Knowing the Ryder Cup was on the line in his match against reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, Hunter Mahan battled until the 17th green. (Getty Images)

In defeat, his teammates say, Mahan stands tall by hanging tough with McDowell

An emotional Hunter Mahan couldn't really describe his emotions Monday afternoon, but his teammates had plenty to say – about Mahan's solid play, and the courage it took to accept the most difficult position on the team.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

NEWPORT, Wales – Just an hour or so after a devastating 14 ½-13 ½ loss to the Europeans in the 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort, Hunter Mahan did everything he could to keep his emotions in check. But he couldn’t.

For anyone who believes the U.S. players care a little less about the Ryder Cup than their European counterparts, it’s a shame they couldn’t see Mahan in the post-match press conference.

Flanked by Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson, Mahan tried his best to explain what it was like to have the Ryder Cup riding on his match -- the last of the 12 singles against Graeme McDowell -- which was a 3&1 defeat that gave Europe the clinching point it needed.

It was obvious that Mahan was trying mightily to form the words, but as he tried to get them out, the 28-year-old bursts into tears.

“I'm just proud to be a part of this team,” Mahan said, voice cracking. “It's a close team, and …”

While he should have felt like a proud member of a 12-man team that nearly mounted the second-best comeback in Ryder Cup history, Mahan instead felt like he was the one man who let 11 others down.

As Mickelson and Johnson rubbed Mahan’s back to offer support, Stewart Cink explained that this one wasn’t Mahan’s fault at all.

“If you go up and down the line of the Tour players in Europe and U.S. and asked them if they would like to be the last guy to decide the Ryder Cup, probably less than half would say they would like to be that guy and probably less than 10 percent of them would mean it,” Cink said.

“Hunter Mahan put himself in that position today, Cink added. “He was a man on our team, to put himself in that position, all right? It's a selfish spot in the game of golf, and Hunter Mahan performed like a champ out there today. And I think it's awesome.  Not many players would want to do that.”

Stricker, a 2&1 winner of the opening singles match against Lee Westwood, was another player who would have no part of Mahan taking all the blame.

“It really doesn't come down to Hunter,” Stricker explained. “And you hate to put a guy in that position.  We can all look back and we can all think about a shot here or there that could have turned the match to make up that one point, and you hate to see Hunter go through what he's going through, because it really shouldn't have come down to that. But unfortunately it did, and we are taking this all as a team as a loss.  We are trying to help Hunter along here in this situation.  But a tough deal for him.”

Every player on the U.S. team will be playing the what-if game until they get another crack at the Ryder Cup in two years at Medinah Country Club in Chicago. And, by the looks of things, this one is going to stick with Mahan for a while.

Truth be told, it’s amazing that Mahan even had a chance to snatch a half-point for the U.S. After six holes, he was 3-down. Through 11 holes, Mahan trailed by that same margin. But with a no-quit attitude, Mahan resiliently reduced his deficit to just 1-down after birdies on Nos. 12 and 15.

However, unlike Mahan’s fellow Dallas, Texas, resident Justin Leonard at Brookline in 1999, a miracle wasn’t meant to be this time around.

McDowell masterfully holed a long birdie putt on No. 16 to recapture a 2-up lead. Mahan still had a chance to squeak out a half-point on the par-3 17th, but his tee shot settled short of the green, he chunked a chip and missed a par putt to put pressure on McDowell.

After Mahan’s miss, he conceded the match to McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champion, whose year could not have ended better if it were a dream.

For Mahan, it was a nightmare.

“I've played with Graeme before,” Mahan said, wiping away the tears. “I don't even know what day it was.  But he didn't miss a shot.  I think it was alternate shot, and he played … he played great today.  Didn't miss a shot.  Hit a bunch of key putts, probably the last four or five holes, and you know, he    that birdie on 16, after I got it to 1 down, was huge.  He played ... he just beat me today.”

The U.S. cares tremendously about the Ryder Cup. You could see it in all their eyes. Especially Mahan’s.

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