LOUISVILLE--Hunter Mahan came into the week as the ungrateful American, after contending in a pre-tournament interview that players were treated like "slaves" during the Ryder Cup, tainting the fact that he had earned enough respect from Paul Azinger to be one of the four captain's picks for the U.S. side. If the 26-year-old from Plano, Tex., could have taken a mulligan for his foot-in-mouth moment, he gladly would have. Without such relief, he chose the next-best way to make amends during the first day of the 37th matches at Valhalla CC: perform on the course.
Paired in morning foursomes and afternoon four-balls with Justin Leonard, the Ryder Cup rookie earned two points and a better appreciation for what playing in the biennial event is like. "This is easily the best day of golf I've had," Mahan said before referencing his earlier comments. "You can write it up anyway you want, say that I'm immature. I was completely dead wrong [about the event]. I'm sorry. I'm glad to be here and excited to be here. It's an incredible feeling to be playing out there."
It didn't start off all that well for Mahan and Leonard, the combo bogeying the first two holes of the morning match versus Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey to fall 2 down. The Texas duo then proceeded to win Nos. 3-5 with birdies, two rolled in by Mahan, to take back the momentum. After taking the lead for good on the seventh hole, they cruised to a 3-and-2 victory.
"We had a lot of work left, and we knew we could play better than that," Mahan said. "We just had to keep going, win one hole, then try to win two and then three. We just tried to feed off the energy out there."
In the afternoon session, Mahan made 20-foot birdie putts on the first and second holes against Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez en route to a 4-and-3 drubbing of the Spanish tandem. All told, Mahan rolled in four birdie putts to win holes for the American side.
"It was fun to watch him out there," Leonard said. "We both felt very comfortable together, and it showed."
Though a Ryder Cup rookie, Mahan acknowledged that his experience in last year's Presidents Cup played a role in calming his nerves even if the matches versus Europe were "jacked up a little bit more." "I was just trying so hard [in Canada last fall], trying so hard for Captain Nicklaus," said Mahan, who went 2-3 in his five matches. "I realized I had to just play golf. You've got to be able to play within yourself.
"I don't know . . . at the Presidents Cup I questioned whether I belonged there," Mahan continued. "I felt like I deserve to be on the team, but just personally I didn't feel like I was there. I felt more together this year. This week I feel like I'm good enough to be here."
And he proved it Friday.