Hunter Mahan in the Ryder Cup: The agony of defeat
Every sports fan over 30 years old in the United States, at least, has burned into their brain the iconic opening scene of the Saturday afternoon sports program Wide World of Sports. Legendary broadcaster Jim McKay would entice us with “the thrill of victory” voiced over a montage of winning moments, followed by “the agony of defeat” over that dreadful image of a ski-jumper sliding, then falling sideways off the jump and bouncing along the ground like some sort of lifeless rag-doll.
Two years ago at Valhalla, 26 year old rising American star Hunter Mahan was jumping around the 17th green, having holed an improbable putt that ultimately sealed the USA victory in the 2008 Ryder Cup. That image was usually the final punctuation to any video recounting of important moments. He was a hero, having been undefeated in all five of his matches. Surely, this was the thrill of victory.
Now, Hunter Mahan knows the agony of defeat.
Very few will ever comprehend the enormity of the situation he found himself in at Celtic Manor. Not many even have the moxie to volunteer for such a position as he did. That’s because the weight of it is staggering. One only need look back to 1991 to see what it’s like. Two of the most cold-blooded competitors of modern times battled in the final match. With everything riding on the outcome, three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin choked away a 2up lead by bogeying the final three holes. Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer had the proverbial foot on his throat. Then the pressure showed up in his shots. It boiled down to Langer’s curling par putt on the 18th hole that missed the right edge of the hole, never having a prayer to go in. His teammate, European Ryder Cup legend Seve Ballesteros, said of that putt “Even his prime, Nicklaus himself could not make that putt. It’s too much.”
Golfers often do things behind the scenes that we don’t find out until much later, if ever. Here’s hoping that Hale Irwin calls or writes young Mahan to let him know it was only one day on the golf course, and that better days await.
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