think we're all excited to try to make it the best AJGA junior tournament we can make it.
MARK STEVENS: Thank you, Hunter, for taking the time to be with us.

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