By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer
DUBLIN, Ohio — Hunter Mahan had a pair of shafts at his feet for alignment. His coach was at his side for one shot, stood behind him on the next shot and then he crouched to block the glare of the hot sun to study the video.
At one point, Mahan dropped his club after an errant shot, and Sean Foley moved in for more instruction.
These are the clear signs of a player in search of his game. And it’s not much fun.
“There is no joy in playing bad,” Mahan said.
Reflective and honest, Mahan said Tuesday he is thankful for a life he described as “incredible” because there rarely has been any stress on or off the golf course. Each year he got a little better. He had to return to Q-school once early in his PGA Tour career, but he is approaching $30 million in career earnings. Dating to the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he has played in every major.
All that has changed.
Mahan was not aware the top players were invited to be fitted for Ryder Cup uniforms Tuesday at Muirfield Village, prior to this week’s Memorial tournament. For a guy who has played on seven of the last U.S. teams, the Ryder Cup now is the least of his concerns.
Once as high as no. 4 in the world, Mahan checks in this week at No. 143.
He currently is not eligible for any more majors.
“I haven’t had many struggles in my life,” Mahan said. “This is foreign territory to me.”
He talks about building blocks. He feels lucky to have the support of his family. The challenge is thinking about the next shot, not the last shot, because too many of the last shots have not been very good.
“The hard part is showing up every day with a good attitude, because the bad stuff is with you,” he said. “When you’re playing good, the bad stuff goes away. It’s like you’re waterproof. And when you’re playing bad, it feels like you’re a sponge.”
Don’t get the idea the 34-year-old Mahan is sulking. He says life off the course has never been better. In some respects, life off the course is part of why he’s struggling, and Mahan wouldn’t change that.
His first child, Zoe, was born in 2013 during the Canadian Open, where Mahan had a two-shot lead and withdrew to race home to Dallas in time for the birth. Their second child, Miller, was born about 18 months later.
“We wanted them close together. We had two and it was like, ‘Holy moly, two is a lot.’ And then she was pregnant,” he said with a smile. “I was kind of looking forward to a year without anything new, which hasn’t happened. Everything in my life is really good. I’m just not shooting the scores I should.”
His wife, Kandi, is due next month.
That will be three children under the age of 3.
“We have a lot going on,” he said. “Mentally, you’d like to deal with one thing at a time. I think it overwhelmed me and I lost track of my swing a little bit. It feels like an avalanche, but it’s just a snow flurry.”
Mahan has felt the pull to be at home with two toddlers and a pregnant wife, and that’s where he feels his energy should be. It has been tough for him to devote the same intensity to a golf game that was so reliable that he was the only player to have never missed a FedEx Cup playoff event from its inception in 2007 until he failed to reach the Tour Championship last year.
Right now, he’s not sure if it’s harder to find his swing or find the right balance in life.
“I’m a father and a husband, and I have to be there first,” he said. “It’s hard to be there mentally in both places.”
And it shows.
This year, he has missed the cut seven times in 13 starts. His best finish was a tie for 43rd at Torrey Pines, his first event of the year. He did not break 70 until the second round of The Players Championship, a stretch of 34 straight rounds at 70 or higher.
Mahan is confident that his work and his game are going in the right direction. As far away as he looks on paper, he doesn’t feel the gap is that large. The biggest challenge is thinking in terms of today without lingering on yesterday or worrying about tomorrow.
“I’m not trying to get back to where I’m a top 50 player. I’m trying to get back to where I’m a top 5 or top 10 player,” he said. “I’m making headway. I’m doing the right things. It’s just going to take time, and time moves slow. It moves fast when you’re playing good. When you’re playing bad, every hole takes forever, and every round takes forever. You think a 65 will fix everything, and it won’t.”