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May 8, 2012

Hunter Mahan


JOHN BUSH:  We'd like to welcome Hunter Mahan into the interview room here at THE PLAYERS Championship.  He's making his seventh appearance at this event, coming off of a tie for sixth place last year.
Hunter, first of all, let's get you to comment on just a tremendous year.  You're leading the FedExCup points standings and two wins already.  Just comment on 2012 for us.
HUNTER MAHAN:  Yeah, it feels nice, feels nice to get off to a good start.  I've never had a start quite like this, so it feels good to have two wins early in this year.  Game feels pretty good, and I'm excited about this week.
This is obviously a tremendous field and a tremendous tournament.  Great course.  It's in fantastic shape right now, so it's going to be a good test.  This week is always a fun week, and I'm excited to get it started.
JOHN BUSH:  Take us back to last year to your top 10 finish here.  Any memories of that week?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Only thing is I bogeyed the last hole.  That's the only thing that upset me when I left here.  I played well on the weekend.  That's what got me to a good place.
But it's always a fun finish here.  It has been the last few years, and it's obviously a great last couple holes here.  A lot can happen, and that's what makes this tournament so exciting.

Q.  You mentioned the finish, and some players have been asked about 17, and the idea has been brought up that 17 is a great hole if it's somewhere in the front nine or early in the back nine.  Are you okay with where it is in the location as far as a hole and strategically?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Yeah, at the end of the day you've got to play 18 holes.  Where they are is kind of irrelevant.  You've just got to play them all well.  It's one of those things it's not worth thinking about because they're not going to change the routing of that hole.
I think it's a pretty neat finishing hole, because at the end of the day it's 140 yards and you can make some birdies and some bogeys, some kind of strange things can happen on it.
But you've got to play 18 holes usually per day, and where they are is irrelevant, and it shouldn't really be a concern of anybody's.  When you're starting the day, that's just something you don't need to be thinking about.
So I don't think it really matters where it is.  It's not going to change because it is a pretty‑‑ very cool hole, and it's‑‑ it's really one of a kind, so I don't really see a problem with it.

Q.  Can you talk about what it means for the TOUR to have Rickie win last week?  I know he's one of your buddies.  And your thoughts on all of this?
HUNTER MAHAN:  I don't think it's really that important.  I mean, I thought he was a good player before then, I think he's a good player now.  I don't look at him any differently.  I think he was pretty popular beforehand.  I'm sure he's going to be just as popular now.
I think people were waiting for him to see to see if he was‑‑ I always knew he was a good player and the real deal and going to be around for a long time.  I think it's great for the TOUR.
I think it's great that we have so many young guys in their 20s and young 30s that have an opportunity to really grow the game and to be No.1.  I think it's still a lot of potential out there, and it's great for‑‑ being a Ryder Cup year, I think the teams are always kind of changing and kind of getting a new kind of feel on them.
So it's going to be‑‑ it's great to see a young guy already been in the Ryder Cup once hopefully getting on there again.  It's always great for the game that we have golfers who look different and bring something different to the course.

Q.  Why do you think we've had such a variety of winners here, everybody from guys like Tiger and Phil to Fred Funk?  And secondly, what do you like and don't like about this course?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Well, I think the reason that we have winners like Tiger and Phil, there's so many great players in the game that play all over now.  They don't play on this Tour really, with Rory and Luke and Lee, they are all over the place.  Before now, the top five guys were in America and played every single PGA TOUR event, so they played against each other a lot.
But now it's so global.  There's so many great players all over the place.  They are winning in China and Japan and they're not necessarily winning just on the PGA TOUR.

Q.  Why do you think we've had such a variety of types of players win here?

Q.  Yeah.
HUNTER MAHAN:  I thought you were a writer; that you could ask a question better than that (laughter).

Q.  Don't worry, I'll do some work on your quotes.
Well, it's a course you can't just step on the tee and spray it everywhere.  You're going to have to be‑‑ I feel like a technician when you play it.  You've got to hit fairways, you've got to hit greens.  I don't think you can really win from the trees.  I mean, it's just‑‑ the course is too challenging, too punishing that way.
And the greens are small.  I mean, it's just a course where a ball‑striker can really play well.  Stephen Ames played unbelievable that one year, and he's a great ball‑striker.
But if you get‑‑ par‑5s are all reachable, so long hitters can't take advantage at certain times.  It's just kind of a tricky golf course.  It's not‑‑ it's fun and it's fair.  I mean, it's not tricky in the sense that it's not fair and there's water that creeps out or it's funky.  It's a fair golf course.
You just can't‑‑ you've got to have really all aspects of your game clicking at the same time.  I don't know why all kinds of players have won here, but I think because it doesn't favor anybody.  You don't have to hit it long.  You can play like Fred Funk; fairways and greens and make some putts and be there.
But if you get the driver going, you can hit it long, like Phil or Tiger or like J.B. Holmes can bomb it out there, you can make some of these par‑5s really short.  And it's nice to have some short irons or mid irons into these par‑5s and maybe make a couple eagles and keep going.
This course doesn't favor anybody.  I think at the end of the week, you're going to see greens in regulation is going to be a huge stat.  I don't think it's going to be tough to hit nine or ten greens and shoot a low round.  It's just too hard that way.  The greens are rolling too true.
It's a golf course that it's punishing, but like I said, it's very fair at the same time.  You just can't hit it everywhere and get lucky out here.  You don't want to rely on luck on this golf course.  It's going to eat you up.

Q.  What do you like and don't like about it?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Well, it's in great condition.  I mean, it's awesome.  It's about as good as it can be right now.  I guess there's just‑‑ they've got some kind of weird hills and stuff like that on a few holes.  Got some sort of bounding like that; if you hit it in the wrong place, you've got kind of a funky lie.
If you hit it in the rough, it's challenging enough, but then you have this massive hill in front of you.  There's some interesting things on it.  But I think this course has matured, and I think they've really got it peaking at the right time this year.
The greens are fantastic.  They're rolling very true.  They're not too fast right now.  I don't think they're going to get silly hard or anything like that.
But I've always liked this place.  I think it suits me pretty well just because it is a ball striker's place, and hopefully I can hit a lot of greens and make it easy on myself.

Q.  A lot of scrutiny again with your stablemate Tiger after the missed cut last week, of course.  I was wondering, you've talked about this, alluded to it before, can you kind of compare and contrast where he is now versus where he was two years ago when you played those first two rounds with him when he was trying to keep it on planet earth?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Yeah, he's obviously a much better ball striker now than he was then.  That was some of the worst ball‑striking I've seen from any pro, ever.  It was just really bad.
Like I said, his knowledge of the game was so bad, which was shocking to me, telling me what he was trying to do.  I was just kind of confused and like, how can a guy this good not know anything about his swing and how wrong he is.
So he's hitting it fine now.  I mean, he's fourth in total driving.  Whoever thought Tiger Woods would be fourth in total driving?  Someone needs to check hell because it might have frozen over.
I mean, that is an incredible stat, and that shows the work he's done and the work Foley has done to be fourth in total driving.  I think his ball‑striking is really good.  I just don't think he's playing well.  I don't think he's scoring as well as he used to.
Before, his short game was ridiculous and he was making those ten‑footers and in like no one's business.  I mean, how many times did you watch him play and you're like, you know this is going down, and it went right in the middle.  It's just not happening like that anymore, and that's not because of swing or because he's getting bad instructions.  It's because he's just not playing great right now, and that's going to take time.
I think it's because he's working so hard on his swing to get it manageable to where he can kind of get it around the golf course and play better.  And I think he's done that.  It comes down to making a few up‑and‑downs and making a few putts, and I think he's very capable of making putts.  We've all seen it.

Q.  A while back I had a discussion with Bob Duval, David's dad, about going low, and your name continually came up.  What is it about you psychologically that will allow you at different times just to have absolutely no fear of going low, which I think a lot of players do?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Yeah, I think it's‑‑ it comes to a mindset.  You've got to be‑‑ I think when you have the good feelings and you've got those good swing thoughts and things are clicking, you've got to enjoy that and get excited about it.  And don't try to keep it; just keep playing and be aggressive and enjoy the round, because sometimes‑‑ you always have to believe that things are going to turn around and you're going to see‑‑ you know, take the good, a little shot or a good stretch there where you feel like it's coming around, it's coming close.  And when it does, you've got to get excited about it and enjoy it.  Enjoy the ride of playing well and not be afraid of‑‑ usually it comes down to fear, guys don't want to screw up a good round.  They get to 4‑ or 5‑under or 5‑under and they don't want to mess it up.  But that's the time when they can get excited and start swinging and being aggressive.
I think it comes down to being aggressive when it's there, but if it's not there, don't get silly with it.  Don't get aggressive to the point where you get so excited you think you can go at every pin.

Q.  When you have one of those rounds when you are at 5‑ or 6‑under, do you think about getting to 7 or 8?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Yeah, if you get to 6, you're trying to get to 7; if you get to 7 you're trying to get to 8.
But we always try to do it in the proper way.  If it's a green light pin, we'll try to be aggressive; and if it's not then we'll make the smart shot.
Usually we try to keep doing what we're doing from a technical aspect.  You've got to get excited when good rounds happen and enjoy it and just be confident with it.

Q.  Is it just a coincidence that Rickie picked up his first win just a few weeks after Bubba won at the Masters, given their relationship, how close they are and things like that?
HUNTER MAHAN:  I would call it coincidence, yeah.

Q.  You don't think maybe it rubbed off on him a little bit?
HUNTER MAHAN:  I don't think so.  I don't know how that would happen.  I know they're good friends.  I just don't know.  I think Rickie has been close for a long time.  I don't think he needed Bubba to do it.
Rickie has such a good attitude.  I think the attitude might be his strongest suit because he always has a smile on his face, always has a good time, never gets down on himself.  He knew he was going to win.  That's why he always kept working and never let anyone beat him down, because I'm sure people were over him and I'm sure he was thinking about himself, well, when am I going to win because I know I'm good enough.
I don't really give credit to Bubba for Rickie's win.

Q.  So no Bubba effect there?
HUNTER MAHAN:  I don't think there's any Bubba effect.  I think Bubba is good.  I don't think he can help anyone else win, though.

Q.  Having gone through your swing changes with Sean, Tiger said last week that he actually had to put himself in an uncomfortable position to swing.

Q.  Did you ever go through something like that?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Your instincts are a tough thing.  I know Tiger's instincts are telling him to do one thing, but he knows he has to do something different, and that's always hard.
I remember playing with him at Bay Hill, he was telling me what he was trying to do, and I could see him when he was swinging, he would just kind of fall back into it and then he wouldn't hit the shot he was hoping for and he knew it, too.  He knew it immediately.
That's the tough thing with instincts and feelings.  You think you're there, but you're just not.  You have to go deeper; you have to get into a different position.
But yeah, his instincts are telling him to do one thing, and what he should be doing is something different.  So it's always difficult.  It's always a difficult change.
It takes time, and it really‑‑ it peaks, comes out in pressure situations, comes out on Thursday.  It doesn't come out on Wednesday or Tuesday or at home in Jupiter.  He can do it all day long; and then he comes out on Thursday, and then it's like, wait a minute, this is weird, I've got to go back to this.  He knows it's wrong, it's just comfortable and his instincts are telling him to do one thing.  Every player goes through it.

Q.  That's my question.  Did you go through, it because it was a dramatic change for you, as well.
HUNTER MAHAN:  Yeah.  I think it's been probably a little more gradual than Tiger's change, because I mean, he was‑‑ I was a good ball‑striker when I went to Sean, and we just got better.  Tiger was a terrible ball‑striker, so he had to work so hard on getting back to planet earth, back to where he was before.
I think it's been‑‑ mine is a little bit more gradual, his has been a little bit more extreme.  Knowing Tiger, I don't think‑‑ he's been working really hard.  I think when he realized how bad he was hitting it and how wrong he was.  He was probably somewhat embarrassed; so he wanted to get rid of it as humanly possible because his feelings were so wrong, what he was doing.
But it's a tough thing.  He was doing it for a while.  It's hard to come back, and it's hard to come back on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and those are the times where it's brutal because you have to have so much.  You have to hit so many balls and get it ready for Thursday, and sometimes on Thursday it comes around, and you're just like, wait a minute, this is wrong, does not feel good.
That's why it's golf, and that's why he's a human being, so it's going to take some time.
We saw it at Bay Hill.  I saw it on Thursday, Friday.  Looked good.  He was playing nice.

Q.  On this golf course can you think of two or three tee shots, or two or three second shots where you could make an error and have it be more recoverable than other holes?  Where is it not going to kill you?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Where is it not going to kill you?

Q.  Yeah.
HUNTER MAHAN:  On this golf course it's usually just the wrong‑‑ it's trying to figure out where‑‑ you've really got to play this course from the green backwards.  You've got to figure out where the pin is and feel like well, I can hit it right on this hole because I'll still have an angle to the hole.
There's certain pins that you just can't get to from the left side of the fairway or the right side or in a bunker or something like that.  The angles are just too hard.  Like the 1st hole when they put that pin back left and you hit it left, you've got nothing.  You're going to hit and it's going to jump over and you're going to hit it on the right side.
You've got to play this course from the green and play it back from the tee.  It's a very challenging golf course, and you've really got to think your way around it.  You can get around here not hitting five fairways but have all the right angles and you'll be fine.  You can get up‑and‑down and play it and it'll be easy.
But you miss a couple tee shots the wrong way, you're going to be struggling and have to make some tough up‑and‑downs.

Q.  So you start with the pin sheet every day?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Yeah, we figure out where the pin is and where the hole is and play from the greenback.  The angles here are tough.  If you just put it in the wrong spot and the wrong way, you're not going to have much of a shot to the green to even hold the green.  I think it's a man's golf course for sure.

Q.  Do you think it's fair for someone like Tiger to have his swing analyzed so much, so consistently round in and round out, considering the fact that he's made the cut 97 percent of the time that he's teed it up?
HUNTER MAHAN:  Yeah, it's pretty shocking to have his swing analyzed.  Like I said, his swing is analyzed more than anyone else's I've ever seen.
No one analyzes Phil's swing.  The guy curves it like Bubba, but no one has a problem with that.
So it's strange to me.  People always think, well, it's his swing.  He made a bad swing.  That's why he's playing bad.  But there's so much more to golf than a golf swing.  There's making putts, there's getting the one up‑and‑down or two up‑and‑downs that keep a round going and turns a round from even to 5‑under pretty fast.  It seems unfair because he's the only swing we're talking about day in and day out.
But you know, that's the problem.  That's what comes with 14 majors and all the stuff he's done, all his history and everything.  There's good and bad in certain things, but I know he'll put the right work in and figure it out, and I'm sure he'll be doing stuff all the time.
Like I said, his problem isn't his swing, it's just playing golf, and that's everyone's problem.
JOHN BUSH:  Hunter, we appreciate your time.  Play well this week.

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