SAN DIEGO – Hunter Mahan is playing five straight tournaments to start the season, a West Coast swing that includes a 17,000-mile detour to the Middle East.
Mahan is playing the Qatar Masters next week, situated right between Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach on the golf calendar. It will be his first tournament overseas during the PGA Tour season since he was a rookie and played in France.
He said he was offered the invitation over the holidays and had two days to reply. It was a tough decision for Mahan, who is playing every week through the Match Play Championship in Arizona. Not only does he face a round-trip flight halfway around the world to a course he has never seen, Qatar is opposite the Phoenix Open, which he won two years ago.
“It was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up,” Mahan said. “I wanted to see if I even liked it over there, if I wanted to do it again, maybe an Abu Dhabi-Qatar swing. There’s a lot of world ranking points right now. They kind of own all the big tournaments, other than the World Golf Championships and the majors.”
Qatar is in the middle of the European Tour’s “Desert Swing,” which starts with Abu Dhabi and concludes with Dubai. PGA Tour players, along with the top European Tour players, are offered appearance money in these events. Tiger Woods, K.J. Choi and Jason Day are among the regular PGA Tour members in Abu Dhabi this week.
Among those who have gone to Qatar in recent years are Steve Stricker and Scott Verplank. Woods has been a regular at Dubai. Phil Mickelson played Abu Dhabi last year, although last year it was opposite the Bob Hope Classic.
“It’s a big trip,” Mahan said. “But nowadays, that’s what you have to do. Golf is worldwide. If you want to play against the best players … if I go over and play well, it’s going to mean a lot more to me than playing well here. It’s just a fact.”
All three of those tournaments had more or at least equal ranking points than the PGA Tour events last year.
The only awkward moment for Mahan is the Phoenix Open learned of his decision before he had a chance to tell them. He had to get a release from the PGA Tour before accepting the invitation from Qatar.
Not only is he a past champion in Phoenix, but Ping, his longtime sponsor, is headquartered there.
“It’s unfortunate it got out to them before we could say anything,” Mahan said. “It stinks because it is one of my favourite tournaments. I love the 16th hole. I’ve won there. It wasn’t like it was an easy decision. It wasn’t like a no-brainer.”
Mahan said he doesn’t ever see himself taking up dual membership on the PGA and European tours, and admires players like Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose who have been doing it for years.
He said how he performs over the next five weeks will be more about his golf than his travel. After Qatar, he has Pebble Beach, Riviera and the Match Play.
“This is part of the game. This is the lifestyle. You’ve got to travel,” Mahan said. “When you fly over there, it’s not an excuse. When you fly back, it’s not an excuse. It’s about playing well.”