Shell Houston Open interview: Hunter Mahan

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March 27, 2013

MORE INTERVIEWS: Shell Houston Open transcripts

DOUG MILNE: Okay. We'd like to welcome the defending champion to the Shell Houston Open. Hunter, thanks for joining us a few minutes. Just looking at your record so far this year, obviously off to a great start, 8 starts coming into the week, no missed cuts and no worse finish than a 26th.

That being said, you got to be feeling good coming in this week, successfully defended your title at match play a few weeks back. That being said, some comments on being back here at the Shell Houston Open.

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. This is a place that I've had success at in the past, and been a champion, coming back here is a great feeling. I feel excited about my game, excited about this week, and, you know, the course looks fantastic as always.

And the -- you know, Shell does a great job this week. We have a lot of fun as players playing here, and it's really a tournament that I think everyone looks forward to every year.

DOUG MILNE: Okay. With that, we'll open it up to take a few questions.

Q. Jordan was in here earlier raving about the condition of the course. Of course, he has no real historical perspective here. You played here last year. You thought -- he couldn't believe how good a shape it was in. Do you care to reflect on conditions out there?

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. This is the last, you know, seemed like four, five, maybe six years, this place has taken it up a notch, and with the week before Augusta, they knew that -- I think it was their plan to make this look as Augusta-ish as they could. They've done a really great job. I think as the players have all been pleasantly surprised at their accuracy and the lengths they go to, and, I mean, it's a phenomenal design, and the shape of it is always incredible. They spare no expense, and, you know, they do a great job every year.

Q. Can you talk about the strength of the field this week?

HUNTER MAHAN: It seems good. I haven't looked at it really specifically, but, you know, for -- I know Rory is here, so that makes a big impact, and I think, you know, guys talk about each tournaments they play in, and they always rave about this one. Consistency of the field has always been good, and two weeks before Augusta, everyone knows how nice it is to play here and try to replicate Augusta, and no one could ever do that, but they do a very good job here, and I think for the -- for guys who play bermuda a lot, this is a good place to come to before, to get a little experience on some kind of -- some fast kind of bent-type of greens and low-cut grass and the first cut of rough and everything, it's pretty good and pretty similar to play out of.

Q. Hunter, is there a swing or any part of your game different now than it was last year and will you attack the course the exact same way?

HUNTER MAHAN: Exactly the same way. This course is pretty self-explanatory. There's quite a bit of water, so obviously not hitting it in the water is going to help a lot. That's our plan, really off the tees and off iron shots and stuff is to, you know, make aggressive swings, but on safe lines a lot of time, and like the rough isn't real thick out here, you can play out of it, so there's no really need to take unnecessary risk at times, but, you know, my game feels good, and I feel like I'm swinging better and putting better the last year.

So, you know, I just have to give myself looks here and give myself chances, because you can make -- you know, you can make anything out here, the greens are rolling so good.

Q. Is there built-in confidence to being the defending champion to having won a tournament, like what Tiger has done at Bay Hill? Does it kind of feed upon itself, do you think, at some point?

HUNTER MAHAN: I think when you come to a place and feel comfortable and relaxed, you're going to play better. You just feel comfortable and feel confident.

You know, I played well here in the past, but -- for the last few years and felt I was close a few times and broke through last year, and, you know, I'm excited to play this week. I think it is suits my game pretty well, hit a lot of fairways and greens, and, you know, the more looks I give myself, the more opportunities I have to make putts and birdies. So, that's -- it suits me pretty well.

Q. What are you doing next week?

HUNTER MAHAN: Going home and I'll go to Augusta probably on Saturday.

Q. Do you ever find yourself in a position on this golf course, either in a practice round or even in tournament, of working on shots you'll hit at Augusta?

HUNTER MAHAN: Not really, per se, I guess. I guess there you're going to have to play well and just hit good, quality shots. I'll hit the same -- I think you have a lot of uneven lies there and that's probably the most thing -- that's probably the toughest thing to replicate, but, you know, we're always try to hit shots whether here or there. There's really no difference.

I think that the biggest change between Augusta and the other golf courses are the uneven lies and, you know, I think the visual intimidation factor on some of the approach shots at Augusta it's pretty tough to replicate.

Q. Did you have a chance to see Jordan play?

HUNTER MAHAN: No, not really.

Q. Do you think it's crazy to see a kid of his level to play at the age of 19?

HUNTER MAHAN: Tiger was pretty good at 19. Rory was really good at 19. He's a really good player. Once you turn pro, age is kind of irrelevant, no one really cares. It doesn't matter anymore. He's a good player and, you know, seems like he'll be out here a long time.

Q. As a pro, you got to deliver at that point. It's your livelihood now, right?

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, I don't know. No one just cares anymore. It's about what you shoot, not about how old are you.

Q. Did you ever think about leaving early?

HUNTER MAHAN: I did leave early.

Q. How early?

HUNTER MAHAN: I was a junior. I think that was a good time for me, I guess, but nothing prepares you for playing out on Tour, being out on your own, playing golf and everything.

Q. You don't miss cuts a lot, do you?

HUNTER MAHAN: No, you don't miss cuts. It's different, you know. It's a different mental outlook, I think and it's just -- it's different. It's three rounds. You're playing with your buddies a lot. It's a different feel for sure, you know, and it's not -- you're only playing in a small group of guys your age that are really good and come out here and playing against guys for the last 20 years have been really good and then you're going to play with some guys who weren't great amateurs and great college players but turned the into pretty good pros. It's quite a mixed bag out here. There's a lot of different ways to do it.

But, you know, everyone has ups and downs, and, you know, we've seen it with the best and, you know, the best kind of -- it doesn't bother them as much.

Q. Is that the hardest thing when you come out here and missing a bunch of cuts to deal with it?

HUNTER MAHAN: I think so. It's a shock to the ego. I think when you come out and, you know, you have high expectations for yourself and so does everyone else. All of a sudden, it's like a snowball effect, it can be if you let it, and, you know, those are the -- those are the good times, those are the times that are going to make you better and make you who you are and, you know, those are the learning stages of life and, you know, everyone has to go through that and, you know, I mean it's just part of life. It's never going to be that easy.

I know when Justin Rose turned pro and missed 20-some cuts in a row, talk about thinking about what you just did and is this the right decision. There's a lot of things that can come into play. Now it looks like that wasn't an issue at all, but I'm sure that made him into the player he is today.

Q. Kind of a school of thought, Hunter, that the people that are kind of in that little level below Tiger challenging him are really not much better than the ones that did ten years ago, it's just we know who you guys are now because Tiger went away for awhile. Do you buy that? Just because of that lull when he was kind of wherever, that the other people had a chance to step up and they did and now that he's kind on the way back, you at least know who the other guys are, moreso than --

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. When he came out in '97 and '99, started that rise, I think it was probably like an avalanche and he was right on top of it and he covered everyone else and there was just the Tiger show for years. And, I mean, it was just -- it was amazing how like he's going -- he got up there and then it was over, because seemed like everyone else almost fell back to him even though, you know, guys should have won numerous times and somehow he just came out and won. It was just crazy.

Other times when he was actually playing really well, no one had a chance. So, I think that lull, you know, kind of opened the eyes to the world of golf and golf -- I think golfers have gotten a lot better, the range of players a lot wider than it used to be, you know, there's a lot of guys from South Africa that really good, and just the level of golf, I think, has increased and the depth of great players is bigger.

I think he's the man once again and he proved that last week, because I don't know if he -- I don't know if he really played that great, but, you know, he won, you know, that's impressive.

Q. If he were ever to get to that point where he was really doing what he did back ten years ago, would that be his greatest feat, given the depth of players?

HUNTER MAHAN: Like what -- his -- like get that big a lead again in the world rankings and kind of win like that? Everyone is waiting for the first Major, I don't know why they're waiting for that. I think he's done enough this year to realize that he's still really good and he's still better than everybody else.

But, you know, I don't know -- he set the bar so high, I don't know whatever is going to make everyone go, he's back to that time. I don't know if he has to win ten shots or whatever, but --

Q.When did you turn pro, '03?

HUNTER MAHAN: Yes.

Q. From your point of view, does he intimidate or does he inspire?

HUNTER MAHAN: I don't think -- I mean, like I said, I think when he came out, it was like everyone took a step back because it was so amazing and was -- I remember that interview with Curtis Strange he did and Curtis was trying to -- Curtis was trying to bring him down because Tiger was, well, I want to come out here and win tournaments and be best and win Majors.

Curtis was like, no, no, no, you can't do that. You got to finish Top-10s first and then you got to do this first.

Tiger was like, dude, what are you talking about? (Laughter).

He just brought a different way of thinking, and I think now it's inspiring because I think we've all realized he's just -- he's still -- he's just a person, just a man. He's doing this out of his own will and his own work. He's not doing this because he's the son of a God (laughter) and he was destined for this. I don't believe that. Some may. And then they'll never be as good as he is. I don't believe he's a demigod that was born to be great. I just don't believe it.

I think he's worked his butt off. He had that training that seemed kind of weird from a military dad, but I think we've seen kind of the reasons behind it, because he's so tough now, and, I mean, it's a -- it's -- I think it's pretty neat to see. Lot of people counted him out and everything and, man, he's a tough guy. He doesn't accept a failure. And, like I said, he's just a person and he can, you know -- and I think Rory has done -- he's shown that, too. Won two Majors by a ton of shots, Tiger-esque. I don't think Rory ever thought, I can't do that. I think it's inspiring when guys go out there and play great golf, because it doesn't mean I can't do it, doesn't mean Jordan Spieth can't be a great player and win 20 Majors. Nothing says he can't do it.

Q. If you lock at this culture, especially in America where, when it comes to golf, they talk about Tiger all the time, radio, television, everybody, all Tiger all the time. Is it hard not to buy into that?

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah.

Q. To the point where it becomes intimidating, is what I'm getting at?

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. It seems hard to be intimidating in golf, but I think he's the closest thing to it. I remember him walking at Liverpool, I got done early, I played pretty well the in the morning, but I had an early tee time on Saturday. He came out and walked on the range and it was the most intimidating thing I've ever seen. He just looked like -- he just walked out of the car, and we were hitting balls and everyone on the range, he kind made this little L-shaped and stopped and hit balls. Everybody stopped and watched him. He just had this look like -- not that he didn't care about it, but it was like this is what I need to do. You can tell he was just in this zone. That was intimidating. I was done playing.

Q. You were thinking, thank God I'm done playing?

HUNTER MAHAN: I'm glad I'm not playing with him today because he just was in a different place then. He had this focus and it's like, I'm going to destroy everyone out here. I'm going to hit this shot and I'm going to hit this shot and execute. It was incredible to see that kind of focus.

Q. There was a thought if you go back to like the late '90s, early 2000 when he was going great guns. The only ones coming back the him beat him, Clark at Match Play, Thomas in Dubai, Lee in Germany were not in America listening to, man, Tiger is awesome all day long.

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. And they were his buddies. Thomas is his buddy and Darren is his buddy. I think if you're not around him very much, I think it's very easy to not buy into the hype, but if you're around it all the time and you see him playing and see the success he has every single -- every time he ties it up, it is -- it's mesmerizing. It's really crazy how much -- it's like the NFL. Every day we're going to talk about the NFL, whether it's April or December. We talk about it all the time because it's the most popular sport in America.

He's probably the most -- I won't say popular athlete, but he's the most --

Q.Known.

HUNTER MAHAN: -- known. Everyone knows Tiger in America. He's had a pretty, you know, interesting career, you know, kind of up to this point. It's been high highs and low lows. It's a story, no matter what. I don't know.

Since I'm around him more, I guess than maybe other people, I don't -- I appreciate and I respect what he's done, but I don't find him intimidating, I guess.

Q. Just call him overrated. Go ahead. They're not typing.

HUNTER MAHAN: Call him overrated? I don't think -- I think he's proven he's not overrated.

DOUG MILNE: All right. Hunter, we appreciate your time, best of luck.

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