Hunter Mahan skips a big check for his million-dollar baby

Hunter Mahan reacts after a putt on the

Hunter Mahan reacts after a putt on the first hole during the fourth round of the U.S. Open. (June 16, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Mark Herrmann

Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,

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On a normal day, Hunter Mahan always can look on Twitter and see that people are saying he isn't very good as a golfer or very smart. They dredge up minor details like the fact he was in the final Sunday group in each of the past two majors and failed to win either.

Then, on July 27, he gave them 1,008,000 more reasons to rip him.

That was the day when he was preparing to begin the third round of the Canadian Open with the lead but abruptly withdrew, forfeiting his chance to win the $1,008,000 first prize. He made arrangements to hop on a corporate jet to Texas so he could be with his wife Kandi for the birth early the next morning of their first child, Zoe Olivia.

When all the excitement subsided, he held his breath and ventured into the wild frontier of social media. "I figured somebody would say, 'You're an idiot. You didn't know what you were doing. You can't throw it away.' But I didn't see that," he said Tuesday at Oak Hill Country Club, where he is preparing for the PGA Championship that begins Thursday. "Maybe I didn't look far enough down."

Nah, he probably would have heard about any digital catcalls by now. As it is, he said, "The feedback has been 100 percent great. I think everyone can kind of relate. I think people are just ready for a great story in sports, and it was a great time."

Mahan's choice is a strong commentary on the power of family -- his in-laws were there, and so were his parents, from California, whom he rarely sees -- and the fact no dollar figure can measure up to the value of a baby's life.

"It was a special time. It was a lot of fun, a time I'll never get back," Mahan said.

But his decision also is a reflection on the world in which Mahan and his fellow pros are fortunate enough to live. It is a sphere in which a person doesn't necessarily miss an extra $1,008,000 (Mahan has won more than $2 million in each of the past six seasons) and a universe in which a well placed phone call or two can find a private plane on short notice.

This is due to an increase in the public's leisure time, a boom in television channels willing to pay for sports programming and smart executives such as PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem who have learned how to take advantage of those factors.

This is also due in large measure to Tiger Woods. Say what you will about the guy and his family life, he was and is someone whom people like to watch. The more they watch, the more money there is for everybody in the sport. There is always another $1 million around the corner.

As comfortable as Mahan's circumstances might be, though, he did make a potential seven-figure sacrifice. Good for him.

"He made the perfect choice. Actually there wasn't any [choice]," Woods said Tuesday. "The birth of your first child, or any child, for that matter, takes precedence over anything you do. That's the most beautiful day you can possibly have in your life."

This peanut stand just hopes that gratitude keeps growing on tour, that players recognize how good they've got it. Phil Mickelson, who had the resources to make a one-day round trip to California for his daughter's eighth-grade graduation, said that the young players that he mentors are very thankful -- and that bolsters his own thankfulness. Good sign.

Mahan sounded the perfect tone when he reflected on the whirlwind and said, "I don't know, it just makes things matter a little bit more and, at the same time, matter a little bit less."