Hunter Mahan: 5 Ways to Hit Perfect, Pressure-Proof Shots

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Whether it's the final day of a major or the final hole of a $5 Nassau with your friends, all players feel pressure. That's cool — all it means is that you want to win. You just can't let those pressure-filled moments overwhelm you on the course. Whether you have a drive that must find the fairway or a short putt you need to sink, the key to performing under pressure is to rely on your go-to shots and focus on staying with your pre-shot routine. You feel butterflies? Well, OK — just make sure the butterflies all go in the same direction. Focus on what you need to do — not on the moment — and you'll find that the moment will take care of itself. Here's how I do it in five key score-saving situations. PRESSURE POINT "You face pressure-packed situations in every round you play. My secret to keeping cool? Know your go-to shot for the tee box, fairway and around the green. Once you have these trusty plays in place, all you need to do is commit to the shot and smoothly pull the trigger." — Hunter Mahan
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SITUATION 1 The Drive You Must Land in the Fairway Don't experiment — fall back on your basics When I Needed It I was down one stroke going into the last hole at the 2007 Travelers Championship. On the 18th and then the first playoff hole, I knew I absolutely had to hit a good drive to give myself a chance to go at the pin. I piped both drives and got my first Tour win. How You Can Do It Make sure you're comfortable with what you're doing — this is not the time to try out that new stinger you've been working on. Hit the shot you know you can hit over and over again. For me, it's a nice little draw. Maybe yours is a fade. It's important to know your strengths before you tackle a pressure play. My Pressure-Drive Key Try to make a big turn and then start your downswing with your legs and get your weight to your left side. When you're about halfway down, you should feel like you're firing your weight against your left leg. The last thing you want to do in a tight match is to hang back on your right side and hit a weak slice.
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SITUATION 2 The Approach You Need to Stick Close Make a big backswing turn to knock it stiff When I Needed It At the 2008 Ryder Cup, Phil Mickelson and I were playing Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson. On 15, with Phil out of the hole and Karlsson in close, I knew I needed to hit my wedge tight and make birdie for the halve. I trusted what I was doing, hit it close, made birdie and kept the match all square. How You Can Do It Once you've picked your target and committed to the shot, make a big backswing turn while keeping your right elbow in. Don't fret over mechanics. When you're playing, it's about feeling the shot. Have one thought — for me, it's "Make a big turn, then get to my left side." My Pressure Approach-Shot Key If you struggle with accuracy on your iron shots, try to keep your right elbow in during your backswing. This will help you feel connected and stay centered over the ball so you can make perfect contact with the ball under pressure.
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SITUATION 3 The Must-Save Bunker Play In the sand, a little aggression goes a long way When I Needed It During my singles match against Paul Casey at the Ryder Cup, I had a really tough bunker shot with a very small landing area. Bunker shots are the easiest shots to hit under pressure because you can be aggressive with them. I was aggressive, and I made an important save to halve the hole. How You Can Do It When you're really feeling pressure, your arms get tight and you slow down. That's why a bunker shot is nice in pressure situations because you can be a little more aggressive through it. Try to keep your club and arms connected to your chest and blast through the sand using your turn. But be careful — don't let the club go faster than your hands. Stay aggressive with your turn so you don't get tight and slow down.
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My Pressure Bunker-Save Key Place the ball forward in your stance so you can come through nice and shallow. I like to stay centered with my chest — I don't want to move laterally or forward. Keep the club real low though the sand — don't pick it up or stab it into the ground. Trust your wedge, and trust that the ball will spin. It will. Don't make this shot harder than it needs to be.
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SITUATION 4 The Big Putt to Win or Save the Match Once you choose your line, go with it When I Needed It Ryder Cup singles is probably the most pressure-filled match you can ever play because you're there representing your country and playing for your 11 teammates. In my match with Paul Casey on Sunday, we were on the 17th green all square after Paul made birdie on 16. We both had long putts. I was first to go and I had a big mound in my way. I read the green, committed to my line and sank the putt to ensure at least a tie. Was I excited? Oh, yeah! You probably saw my reaction on TV. How You Can Do It Read the green, find your line and — here's the most important thing — commit to it. You can't stand over the ball and think, "I guess this is the line." You have to think, "This is my line, I developed my feel in my practice strokes, and I'm going to roll this ball into the hole."
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My Pressure-Putt Key You develop feel throughout the match as you play the holes. When you face a high-pressure putt toward the end of a round, trust that feel. In my practice strokes I try to feel the right stroke that's going to be needed to create the right speed. As soon as I feel it, I step into my stance and just let it go.
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SITUATION 5 Every Shot in Between You don't just need a pressure-proof swing, you need a pressure-proof brain When I Needed It I've always known I had enough game to win on Tour, and my runner-up finish at the 2002 U.S. Amateur confirmed that for me. But before I could really compete out here, I needed to pressure-proof my game on every shot. That's why I turned to sports psychology consultant Neale Smith, left. How You Can Do It Neale says that an effective pre-shot routine gives you your best chance to hit the shot you have planned Follow his pre-shot routine like I do and you'll remain rock-solid under pressure. Step 1: Collect the appropriate information for the shot. For example, gauge the yardage, the wind, pin placement, etc. Step 2: Select the shot that fits the situation and is also something that you're comfortable with at that time. If you're not playing your best today, be more conservative. Step 3: Imagine or describe what you are about to do. This will help create the intention of what you are going to do. Step 4: Connect to the feel needed to produce the shot. Most players connect with their practice swings. Some don't rehearse at all. Find what works for you. Step 5: Aim your clubface, body, eyes and mind. These four key elements must be aligned to start the ball on the line you've planned. Step 6: Make a trusting motion using the cue that best helps you hit the shot you have planned. It may be a target cue, swing thought, swing feel, rhythm cue, or nothing at all — whatever works best for you. Direct your attention to what you want to do and how you're going to do it. Fear of the potential result may get in the way of making a smooth, trusting motion.