Perthshire, SCOTLAND -- As the United States team heads into its first matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup early Friday morning here at the Gleneagles Resort, they have taken on the self-styled nickname of “Redeem Team” or #redeemteam if you want to reach out in a 21st Century social media type of way.
While the slogan might merit a failing grade for originality, give it bonus points for honesty.
Seeking to break a historically dismal streak of seven biannual competition losses in nine meetings, and not having won on European shores since 1993, they are looking for plenty of redemption indeed, but perhaps no one more so than Texan Hunter Mahan.
For while this year’s competition is filled with plenty of rookies on both sides, Mahan is a two-time Ryder Cup veteran, but one whose most recent Cup memories are only bad, sad and teary-eyed.
It was tears of regret for Mahan in the post-match media room of the 2010 Ryder Cup after losing the final match to Graeme McDowell and seeing the Americans again lose the Cup they once owned for decades.
“I’m excited to come back,” he said in an exclusive practice range interview in advance of Friday’s opening matches on the Centenary Course at Gleneagles. “Not only because of the Ryder Cup, but I want to compete and win. I am a better player and a better person.”
He also advanced the unique theory that playing 3,000 miles from home might be the best tonic for the Americans, who enter these matches in the rare role of decided underdogs.
“It’s actually easier playing on the road, because you don’t have everybody patting you on the back like at home, saying, ‘you can do it’ and ‘we support you.’ There is less pressure. You can go into your concentration zone and do what needs to be done.”
Ryder Cup rookie Jimmy Walker said he was seeking all the advice from his fellow Texan he can get.
“I’ve been told it’s one of the best weeks of your career, but I don’t ever remember people cheering when you make a bad shot, miss a putt or hit it in the water. Even when we were playing match play in junior golf you didn’t do that with your opponent. I can’t ever remember that happening to me.”
Mahan, 32, and one of four Texans on this year’s 12-person team, is one of the hottest American players. He has six top 10 finishes and $3 million in prize money won and is the only U.S. team member to have captured one of the FedEx Cup playoff tournaments this fall.
Just as importantly to Mahan, who still radiates a cool, surfer dude look with his nearly constant sunglasses and a small goatee, he is now married and had his first child, daughter Zoe, last year. He says marriage and fatherhood have given him an inner peace in the Ryder Cup storm.
“For so long, golf was my identity. My everything. But being married, you can’t let golf be everything. Being married brings a lot more happiness than hitting a good shot and I think even more when you have kids.”
He showcased his newly found family first attitude last summer when he took a two-shot lead into the third round of the Canadian Open, only to find out his wife was in labor with Zoe. He quickly withdrew and took a private plane ride home to be with his wife in their first childbirth experience.
“That was pretty crazy, but there was no way I was going to miss it. There will always more tournaments, but you will never have the birth of your first daughter again.”
He didn’t win again until this fall in New Jersey at the Barclays tournament, a span of more than two years since the April 2012 Houston Open victory.
Now he is among the veteran members of this year’s team, ready to redeem himself and the Americans from one of his worse Ryder Cup memories.
He asked for and received the opportunity to play in the last match of the 2010 Ryder Cup, the first biannual competition that came down to the final match since 1991, to determine the overall cup championship.
Mahan trailed most of the match to McDowell, the current U.S. Open champion, in front of a huge pro-European crowd at Celtic Manor in Wales. When the Irishman made a long birdie putt on the 16th hole, Mahan was forced to win the 17th hole to extend the match. Instead he had a fateful fanned tee shot, a chunked chip and missed putt to hand the match to McDowell and the Cup back to Europe.
“A career is a long time over a series of years. It isn’t one match or one event,” Mahan said. “It’s a very long, long time. I don’t feel one round will define me. I never had any control in the entire match. I was always behind.”
After promising to practice his short game, especially his chipping to get ready for the major championships, he showcased his immense power and potential when he captured the 2012 World Match Play outside Tucson, Arizona. Mahan ripped into Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy in the championship match, never trailing, leading by as many as four holes before settling for a 2&1 victory.It could be a rematch set for this weekend on the Central Scotland landscape.
“Before the season started, I made a list of things I needed to work on in my game and then went down the list spending the most time on the things on top of the list,” Mahan said.
This week’s list at Gleneagles is a bit shorter. Reclaim the small, silver Ryder Cup for America, redeem the Redeem Team and reclaim for himself an elite spot on the upper reaches of American golf.
A redeeming weekend for a player who would be most grateful.