Hardly anyone knows the sound of a well struck golf ball slamming into a flagstick from some 200 yards away because it almost never happens. But I did happen to hear it last June and it was quite a dramatic thunkkk. Especially because I didn’t see it coming.

          I was walking near the 16th green at Bethpage Black late during the Monday finish of the U.S. Open. I was hustling to get behind the green to see the final groups come up, so I wasn’t watching the play on the hole. Out of the blue I heard that thunkkk followed by cheers and then a loud oooooh from the big gallery.

          Hunter Mahan had hit a near perfect shot toward the green. It was too perfect. It hit the flagstick and bounced away, out of birdie range. Who knows what might have happened if Mahan had made birdie there? He almost certainly would not have finished tied for sixth, which is what he eventually did. Maybe it would have been his first major.

          I bring this up after having watched Mahan bomb a 3-wood 258 yards close to the pin on No. 13 yesterday. He was lucky enough to miss the flagstick, make his putt and win the frenzied Waste Management Phoenix Open. It was his first PGA Tour win in more than two years, but it was enough to remind everyone watching that he is on the brink of being a major winner. He’s a Ryder Cup player and tour winner and is the third guy about whom I’ve made that observation in the past month (following Steve Stricker and Ian Poulter).

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          Mahan has game. He can take it deep, especially when he has a good driver. Yesterday, his driver developed a crack on the second hole. Rules allow a golfer to replace a damaged club during a round. The problem was logistics. Lucky for him, tournament officials were nice enough to give a ride to Mahan’s girlfriend, who had his car keys with her. She went to the lot, found the backup driver in the back seat and delivered it to him.

            “Obviously hitting fairways and driving is a big part of my game, so that was huge to be able to get a good driver, a good Ping driver in there that was a good backup, and it performed great today,” he said at his news conference.

           As for the win, Mahan said, “It gives me a lot of confidence in myself that I'm doing the right things in my game, and it feels great, just really does.”

          Keep an eye on this 27-year-old native Californian out of Oklahoma State. Keep an ear on him too, when he is shooting toward the flag.