SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – A small swing change before the second round of last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational helped Hunter Mahan claim the largest title of his career, and now has the young star in form before the year’s final major.
Mahan was unhappy with his ballstriking after a first-round 71 last week at Firestone Country Club’s South Course, and didn’t hit the ball well in his post-round range session. But before the second round, Mahan and instructor Sean Foley figured out what was wrong.
“I just had to get up there and release the club,” Mahan said. “I was holding onto it.”
Mahan closed with 67-66-64 to win at Firestone by two shots. He hit 15 greens in each of the final two rounds. He also tied for third in total putts, the result of work with Brad Faxon. Putting has long been considered one of Mahan’s weaknesses.
Mahan is second on Tour in ballstriking (which combines the statistics of total driving and greens in regulation) but had grown tentative with his full swing. Mahan missed four cuts earlier this summer – a time of year when he usually plays his best golf. He’d made 39 of his past 42 cuts before that stretch.
“You start missing cuts and you get frustrated and it makes things worse,” Mahan said. “My swing wasn’t terrible. It was the overall attitude about everything. I wasn’t trusting (my swing) as much as I needed to and not fighting as hard as I could have.”
During his poor stretch, Mahan was hitting a soft push right of the target – the sure sign of a tentative golfer. “I was just trying not to hit it left,” Mahan said. “The ballflight is back to where it usually is – a tight draw.”
Said Foley, “We just talked a lot about getting into the target and letting go, just trusting.”
The Bridgestone was Mahan’s second victory of the season, giving the 28-year-old resident of Colleyville, Texas, his first multiple-win season on Tour. The victory also clinched a spot on the Ryder Cup team.
With a WGC title now on his resume, Mahan is seeking his first major. He has four top-10s in majors during the past four years. He tied for 16th at last year’s PGA.
Mahan didn’t compete in the ’04 PGA at Whistling Straits, but played a practice round Aug. 2, the Monday before Bridgestone, and again Tuesday morning with Sean O’Hair and Tiger Woods.
Whistling Straits, which opened in 1998, is like Mahan – young but with a classic look. Mahan, who likes to sport Hogan caps off the course and favors his custom 1972 GMC pickup, likes what he sees on the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan.
“It looks like a British Open course but plays like an American course,” Mahan said. The dunes and native grasses give Whistling Straits the look of a classic links. But the course’s curving fairways often leave players with forced carries. The ground game isn’t an option on the approach to many holes.
It’s a challenge Mahan will have to overcome if he wants to take his career to new heights this week.