Big Play: Master downhill putts like Hunter Mahan

Big Play: Master downhill putts like Hunter Mahan

Hunter Mahan's touch on downhill putts helped lock up his second PGA Tour win of the season.
Carlos M. Saavedra/SI

WHO: Hunter Mahan
WHAT: A downhill 8′ 2″ putt for par
WHERE: 400-yard par 4 17th hole at Firestone Country Club
WHEN: Final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

Mahan won by making several clutch putts down the stretch. For him, that was a welcome surprise, because his flatstick has been cold for much of the season. Indeed, he’s ranked 141st in putting.

Still, Mahan, 28, has been a rising star on Tour for several years. He has a great swing with a smooth tempo, but what I like even better is his solid approach to the game. He always works hard, especially on his weaknesses. In putting, Mahan has solicited advice from Marius Filmalter, a putting coach from Plano, Texas. Lots of tour pros get stagnant in their games, but not Mahan, who’s always improving.

THE DRILL: Downhill putting is often incorrectly explained, and not many people have a proper understanding of the correct technique. There are three keys to downhill putting.

1. Take your practice stroke while standing closer to the hole than where the ball sits. For example, if your ball is 20 feet from the hole, you should stand 15 feet from the hole while examining the line and taking practice strokes. The eyes are the window to your mind, so when you’re standing closer to the hole while rehearsing you’ll be training your mind to hit a softer shot.

2. For eons, instructors told people to contact the ball on the toe of the putter with a downhill putt. That’s wrong, and it’s actually the worst place to hit the ball. The toe is the farthest point on the putter-face from the hosel, so the toe is the fastest moving part of the putter-face at impact because the putter-face travels on a slight arc during the swing. Thus if you contact the ball with the toe of the putter you’ll be using the fastest moving part of the club to hit the ball. Instead, address the ball on the heel and hit the ball there. The heel is the slowest moving part of the putter. So hitting on the heel will give a hit that’s not solid and it’ll be on the slowest moving part of the club, all of which will help the ball move as softly as possible.

3. Don’t sole the putter on the turf at address. Instead, elevate the putter slightly above the turf. That’ll put some tension in your arms and help to take away the urge to hit the ball hard. It’ll also help you to better control the putter.

Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Mike Adams is the director of instruction at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, N.J.