Hunter Mahan did not win the Canadian Open golf tournament this weekend.
He might well have, since he held the 36-hole lead after Friday’s second round, and given the fact he has been playing well of late, posting top 10 finishes in the past two major championships.
But instead of being in the running for the RBC Canadian Open Trophy, he is instead the leader in the clubhouse in the race for father of the year.
Mahan, a former Texas high school champion who was a two-time first-team all-American at Oklahoma State, had yet to tee off in the third round of the tournament when he got the call that his wife, Kandi, had gone into labor a couple of weeks early with the couple’s first child.
Mahan could have cited the chance to win his sixth PGA Tour event, not to mention the first-prize check of just over a million dollars, and told wifey to go it alone.
But he didn’t. He withdrew from the tournament and flew back home to Texas, where he was on hand for the birth of Zoe Olivia Mahan, the couple’s first child.
Mahan is just the latest sporting dad to have to alter his plans to accommodate the birth of a baby. Last football season, Charles Tillman of the NFL’s Chicago Bears drew heat when he said he might have to miss a game if his wife, Jackie, who was due to deliver their fourth child on a Monday, went into labor early. Tillman was criticized for even considering sitting out the Bears’ game with the Houston Texans, given that he was in the midst of one of the best seasons of his career. The child, a girl, came on time and Tillman was able to play against Houston, recording six tackles.
Tillman was prepared to sit out the game in no small measure because another of the couple’s daughters, Tiana, was born with an enlarged heart and had to undergo a heart transplant.
“At the end of the day, family is all you have,” Tillman said.
I’m not sure how much praise Mahan actually deserves for walking away from the lead in a golf tournament to attend the birth of his child. What else would you expect him to do?
Fathers the world over, in all professions, must make a similar choice every day. It would seem an easy one to make.
There will be other golf tournaments for Hunter Mahan. At 31, he’s got a long career ahead of him.
But babies only come along once, and especially first ones.
In 1999, Phil Mickelson was in contention in the final round of the U.S. Open. He walked the course at Pinehurst No. 2 wearing a pager (remember those?) that would alert him when his wife, Amy, went into labor with the couple’s first child.
Mickelson vowed to walk off the course and fly home when the pager went off. It never did. Payne Stewart canned a 15-footer for par to beat Mickelson by a stroke. What Phil didn’t know was that Amy had begun having contractions Saturday night, and begged to be given a drug that would slow the labor process, at least long enough for Phil to finish the tournament.
It worked, and Phil was able to get home in time for the birth of Amanda Brynn.
After sinking the putt to beat him, Stewart grasped Mickelson’s face in his hands and said, “You’re going to love being a father,” putting his win, and what his young opponent was about to experience, in perfect perspective.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.