Hunter Mahan wasn’t at the U.S Open this year. There was some place more important he had to be. On June 18, the day before Father’s Day, Mahan was home in the Dallas suburbs with wife Kandi, celebrating the birth of their third child in four years.
“They’re a lot of fun,” Mahan said of Zoe, 3; Miller, 18 months; and the newborn, Hazel. “They always make us smile, always make us laugh.”
On the course, Mahan is having a hard time finding his happy place. Trying to balance his career with fatherhood, Mahan dropped to 250th in the world when the regular season ended at the Wyndham Championship with his 13th missed cut.
Look at video of Mahan’s swing, and the frame-by-frame appears identical to when he was statistically one of the PGA Tour’s leading ball-strikers. But now Mahan is 189th in strokes gained/approach to green and 188th in strokes gained/tee to green.
The numbers add up to Mahan’s disappearance from golf’s biggest stages. The six-time PGA Tour winner played in a record eight straight Tour Championships prior to last year and represented the United States in seven of eight Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup competitions until 2016. This was also the first year since 2008 that he didn’t play in all four major championships, missing the Open at Troon and PGA at Baltusrol after the streak was broken in the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
But again, the 34-year-old Californian had more important places to be. It’s a perspective Mahan immediately adopted when it came to parenthood. In 2013, he had a two-stroke lead after 36 holes of the RBC Canadian Open when he learned Kandi had gone into labor. Mahan immediately withdrew to be at his wife’s side.
“The thing I think about,” he told me, “is if I’m not going to be a good husband or a good father, then anything else is not worth it.”
Mahan’s last win was in the 2014 Barclays, which led to Tom Watson making him a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup team. The blowout at Gleneagles certainly didn’t sting like the one-point loss at Celtic Manor in 2010, when Mahan dropped the deciding singles match to Graeme McDowell and broke down in the news conference.
In contrast, Mahan has compartmentalized his current golf life to the point of keeping an emotional distance.
“Being at home, the thing I realize is that I’m just completely out of it now,” he said. “I feel no attachment to it. I’m just at home, being a dad and focused on next year and what I can do to get better at that. What’s happening in golf right now I’m very far from.”
Mahan is also adjusting to long-time caddie John Wood leaving at the end of last year for Matt Kuchar’s bag. “It was a case of both of us needing to do something different,” Wood said of his old boss. “He’ll be back [winning again].”
With more than $30 million in career earnings and a commercial presence with Ace Hardware during the playoffs, Mahan certainly isn’t hurting for income. He believes his game is fixable and describes his first significant career slump as a bump in the road.
“I can’t give it more time than needed,” he says. “It’s just about putting the work in and figuring it out. You have to enjoy that process and not be afraid of it.”
Mahan hopes the rebirth of his career will begin at next season’s first tournament, the Safeway Open in October.
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the Sept. 6, 2016 issue of Golf World.