Planet Golf — 02 April 2012 by GW staff and news services
Mahan: Clutch shots; strong mind

Here’s what Hunter Mahan had to say to the media after his one-shot victory Sunday in the Shell Houston Open.

DOUG MILNE: Second win of the year. You become the first two-time winner of the 2012 season with your win here in Houston. You also take over the No. 1 spot in the FedExCup standings. A long week. Obviously it paid off for you. Just some thoughts as the newest champion here at the Shell Houston Open.

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, feels great. Today played — seemed different than the first three — making a lot of birdies. Today it was kind of playing a little bit tougher. The wind was a tad stronger, but the pins were tough. You had to hit it close.

So, it felt good to kind of have the lead there for I don’t know how long, maybe nine holes or so, and to kind of hang on. It’s a different — most of my other wins have kind of come from behind. This was a little different, little different feeling playing, and it was nice to come through when I had to, hit some good shots when I had to, and feels great to come to 18 knowing you got to have a par to win and hit two good shots and make an easy two-putt. Feels great.

Q. Is there a lot of significance for you winning away, it was different, your wins have been free-for-alls, going low. You had to really grind today.

HUNTER MAHAN: It feels good. It feels a little different. Like you said, I had to have a lot of patience. I had to really be present, one shot at a time. Couldn’t start thinking too far ahead. There’s too many good players up there. Kind of bunched up there early on and — you know, so it feels nice to kind of to win it with my mind today. I felt like I won it more with my mental side of my game more so than maybe the physical side. That feels nice.

Q. Talk about 16, did that — was that as difficult shot as it looked?

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. It was — yeah, kind of looked at it a couples times, try to figure out what I wanted to do. I knew hitting it high was going to be the best hope. Wasn’t any sort of low pitchy shot there. Hitting it high was the most direct route.

Didn’t have to chip it short and hit it in the fringe or rely on any bad bounces. I just had to make sure I was aggressive and committed to it and I was. And as soon as I saw it in the air and took the first hop, I thought it was going to be good, but a tap-in there, you know, was huge.

Q. Under the circumstances, one-to-ten scale, how difficult is that shot?

HUNTER MAHAN: I’m not sure. Probably —

DOUG MILNE: For you, not us (laughter).

Q. It’s a 12 for us.

HUNTER MAHAN: It was probably a seven, probably, you know. Hit it that close, you know, like a ten. Felt like a ten to me. I felt I could hit it inside of 5 feet if I hit it right, right where I was looking, and it did. It just had the perfect pace. To not have a 5-footer on the 17th hole or whatever, for par was a good feeling. Just kind of tap-in and move on to 17 was big. It was big.

Q. Did you hit the perfect 7?

HUNTER MAHAN: I pulled it a tad. I hit it solid. It went miles. You know, just one of those things, one of those, you know, playing things you got to just kind of deal with it and move on.

Q. What did you hit into 9?

HUNTER MAHAN: 3-iron. Just the perfect shot. I hit it up in the air, downwind, and just hit it high enough to where it kind of carries a little bit, and it was awesome. Probably the shot of the day, got me kind of rolling long.

Q. I was going to ask, did that kind of kick-start things?

HUNTER MAHAN: I think so. I think so. I was patient for the first eight holes, but I felt like I had some opportunities and I couldn’t get ahold of them. So it felt great to — I hit a great shot there. We knew we had a perfect club. It’s great when the ball does exactly what it’s going to do and hit a nice putt and coming into 10 was good, too. It was a good stretch there obviously for me.

Q. 18 there’s been some drama there in past years. You seemed really confident getting up there with the driver, the second shot into the green was pretty consistent. Any nerves on that hole?

HUNTER MAHAN: No doubt. It’s one of the more challenging finish holes in golf. Water is in play on every shot. You know, especially with that pin where it is, even if I kind of just hit it out to the right in the middle of the green, it’s not a gimme two-putt.

There’s really nothing easy about that hole. Luckily it was downwind, so it played a little shorter. You know, good time to make two good swings, and it was another 7-iron there and I flushed it. Feels great to be on the right tier there with a downhill putt, kind of coast it down there.

Q. What does it feel like going into Augusta with the win and bump in the world rankings and everything else?

HUNTER MAHAN: Gosh, it’s hard to say. It feels good. I felt like I was playing well coming in here, so whether I won or not wasn’t going to deter me from how I felt about Augusta.

The game feels good. I feel very capable of playing great golf, and I feel like I showed myself I don’t have to be perfect to win. You know, I felt — like I said, I fell like this week my mind was probably the strongest part of my game. That’s a great thing to feel for sure.

When you play a major, you’re going to have to have all facets of the game, especially your mind has to be a strength. That’s what I’m going to take from this week is that my mind was so strong, I was able to kind of persevere through some, you know, having the lead and doing something I haven’t done before.

Q. How do you think this prepares you for what you’ll face next week in Augusta?

HUNTER MAHAN: I don’t know. I’ve kind of been on the back nine on Sunday a couple times, kind of felt the roars and cheers a couple times. That’s going to help, because I remember those feelings because it’s hard to — it’s hard to tell anybody how it feels standing on 15th fairway there, kind of looking down on 16, 17 and 18. It’s hard to describe that and so — but I know that, you know, my mind is capable.

Physically I feel capable. So I feel like, you know, hopefully I have that situation and opportunity. I feel very — I’m going to feel excited to be there and maybe more comfortable than, you know, having not had a lead and finishing out on the 18th hole. I take a lot from this week, but Augusta is its own animal. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Q. Have you ever felt better heading into a Major?

HUNTER MAHAN: Probably not, I guess. Probably not. I felt good before, but, you know, like I say, I feel like for my mind and ball striking, everything feels good. I feel like I can play well and play well in many different ways. So that’s nice.

Q. Have you played the back nine here for the week and 11 under was the best in the field. Talk about your comfort on the back nine and how it helped you coming in today.

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah. I think this is a ball-striker’s course. You hit a lot of fairways, lot of greens, keep the ball — I was happy I didn’t hit a ball, I don’t think, in the water all week. Felt that was a big key, because it’s pretty easy to hit one bad shot in the water and make a double out here.

So I feel like that was kind of our focus was make sure we hit it on the right side of the fairways and the greens and not shoot ourselves in the foot and take care of the shots. I made two bogies. So that was important.

On the back nine you got a good stretch there the first few holes to make birdies. I played 18 well this week, because usually on this golf course big numbers. You can play well, but you can make a big number pretty easily. I didn’t do that this week, so that was key.

Q. I know you guys like to stay in their own game as much as possible. Oosthuizen struggled early, did that kind of affect at all how you approached things earlier? Did it buy you a little more patience to know that nobody was really hitting the accelerator up there?

HUNTER MAHAN: No doubt. Louis kind of a tough start on two three putts and he makes the bomb on three, so I thought we were all kind of back to normal there. I felt like just the way the pins were, the wind, of course, was playing, it was going to be hard to hit it close, playing extremely long.

Lot of the pins were back and corners, be very hard to hit and hard to make birdies. And, you know, Louis had a tough stretch there. He battled back pretty nicely and — but it was pretty tight there. So I knew patience was going to be just huge and important and not getting down on myself, because on this golf course you never know when you can make two, three birdies in a row and be right back in it. That’s kind of what happened for me on 9 and 10.

Q. Hunter, what’s the one thing you’re doing differently here in 2012 with a couple of wins already three months into the year? What’s different about this season?

HUNTER MAHAN: I feel like I’m just believing in my game a little bit more. My mind is, like I said, I feel like it’s getting stronger. I felt like this like this week my mind was key. I felt like I didn’t let a bad shot bother me. Just go to the next one, try to hit that one better. If I did have one or two bad holes — I mean, if I did have kind of a funny stretch where things were going off kilter, I was able to get it back right away, and I felt like, you know, it’s easy to talk yourself into doing crazy things in this game, you know, because we’re playing so many holes. It’s easy to kind of get your mind to run wild and get down on yourself. That’s what I used to do. I’m not doing that anymore. I’m trying to pump myself up more and just believe in myself.

Q. Why do you think your mental game is stronger now?

HUNTER MAHAN: Well, I think I’m just tired of doing it the wrong way (laughter). I saw what I was doing before and it stunk. It wasn’t any fun. We play so many holes, play so many tournaments. It just doesn’t make sense to beat yourself up, you know, because the game is hard enough.

I made a change and was committed to doing it differently, and I started working with Jim Murphy and he’s helped a lot. He just brought some sort of positivity to me and gets me excited to play golf and excited to be in tough situations.

You got to enjoy this stuff. It’s kind of a — kind of an honor and a pleasure to be in these tough situations. This is what you work for, to be in these fun, tight, tense situations.

Q. On 16 did you give any thought to playing a different shot?

HUNTER MAHAN: On 16? On which shot?

Q. On your be second shot.

HUNTER MAHAN: No. I looked at it a couple ways. I felt like hitting high was kind of the safest play, because I knew I got down slope to run to the hole. So I didn’t have to hit it perfect. I just had to hit it just far enough to let it roll. If I hit it too far, it was going the land on a flat spot and I would still be putting uphill.

Q. Jim Murphy from here?


Q. There is a Jim Murphy here.

HUNTER MAHAN: Okay. He’s from Canada.

Q. Is part of the mental side today that it was such a contrast, the way you guys kind of — for three days here, it was kind of gun and go for it, and today that wasn’t the mindset you were in?

HUNTER MAHAN: I was just playing the course. I think I was doing what the course was giving me, and there were just a lot of tough pins. Your distance had to be so good. On like 7, not a long par 3. That was 168 yards. But you can hit a pretty good shot and hit it in the back bunker and have a tough up and down. I wasn’t going to be overly aggressive. If I didn’t feel comfortable with the shot, I was going to try to hit it on the green and make a putt.

I was not going to try to make the game more complicated than it had to be. Felt like 9 was an open pin, I could be aggressive there. I made a good swing. It was just really hard to hit it close. Unlike the other days, it was a little bit more open and you could be a little more aggressive.

Q. What point did you make the change and decide you were going to look at playing golf differently?

HUNTER MAHAN: Probably a lot of times. I just haven’t done it very well. Plenty of times when I left the course going, “Why make this game so hard?”

Q. You were talking about enduring certain things. You’ve endured 102 holes without a three-putt. What’s the deal?

HUNTER MAHAN: That’s good. I have no idea. I’m going the try to keep that up, I guess. I wasn’t kind of reaching my potential in a way. I think great players, when you see them, their head is always up. They never seem to get down. They might get upset over a shot, but don’t get down on themselves over a shot. It just never seems to bother them.

You also watch Tiger when he’s I guess — played with him last week. The guy, he’s just got that confidence and that swagger back where it’s just head up, chest back and ready to go play. You got to be positive in this game. It’s too hard. Hitting a good shot might be hitting it 30 feet. You don’t have to hit it 2 feet for it to be a good shot.

DOUG MILNE: All right, Hunter. One more.

Q. On the 18th tee I was walking by and heard your caddy say to you before you stepped up to hit your shot, “You’re the best driver of the golf ball in the world.” Did that help you, and what were you thinking at the time?

HUNTER MAHAN: For sure. For sure. That’s the time where you got to pick your target and make a golf swing. It’s not a time to kind of bail out or hope you hit it good. You just got to step up there and make a good golf swing.

There’s moments in competitive golf where there it is in front of you, you got to do it. It’s one of those moments you got to be aggressive with your target and make an aggressive swing. That’s what I did, and that’s what I was thinking on the tee and just spoke it.

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