Hunter Mahan floats into Hawaii with renewed vigor

KAPALUA, Hawaii – With a new year of PGA Tour competition comes an assessment of his goals, “just day-to-day things,” Hunter Mahan said. “To smile more, to be home more, to use the phone less. Personal ones.”

It’s the sort of mental-hygiene stuff that can ease the stress that is an unavoidable byproduct of professional golf.

As for the Ace that’s not up his sleeve, but on his sleeve? Well, that’s new for Mahan, who takes pride in becoming the first athlete to sign an endorsement deal with the 91-year-old national hardware chain. (John Madden was famously connected to Ace, but he was a coach, not an athlete.)

“I guess I’m just lucky that golf is a great avenue for them,” Mahan said. “I’m proud to be the first.”

Mahan, 32, is in the field at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua’s Plantation Course for the fourth time. For him, the specialness of being here hasn’t lost any of its shine. “This is an event that you want to play in. It’s for winners only and that’s pretty cool.”

Granted, for various reasons, four world-class players are absent (No. 1 Rory McIlroy, No. 3 Adam Scott, No. 6 Justin Rose, and No. 12 Martin Kaymer), but Mahan and 33 others will bask in the sun and embrace the charm of Maui without an ounce of regret. In so many ways, Kapalua offers the perfect setting for what many still see as the start to the PGA Tour season (“It takes a second to realize the season has already started,” Mahan laughed), though the competitive juices likely will not start flowing once Friday’s first round arrives.

For Mahan, there’s added incentive, perhaps, to put in some solid play in these early weeks. His wife, Kandi, is expecting the couple’s second child Feb. 9 and given how things unfolded in the summer of 2013, it’s a safe bet that he’ll be glued to their home in Dallas. (Mahan was leading the Canadian Open by two strokes through 36 holes in July of 2013 when he got the word that Kandi was about to deliver. He left the tournament and was there for the birth of daughter Zoe Olivia.)

The pending family addition, the lucrative corporate deal with Ace, the fact that he’s here on the strength of his sixth PGA Tour win . . . it all adds up to a small mountain of good emotions. Mahan doesn’t deny any of that, but he concedes that the PGA Tour business can sometimes gnaw at you. “You can lose the feel for the fun of (golf) and life can become routine,” Mahan said.

Thus, his New Year’s resolution of sorts is to lighten up on himself and to set the personal goals that have nothing to do with swing techniques and everything to do with the quality of life.

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