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When golf takes a backseat

other Updated: Aug 09, 2013 02:23 IST
Ryan Polzin

Half a dozen people were inside the ropes Wednesday with Ryan Polzin, the head professional at Houston's Royal Oaks Country Club, as he played his final practice round before making his tour debut at the PGA Championship on Thursday.

Polzin's followers included his seven-year-old son, Brody, who scampered up the fairways while the two club members who volunteered to mind him gave chase. Welcome to men's professional golf, where children (and the people assigned to watch them) have usurped swing and mind gurus as the new entourage.

Who needs a sports psychol-ogist when there are sons or daughters present to lend instant perspective? Hunter Mahan, who played nine holes Wednesday with Tiger Woods, took his smartphone out of his pants pocket several times between shots to gaze at photos and videos sent by his wife, Kandi, of their 10-day-old daughter, Zoe.

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Mahan withdrew from the Canadian Open to return to Dallas after his wife's water broke three weeks before her due date. His mindset: "What if something didn't go right during the delivery and I wasn't there? I would have had a hard time living with myself."

Priorities straight
The day Mahan brought his wife and daughter home, the guard of their suburban community warmly greeted him. "He said, ‘It's so great that you took responsibility and you did what you had to do,'" Mahan said. "I thought: That's fantastic. It sounds so right when you put it that way."

As Mahan and Woods made their way around the front nine of Oak Hill, the fans alternately shouted, "Congratulations, Tiger" and "Congratulations, Hunter." They made no distinction between Woods' 79th tour win and Mahan's first child, which is a sign that perhaps the golf culture is more progressive than Gary Player made it seem when he said Rory McIlroy needed to choose a wife who will be subservient to his career.

"It's been pretty much a consensus of people saying it was nice to see someone pick their family over sports or glory in a way," Mahan said.

The reaction was not overwhelmingly positive six years ago when Carl Pettersson chose not to play in the PGA Championship after his wife, DeAnna, gave birth to their second child, son Chase.

"It's changed out here a lot," said Pettersson, who was criticized for playing the week after his son's birth and then taking the next week off. In Pettersson's mind, the decision was easy: His in-laws were able to spend the week after his son's birth with their daughter before they had to return to work, at which point the responsibility for his family's well-being fell solely on him, he said.

"People think everything revolves around golf," Pettersson said, "and it is important, but it's not everything. Family comes first."