Until the upcoming season, there’s going to be some downtime…so in this feature, we’re going to be looking at the second half of the question, “who you got: Tiger or the Field?” We’ll be looking at the handful of players we think have a shot to dethrone the man himself, examining the top guys as well as a few players going under the radar.
Two of golf’s up and comers, I felt like I had to include both Hunter and Sean together, not only because they grew up as friends in the junior circuit with over-bearing fathers pushing them farther than a child should be, and not only because they both have technically flawless swings and the ability to go outrageously low, but because their games are so similar that putting them together would save me time and effort…yes, I’m lazy, deal with it. Mahan, at this juncture, is the most accomplished of the two, shooting a final round 65 to finish 6th at the 2007 Open at Carnoustie, appearing in a Presidents Cup and being the leading American in this year’s Ryder Cup, and, despite his struggles in 2008, O’Hair still pushed Mickelson to the brink in the 2007 Players and had some early season success, winning at the PODS Championship and following up the next week finishing 3rd at Bay Hill.
O’Hair and Mahan are, for better or worse, the epitome of the new breed of golfer…the child prodigy with extensive experience in the national junior circuit, the sports psychologist, the numerous swing coaches and trainers and, unfortunately, the tyrant father. While Hunter and his father have reconciled their differences, Sean and his father, Marc, are still estranged, and their story is the cautionary tale that all sports-dad’s should learn, Marc even going so far as to lock his son out of the hotel room if he played poorly, forcing him to spend the night in the Mahan’s room. Such is the strain that incurring six-figure debt in order for your child to compete in hopes of one day reaching the PGA Tour…it has the potential for the relationship to become tainted.
However, this isn’t about their parents, this is about their games.
Like I said earlier, Mahan and O’Hair are the new breed of golfer, extremely long and deadly accurate when in rhythm, like a smart bomb carrying B-52. Both these guys have the ability to go LOW at a moment’s notice and are pretty much as good as it gets tee-to-green, and when they get going with their approach shots, it seems like everything ends up 10 feet and in.
What makes these guys so scary in terms of potential is that they both have flawless swing mechanics at relatively young ages. Every position is rock solid and there’s no sapping of power anywhere in the swing, and considering that both of these guys are considered smallish (both around 6 foot, O’Hair is a string-bean at 160 lbs and Mahan, a little bigger at 175) yet can dominate a course with their length. Mahan might be the best driver of the golf ball on the PGA Tour and is extremely long and extremely accurate and O’Hair is one of the few guys on tour that the Caddyshack quote, “195, Cinderella story, he’s got about an 8-iron,” isn’t an exaggeration.
So far, I’m making it sound like these guys are unbeatable, golf-playing robots who hit every fairway, drive every ball 330 and hit every approach shot dead to rights, but that’s not the case. O’hair, especially, struggled like crazy last season, seemingly missing every single putt he lined up and being uncharacteristically wild with both his irons and woods. Mahan, too, was as streaky as it gets, seeming either completely on or off. But the thing that killed both of these guys, and I alluded to it when describing O’Hair, was the flatstick.
Frankly, neither of these guys could putt a lick… Sean O’Hair was a ghastly 170th on Tour in putting, and while Mahan drained everything he saw at Valhalla, he was only 134th when it was for money.
So what’s the deal? Why can’t these two guys with boundless talent not be dominating the tour with regularity?
This is just an observation, but when you have guys that are obsessed with precision, creativity suffers (unless you’re Tiger Woods…or Anthony Kim) and when something in the machine isn’t right, and the machine isn’t running at peak effiency, then it’s hard to get things to happen. Pure speculation and opinion, but I see the short-game defiencies (especially in Mahan, when can’t pitch or chip for shit) as not being able deal with situations that are less than ideal. From the fairways? I’ll take these two guys over anyone except for Sergio, Tiger, Veej and AK, but from the rough? Around the greens? Meh.
This isn’t a damnation of these guys, just an observation, I mean, they’re 26 years old, for crissakes…there’s no doubt that they’ll figure it out. Plus, there is going to be a big tournament where one of them does hit every fairway and just rocks, it happens every year, and when either of these guys gets it going, it’s going to take a low number to beat em.
Going forward, these two have seemingly limitless potential and they already have swings that can take them big places, but it’s what’s between the ears that will define their seasons. Both of these guys may be a few years off from making serious noise on the PGA Tour, but when thinking about the players that have a chance to challenge Tiger, these guys have the game if they can get momentum. While they’re not quite on the Sergio/Phil/Veej level, they’re knocking at the door, and with their sound fundamentals, I LOVE their chances in the near future, and I could defintely see one of them winning something like The Players or at Bridgestone. But for now, they’re both raw potential, but God help us if either of them can harness their ability on a consistent basis…the only thing that’ll be able to stop them is Tiger and the weather.