Putter puts Mahan’s game on the rise

In just a year, Hunter Mahan improved his standing in putting average from 134th to 46th.

In just a year, Hunter Mahan improved his standing in putting average from 134th to 46th.

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WHO ROSE AND WHO PLUMMETED IN 2009?

This week, Golfweek.com will be looking at the players who made significant moves during the past year in the Golfweek/Sagarin Index.

Ranking/movement: 5 (+32)

Why the rise? Putting and self-belief, mainly. Improve a great ballstriker’s putting stroke and confidence, and excellence will follow. That happened with Mahan, 27.

He changed his putting setup at Bay Hill in March, standing straighter over the ball, almost to his left side, with hands ahead of the ball. The result, he says, was a stroke starting on a better line and an improved release.

Statistics are telling. From 2008 to ’09, Mahan improved from 134th to 46th in putting average and from 186th to 87th in putts per round.

“Putting is so personal,” Mahan said. “You can have the best putter in the world tell you what to do and it not work for you.”

His confidence also improved significantly. For years, Mahan has been told that he doesn’t realize how good he is. By July, he finally was saying publicly that he felt he could win any tournament he entered.

His numbers suggest a potential superstar in the making: second in birdie average, fourth in total birdies and all-around ranking, fifth in ballstriking, sixth in scoring (69.69), seventh in total driving, 19th in greens in regulation.

“I improved in all areas,” he said. Little wonder then that he took a step up in the majors, finishing T-10 at the Masters, T-6 at the U.S. Open, and T-16 at the PGA Championship.

Mahan says: “People tell you that (you don’t know how good you are), but if you don’t believe it yourself, it doesn’t matter. You have to believe it. I needed to find that in myself. At times I still need to find it. If you believe in yourself, it’s amazing what can happen.”

– Jeff Rude

• • •

photo

Zach Johnson is putting his focus on consistency.

Zach Johnson: Focus and consistency

Ranking/movement: 9 (+50 )

Why the rise? Johnson says he has focused on consistency, and yes, taking it one round at a time. It’s a cliche, sure, but it has worked for Johnson, who says even when he’s not playing his best, he still has been able to post decent results.

His ascent actually started in 2008 with an October victory at the Valero Texas Open. Starting with that victory in San Antonio, the 2007 Masters champion has posted three wins, 11 top 10s and more than $5.62 million in earnings in 30 starts, a span in which he missed only five cuts.

Stats don’t lie in Johnson’s case: He ranked high in scoring average (fourth), driving accuracy (10th), greens in regulation (28th) and putting average (34th). Consistency, indeed.

Johnson says: “I think I’m eliminating expectations. One of the things I cling to is I’m going to play Thursday for Thursday. That’s all that matters. That’s my focus right now. Once I get to Friday, I’ll play Friday. That kind of sounds simple, but that’s the way I approach it. I’m trying to go one day at a time and remain patient.”

– Alex Miceli

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