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August 3, 2011

Hunter Mahan


CHRIS REIMER: We want to welcome our defending champion here to the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational. It's got to be great coming back to a place to hear your name as the defending champion and come back to a place where you've had success. Just some opening comments.
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, it's always exciting to come back here. This is a great tournament in general. This is a tournament that every player loves to come to. It's a great course. And it's a great prep for next week. But when you win at a place, you're always excited to come back because you have good memories, good feelings about it, and you just feel comfortable playing here, and it's always a treat coming here and the course is in great shape. This is really one of the great events on TOUR.

Q. Before we start getting into the meat of the matter, we're streaming the 12th and 15th holes this week on PGATOUR.COM. I was wondering if you'd give me your thoughts on those holes individually, how you attack them strategically, that sort of thing.
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, 12th is a good par-3. I think if you hit it in the middle of the green for four days, you're really not going to have that far a putt.
And 15, it's one of the longer par-3s. Again, if you hit the green all four days, you're going to be excited. You just don't want to be chipping around there too much. It's kind of a neat little chute. I like 15 because it's got some trees left and it's kind of a neat feeling in there.
Par-3s out here, you just want to make pars on and move on and try to be aggressive on the par-5s.

Q. Assess your season so far and whether it's been what you expected or envisioned or any progress or regress you've made since you were sitting here last year.
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, I can tell you, playing on the TOUR, I've learned not to have expectations about how you play. Last year was funny, I didn't really play very consistent but I had two wins. And this year I've been much more consistent and had a bunch of top 10s, but haven't had any wins, so it's kind of strange.
But I feel like all the parts of my game are good. I just haven't really put them together yet. It's not far off. I feel like it's been disappointing in the majors, but I haven't felt like I've played that bad, it's just kind of been -- just kind of a tough round there. And then the second day, I usually play really well, I just can't get enough birdies. In the majors you can't fall too far back because it's hard to get back in there.
Game is not far off. I've got to keep plugging away and keep working and kind of get rid of expectations and just start kind of -- as boring as it is, play one shot at a time. Start enjoying the game and just getting into the process more instead of the result. But like I said, the parts are there, I've just got to put them together.

Q. I know it's new on TOUR this year, so it's the first time here in Akron. They have the cell phone policy among the galleries. Has that been an issue with any of the players at all?
HUNTER MAHAN: No, not really. It's actually been pretty easy. People were bringing them in any way, so it really didn't matter. (Laughter).
It's one of those things where it's not a group of people talking, it's always that one person talking, and it's really not -- the cameras are on silent now, and people can take pictures, do what they want. It's always puzzling to us when a guy answers the phone.
I heard someone last week, a guy answered the phone, and they kind of looked at him, and he was like, "Oh, it's an important call, sorry." So I thought that was kind of funny.
We don't care if people run away and talk on the phone or whatever, just help us out and don't stand on the rope and start talking and kind of look at us like we're confused why you're looking at us. But it's been really easy, and 99 percent of the time people put them on silent and it's not a big deal. So it's been a pretty smooth transition for the most part.

Q. Did you put expectations on yourself and then reach them? And when did you learn not to place such high expectations?
HUNTER MAHAN: About two minutes ago (laughter.) I felt that that was a revelation.
Expectations are tough because it's always great when people talk about you and say, oh, he's got major potential and he can do this and that, those are great expectations to have. But as many tournaments as we play and as many rounds as we play, to start having expectations about what you want to do in this game is difficult. I think you've got to expect to work hard, to always keep learning, but the end result expectations are always tough. It's always hard to win when you're trying to win.
Whenever you watch great players play, they never look like they're trying to win; they're just trying to play the game correctly and hit the right shots at the right time and do all the right things that are going to enable you to win. You know, when you're playing pretty consistent and you're close like I have been kind of the first part of the year, my expectation was to win and get up there and just kind of do it. And this game is too hard to force it. You've got to -- man, like I said, you always have to keep working and keep learning and just kind of let it happen. You trust everything, you trust your game, it will happen.
Last year was kind of -- I had two wins and then just kind of popped -- I don't want to say out of nowhere, but I felt all of a sudden it kind of clicked for me, and I was able to take advantage. You know, getting rid of expectations and starting to play golf and putting the work in is what I need to do.

Q. He's a friend of yours, I'm kind of wondering the major plot point this week is what's Tiger going to be bringing back to the dance here. I'm wondering whether you're looking at that with curiosity or a sense of dread or whatever it might be. And secondly, a related question is when you're home and you're hanging around your civilian friends and they ask you about that guy, what do you tell them? Do you tell them you like him, give them an honest answer, or maybe you do like him? What do you say?
HUNTER MAHAN: Well, it's great that he's back. I mean, he's great for golf; he is. It's kind of like when Jordan left and he retired for the first time. There was a hole in the game, there just was. Him not being here, it's a great opportunity for other players to come up and show their skills and everything, but there's no one like Tiger. I've never seen anyone like him. He's one of those once-an-era type of guys who's kind of changing the game forever. It's great that he's back.
It's difficult because we don't -- he's so secretive. We don't know how much of him is back. Is his leg good? Is it not good? You just don't know. Hopefully he's healthy. It seemed like this was the cutoff point for his year, either he was going to be healthy and play or he wouldn't because after this, it's kind of -- he'll probably play in China or somewhere, I don't know, but it was going to be a long time before we saw him.
I think he took -- he maybe forced it earlier in the year trying to win, trying to get back, because he's so competitive. There's no one more competitive than him, and for him to sit for a length of time again after the first ACL injury, that had to be hard for him. And him working with Foley now, I'm sure he's very eager to go out there and see what he can do on the golf course. I think it's working on the range and he's doing everything he wants to do, so I think he wants to go see it on the course. I'm sure he's somewhat curious, as everyone else, to see what he's going to do out there. I think he's pretty confident in his abilities right now, and it's good that he's -- it's great for us to go play against him because he was the standard. I think I saw kind of the -- (radio interruption) I totally lost my train of thought. I need a caddie right now to get me back focused.
He was the standard of the game that we've never seen before, getting his game back there and back to where he knows he's capable of doing because it was pretty special for a while. And I think he's -- I'm biased with Foley, but I think he's got the perfect teacher, and they're going to work on the right things, and there's no one that's going to work harder than that guy. I think he's doing all the right things right now.

Q. Just the challenge, the very last part of what you said, you said he's motivated and that's scary. Why is it scary? Based on what?
HUNTER MAHAN: Because there's so much doubt now. We always used to doubt him and he'd always prove us wrong. But this is serious doubt because we have no idea how healthy he is. Who knows? I don't know. I don't think anyone knows except him and probably his physicians. And there's a lot of talk of all these other players, and this guy is going to be this guy, he's going to step right in there, which is kind of crazy.
But I think for some of the young guys, they've never seen Tiger Woods play Tiger Woods golf. They've never even come close to seeing it. I just think he's kind of -- I don't think he has to prove anything, but I think he's one of those guys kind of like Jordan, he takes every single thing that someone says and he's going to turn it into this massive gas on a fire that he's got burning right now. I think he's ready, man. I think he's just ready to kind of go out there and start playing some good golf. I think he's so eager. I mean, he hasn't played in two years. What's he played? A handful of tournaments and not even close to being healthy. It's crazy what he's done on one leg. But a motivated Tiger and someone who has a challenge in front of him is a good thing for him. It's a good thing for us, too, because it's -- we all want to play against the best in the world, and he's in that category.

Q. I hate to ask another Tiger question, but do you have an example where you saw the gas on the fire? Did you see it in his eye?
HUNTER MAHAN: Just, you know, the fact that he just hasn't -- he's been sitting on his rear end for a few months trying to get healthy again, you know, just talking to Foles and kind of the things that they're doing and stuff like that. It's so on point now.
I think he's just kind of found his routine again with his life and everything. I think he's just ready to go. I think he's really got everything in line, and he's just focused about trying to get back and win.
I'm guessing he's finally healthy. I don't think he'd come back if he was kind of not healthy again. I just don't think you'd want to go through that setback again. This is a great place for him. I know he didn't play well last year, but I don't expect that to happen again. It's just good timing for him to come back and start really playing good golf.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about Sean and just the fit he is for Tiger and what your reaction was when you saw last year that he was going to go -- Tiger was going to reach out to him?
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. It's a good fit in a lot of ways, but they both have an incredible work ethic. Tiger is going to work harder than anyone to be the best player ever, and Foley is going to work as hard as he can to be the best teacher ever. He doesn't -- he talks to everybody about the swing and the game. You know, he just -- he doesn't talk to teachers, he talks to players and biomechanical guys and engineers and stuff. I mean, he's always working. He loves it. He just loves to learn about the swing and figure out how to teach the swing better to us, and not from a -- kind of an opinion point of view or just his theory. It's kind of a fact that if you do this, it's going to create this.
He works hard to give us the right information, and if Tiger had to go out there and play with one leg, Foley would figure out a way to teach him the swing to play with one leg. He just would. He would just kind of make that a challenge for himself and figure out a way. No matter how Tiger had his swing or whatever shot he wants to hit, Foley would figure out a way to make it work. He's just that type of guy. He doesn't teach anyone the same way. He just figures out how to hit the ball correctly and in the path we want. We all can tell him different things, say I want to hit a draw and Tiger can say I want to hit a fade, and then he's got to figure out how to teach us that.
He just works so hard. I mean, every time I talk to him, he's got some new sort of information about some philosopher or some biomechanic guy he saw that has some weird thing that he talks about. I can't understand it half the time, but you find the truth in there somewhere.

Q. Another big topic, of course, has been Tiger's caddie switch. I'm just wondering from your standpoint, how important is the role of a caddie? Do you lean on him a lot in terms of your game? Is it more sports psychologist type stuff or do you do it all yourself, and just kind of want a guy to not be a detriment, so to speak?
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, I feel like right now I want to take more control over my game. I feel like sometimes I rely too much on the caddie, which is easy to do. You play so much, and he knows you so well that it's easy to say what do you think, and then you just go do it.
For me personally, I'm trying to take more charge of my game and do what I feel is right and be more aggressive in my opinions just so I can get more -- I feel like sometimes I get detached from playing golf a little bit, I'm so into what he's saying and the shot and everything. I want to get more into a round and the feel of everything.
But my caddie is great because he wants to win just as much as I do, and he puts in all the right amount of time and the effort. He loves to caddie. I mean, he loves it. That's all you want in a caddie is someone who wants to go out there and work and wants to win as much as you do. When you have someone like that on your side, it's a great feeling to have because it's not just a job to him. He can do a lot of things, but he chooses to caddie because he loves it.
I can't tell you what Tiger wants. I'm sure he wants someone -- Tiger and Stevie were such a great pair, because when Tiger would make a putt, Stevie just had a big reaction just like Tiger, and they were into it all the time. It's going to be tough to fill the shoes of Stevie, but I'm sure Tiger will find the right guy.

Q. Are you okay if he tries to talk you out of something?
HUNTER MAHAN: Oh, absolutely.

Q. When it's crucial or --
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, for sure, for sure. He's going to have his opinion and he's going to tell me, I think it's this because of this. And I'll think about it and I'll agree or disagree or whatever it is. But you have to have trust in your caddie to say, listen, I think it's this shot, I really believe it. I've disagreed with him at times.
I have a great story. I think we were in Canada and he was like, I think this is a good 6. And I said, I love the 7. He said, well, hit it. If you love it, hit it. I just ripped it and it was the greatest shot I've ever hit in my life, and it was 30 feet short. I looked at him, and I go, "Wrong again, Wood." But that's just one of those things. He knew that I was so passionate about this club, and I said, I love this shot. And he's like, hit it. If I hit the 6, I wouldn't have loved it and wouldn't have committed to it the way I should. As long as the player and caddie commit to a club the way they should, then it's going to be the right one.

Q. You mentioned this being good preparation for next week, a major championship. Can you talk about the pros and cons of having two pretty good courses, two pretty tough tracks two weeks in a row, and if you come here and aren't playing well and there's no cut, you've got four days to slog it out here and can get tired?
HUNTER MAHAN: I have a hard time thinking of any cons against it. I guess if you get frustrated and you're not playing well, this is a golf course that can definitely get on your nerves with the length and the tight fairways and rough and everything. But I think you have the right mental outlook on it. You have four days to work on your game on a great course at a high level of competition. If you come in here with some sort of positives, no matter how you play, but you feel like you found something because you were working all week, then you can take that into next week. But if you come in here and you're a little mentally fatigued and your game is not sharp, this course will beat you up and then you have to go into a major and that's not going to be no fun, too.
It's all about the right mental outlook beforehand, knowing that I have two good weeks of two good golf courses, and against the best players in the world, and it's not going to be easy. But you can take all pros, no matter how you play this week and can take it into next week.
Patience is definitely going to be a virtue the next few weeks. I've heard next week is going to be extremely tough; I heard the layout is pretty tough. You never know when your game can change, too. Patience will be a virtue for two weeks because it will be a grind. And I'm sure it's going to be warm next week, so that's going to help, as well.

Q. You mentioned the great chemistry between Woods and Williams. Given that, how surprised were you by the firing, and did you see it coming?
HUNTER MAHAN: Boy, like I said, you never know what's going on with Tiger in his head. You don't know what's going on in the camp. I was surprised that Stevie started working for Adam Scott. I thought that was kind of a sign that just seemed kind of strange. So maybe that was the first indicator.
I don't know, I never really -- you never really believed it until you actually heard it. I never really did. So I was surprised that they did kind of split and go their own ways. But you know, Tiger hasn't made too many bad decisions in his career. He's made a few, but when it comes to golf, the guy trusts himself and he trusts his instincts. I feel like he's making the right decision for himself. I don't know, he's Tiger Woods. I don't know if he needs -- he may just -- it might be good for him just to have a friend out there and have it kind of relaxed out there a little bit and go back to playing golf and playing Tiger Woods and his own thoughts in his own head. I'm sure he's going to be comfortable out there. He's with a buddy. I think he'll enjoy this week for sure and have fun.
CHRIS REIMER: You mentioned the time that Jordan was gone from basketball and basketball searching to anoint the next player. You're playing with a guy this week who certainly has had some well deserved accolades in Rory McIlroy. Just talk about that pairing going into Thursday and Friday. Are you looking forward to it?
HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, sure. Rory is a good player and he's a good guy. Obviously that was a great performance at the U.S. Open. It'll be great to play with him. This week is always fun because you are going to play in twosomes and usually with a great player because this is a great field. Definitely looking forward to this week, and it's a great tune-up for next week for sure.

Q. Do you still hear from the gallery about the video, and are there expectations to make another one?
HUNTER MAHAN: Definitely hear things from the crowd for sure. It's only had positive reviews from everybody, and it's had the right response that we were hoping for. We were just trying to have a good time, and it's definitely done that. And I think there are going to be -- people want us to make another one, and I think we have plans to, but we're just trying to make sure it's -- we have high standards to live up to (laughter), so we've got to make sure we take it to that next level.

Q. Just waiting for those right lyrics to come along?
HUNTER MAHAN: It's one of those things you can't search for; you have to let it come to you.
CHRIS REIMER: For those of you who don't know, Hunter came to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for media day.
HUNTER MAHAN: I found a good spot for us, so I mentioned it to them, this would be a good spot for us, this would be a good section for the golf boys. But we'll see. I haven't heard back from them.
CHRIS REIMER: Hunter, good luck this week, and thanks for your time.

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