Hunter Mahan is a
stud. Twenty-five and single, little fluffy goatee, shades on the brim of his
Ping hat, sneaky long, big white teeth. His caddie gives him clubs, yardages,
bottles of mineral water mixed with Amino Vital. His psychologist is on speed
dial. He's loaded with talent and confidence and game. He has the strut and the
Oklahoma State (first-team All-America there) pom-pom headcovers. Uses good for
well when it suits him. Finishes 13th at Oakmont and comes to Hartford, to a
tournament he first played as a teenage amateur, and it looks. . . . � Truth?
To hell with the golf gods. What he's really thinking when he arrives at TPC
River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., last week? The course looks easy. After
Oakmont? Cake. He birdies the 1st hole last Thursday, then the 2nd and the 3rd
and the 4th, signs for an eight-under 62, breezes into the tent and says,
"I really didn't do anything spectacular. Put the ball in play." You're
not going to beat this guy, not even in your dreams. � Now Vijay Singh and
David Toms and Fred Funk might have begged to differ, and they were all going
good (as Mahan might say) through 54 holes last week, and if you had all three
of them in your fantasy league, you'd feel like a genius. But all three of them
spent Sunday mostly hanging around, making pars, and you can't do that at
Hartford. By late Sunday afternoon the large galleries had settled in on the
final twosome of the day.
At that point, on
the longest Sunday of the year, the first stop on the Tour's lazy summer
schedule was in full swing, right on cue. There was Jim Nantz setting up Nick
Faldo in the CBS booth, dappled light all over the course and Travelers
executives, old-school insurance guys in blazers and ties, watching from the
edges. They bought the tournament name and saved an event that the Ponte Vedra
suits could not kill, and now Hartford is the Travelers Championship. But it
remains what it's always been, a local event, philanthropic and entertaining.
Last week, it was wildly so, even after Singh and Toms and Funk faded and there
was only one man left who could forestall the inevitable, Hunter Mahan's first
victory on the PGA Tour. That man was a 40-year-old journeyman, a Nationwide
tour regular playing on a sponsor's exemption.
came to Hartford with no Tour status--no Tour wins, no big Tour bag, one wife,
three kids, no nanny (at least not on Sunday afternoon, when Kim Pride, wife of
Dicky, watched the Williamson kids despite the fact that her hubby had missed
The Prides, the
Williamsons, whole bunches of others at Hartford, know all about the MC life.
That's the other Tour, the one Phil and Tiger barely know. The stakes at
Hartford were higher for Williamson than they were for Mahan. Mahan's day would
come sooner or later. Everyone in golf could see that. Williamson couldn't make
the same statement. At his age, the journeyman knows how few chances you get to
win and to get yourself on firm ground. Ask Bobby Wadkins or Jay Delsing or Dan
Forsman. You've got to seize the day.
A win would make
Williamson an exempt player through the end of 2009; get him into next year's
Masters; pay him $1.08 million; allow him to make a schedule, a year's worth of
mortgage payments, school tuitions and all the rest. Sure, a win would be huge
for Mahan too, but in golf as in life it's hard to compare 25 and single with
married and 40 with three kids. Williamson got into Hartford only by
"writing for a spot," as the fringe players call a sponsor's exemption.
Scores of players do it, and it's safe to say not one of them enjoys it.
Williamson did it by e-mail.
Williamson had an
in at Hartford. He went to college in the insurance capital, at Trinity, where
he was the captain of the baseball and hockey teams. (He was barely a golfer in
those days.) He graduated in four years with a degree in political science.
So he wasn't Rocky
Balboa or even Roy (Tin Cup) McAvoy. Williamson is a son of the Midwest (St.
Louis) who went to a private high school ( John Burroughs) and whose family had
a membership at a country club (Bellerive, where the Tour's going in 2008 for
the BMW Championship).
Still, there's a
gritty jock in there. His left calf is half the size of his right one, the
residue of a childhood clubfoot. After college he moved to Orlando to work at
the Grand Cypress Resort. When he was Mahan's age he was a kid in polyester
knickers who parked cars, but the job came with one big benefit: unlimited
Williamson in the final two-ball was a junior version of the 2000 PGA
Championship, with Mahan in the role of Tiger Woods and Williamson playing Bob
May, except this one wasn't about sporting history or old jugs or any grand
thing. It was simply golf.
After one hole on
Sunday (bogey for Williamson, par for Mahan) the two were tied at 11 under.
Mahan's golf was close to perfect, one solid, smart, stinging shot after
another. Williamson was slightly off--in the rough here, a bad chip there--but
he wasn't going away. Through 14, Mahan had a two-shot lead. Williamson made a
birdie on 15, a drivable par-4, and Mahan made bogeys on 16 and 17. The
can't-miss kid and the journeyman came to the 18th hole with Williamson leading
by a shot.