Fatherhood

I am in full golf mode this week (frozen into my house and escaping with images of the PGA Tour in paradise, Maui). Plus, I begin my 2014 season covering the pros at the Humana Challenge next week. The big story is Webb Simpson seeking a title while his caddy, Paul Tesori, is back home with his newborn son, who is fighting for his life.

Being a father is a gift; a life-altering event that adds maturity, perspective, love and blessings to every waking moment of each day. Am I pulling for Webb because of Paul? You betcha. It also made me dust off a piece I wrote back in July, after leaving the Canadian Open and reflecting on my PGA Tour experiences as they relate to fatherhood. This piece was never published, so I post it today… 

(July 29, 2013)

Zoe Olivia Mahan is going to get a really nice baby gift from Brandt Snedeker. He said as much after capturing the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday, a tournament Hunter Mahan was leading on Saturday before withdrawing upon learning his wife was in labor. But, years from now, when Zoe is old enough to read back through the stories surrounding her birth on July 28, 2013, hopefully she recognizes the gift her father gave her: being there.

What began as a quick-shock story surrounding the leader of a golf tournament exploded into viral conversation on morality, priorities and family. It seemed as if everybody was waiting for there to be controversy. The funny thing was, there wasn’t.

“That is obviously a way more important thing than a golf tournament,” Snedeker reflected after his victory. “I missed a golf tournament when my first (Lilly) was born and it was the best decision I ever made, and I am sure Hunter would say the same thing.”

Mahan was warming up alongside the rest of the late-afternoon wave on Saturday when he suddenly was gone. The media actually found out about Mahan’s withdrawal before the players, and the information was disseminated to those still on the practice range minutes before the final tee times. The reaction was universally the same.

John Merrick, who would be relegated to playing solo in the final tee time, was immediately shocked by the prospect of a more lonesome walk and his newfound position atop the leaderboard. Surprised that Mahan made the decision? No.

Bubba Watson heard the news, reflected, and provided a momentary shrug, as if to say, ‘yep, makes sense.’

Dustin Johnson, whose eagle on 18 moments after the news put him on top with Merrick, summed up the feelings succinctly: “Obviously, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t go.”

Mahan’s decision, in fact, wasn’t a decision. It was an inevitability. Some have spiced up the conversation with hypothetical situations (major, outside top 125 in FedEx Cup points, first win, etc.), but the lack of wavering in Mahan’s actions on Saturday reflects the best of the men on the PGA Tour.

Life on Tour is tough. Consistent travel, uncertainty and change are commonplace. While the payoff at the top is big, the journey is taxing. At the head of every PGA Tour professional household is a husband/father who travels 200 days a year with no guarantees. To have a sense of normalcy is key to survival and also the reason family has become not just important, but essential.

“It puts golf in perspective,” Snedeker said. “Out here, you can place too much importance on how you swing a golf club. Even though it is our career, it doesn’t define who we are as people.”

Mahan’s first moments as a father came 14 years after Phil Mickelson famously declared that he would leave the 99th U.S. Open at Pinehurst if wife Amy went into labor with their first child. Fast forward to the present, ironically less than a week prior to the Canadian Open, and there was Mickelson in a minute-long embrace with Amy and three children after his British Open triumph. He would credit them as much as his game for one of the most memorable wins of his career. They were all invested.

A week before Muirfield, Daniel Summerhays led the John Deere Classic by two shots going into Sunday. Within reach of his first win on Tour, some bad bounces and a plugged lie in a bunker at the last ruined a golden opportunity. As he climbed the 100-yard hill to the scoring trailer, he walked as if he had lost. But before he could even sign his card, two joyous little boys (Jack and Patton) raced to give a hug. Clueless to the fate their father had just met, the unconditional love was moving, and provided immediate perspective.

Golf is a game, one that provides the world’s best with a quality life, but that life is only as rich as the family off the course. The month of July has allowed the public to peak behind the curtain and see that while ‘these guys are good,’ they are also human. And, if the first day is any indication, Hunter Mahan is going to be a really good dad.

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