TOUR Insider: Mahan's improved game making better memories

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Hunter Mahan returns to defend this week at Redstone.
March 27, 2013

By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

HUMBLE, Texas -- Have you heard Mark Hamill is going to reprise his role of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode VII?

Quickly, tell me another movie Hamill starred in.

Came up blank? Thought so.

Hamill got typecast early in his acting career. He is Luke Skywalker. People will always associate the roll with Hamill. It’s a character that has stuck with him for the past three decades.

Hunter Mahan suffers from a similar recognition. People often associate him with a bad chip on the final hole of the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Mention Mahan to casual golf fans and they won’t bring up Hunter’s victory in the 2012 World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, they’ll talk about that chunky chip in Wales.

It was a high-pressure, high-visibility situation and Mahan did not execute.

Analysts immediately brought up Mahan’s stats and confirmed his short game struggles. In 2010 he ranked 87th in strokes-gained putting, 135th in sand saves, 85th in scrambling and 183rd on the PGA TOUR in approaches between 50-125 yards.

Fair enough. Hunter’s strength was not in his short game. However, his game was good enough in 2010 to win $3,574,550 and rank 10th on the money list and seventh in FedExCup points.

He has since improved on those short game numbers. Mahan was 13th in strokes-gained putting in 2011. He is getting up and down 60 percent of the time in scrambling this season to rank 83rd.

Last year, Mahan faced an intimidating chip on the 70th hole of the Shell Houston Open. From behind the 16th green, from out the rough, chipping to a green that sloped away, Mahan saved par and went on to victory.

In winning the tournament, Mahan was fifth in strokes-gained putting for the week and fifth in scrambling.

I guess, it’s just an unfortunate part of human nature that we tend to remember the worst of a person’s performance instead of his best.

T.C. Chen is still known as “two chip.” We still question why Chip Beck laid up and we wonder why Mahan chunked that chip in the Ryder Cup.

It’s part of performing in the public eye.

Hunter Mahan is a great golfer. The next time you see him, try thinking of that clutch chip in the 2012 Shell Houston Open, instead of his mistake in 2010.

And go see Star Wars: Episode VII when it’s released. I bet Hamill is going to be great as Luke Skywalker.

Observations

Ball Washer: I think this week has one of the better closing holes on the PGA TOUR. The 18th is a 488-yard par 4 with water down the entire left side and bunkers on the right in the fairway landing area. That bunker is a popular miss as players guide the ball away from the water, however it makes for a difficult approach into a green complex with lots of movement. When the wind sweeps in from the right, the “ball washer” gets lots of action.

Cart ride: The first and final holes are on one side of a canal with the rest of the golf course across the bridge. It requires two lengthy cart rides. From one to two and from 17 to 18. That long ride from the 17th green to the 18th tee gives a player a lot of time to think about a very difficult upcoming drive.

Turf: Throughout the Florida Swing we had lots of grass on the golf courses. The bermuda and rye grasses were both lush making for a verdant mix. That’s not the case this week in Humble. Houston has had a very dry winter and the rye grass is a little thin. Some recent rain has helped with a rye grass growth spurt but bermuda is the dominant strain.

Greens: In an effort to replicate Augusta National, Redstone Golf Club always has firm and speedy greens. They are expected to roll 13 on the stimpmeter this week. The putting surfaces average a generous 6,700 square feet and are not difficult to hit. Hunter Mahan was 62 of 72 in greens hit last year. You may think that lessens the impact of ballstriking since it’s easy to hit the greens but it’s just the opposite. The large greens are filled with undulations and tabletop plateaus for hole locations. The telling stat is not greens in regulation this week, but rather proximity to the hole.

Winner, winner: I’m feeling good after giving you Tiger Woods and Justin Rose last week. Let’s go deep into the field in Humble and look past Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Those are all legitimate choices but I have been watching Jimmy Walker this season and figure he is about to peak. The Texan is back home and not far from his Baylor alma mater in Waco. Walker has made a healthy 142 birdies this season for an average of one every 4.4 holes. He is going to be a popular selection next week playing in his hometown of San Antonio, but I think he returns to the Alamo with his first TOUR victory being the Shell Houston Open.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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