WHO: Graeme McDowell
WHAT: 20- and 25-foot birdie putts in regulation and the playoff
WHERE: 444-yard par-4 18th hole at Sherwood Country Club
WHEN: Final round and the playoff at the Chevron World Challenge
It would be hard to overstate the impact of McDowell’s in-your-face takedown of Tiger Woods. Not only did McDowell give himself a huge confidence boost by draining those long putts at 18 in regulation and the playoff, but he also ignited cheers among his fellow PGA Tour brethren and dismay in the heart of Woods.
McDowell did to Woods what Woods did to his competitors for 15 years: McDowell toppled him with one jaw-dropping shot after another. McDowell’s charge to victory started at 17. After yanking his tee shot at the par 3 into tall, thick grass, McDowell took a penalty and dropped his ball 40 yards from the hole on another tee box. Then he hit a blind, steep downhill pitch over trees and bushes to within 10 feet and drained the putt for a bogey.
At 18, McDowell watched Woods stuff his approach shot and release a fist-pump celebration in the fairway. But instead of being overwhelmed, McDowell hit a solid approach and calmly rolled in his putt for birdie to match Woods and force a playoff. The players returned to 18 for the playoff, and McDowell again drained a long putt for birdie. Woods had a 20-footer to tie, but he missed right.
McDowell’s triumph is a huge deal, especially inside the locker room. It proves beyond a doubt that Woods is no longer invincible.
Pressure situations like McDowell’s at 18 weren’t times to think about the stroke. They were times to execute. McDowell had to trust his technique and hit the ball. I always tell pupils that when you’re competing, you’ve got to go with what you have on the greens. You can’t try to figure out anything technical. Even if your stroke isn’t technically sound at the time, don’t worry. Believe in yourself and hit the best stroke you can.
To practice pressure putting, go to the practice green with just one ball. Typically, golfers take a few balls to the green and haphazardly rap putts, but doing that won’t help you learn to deal with nerves.
Using one ball, pretend that you’re playing the U.S. Open. Give yourself putts of varying distances, and always hole out, grinding on every putt. Also, don’t think about technique. Trust the stroke you have. (If the stroke needs improvement, work on it at another time.) Doing that will get you into a competitive mindset; it’ll take your mind off the stroke and get it into the game.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Mark Wood teaches at Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Bedminster Township, N.J.