To be clear, Hunter Mahan takes a lot of pride in being one of the game's best drivers. He has ranked in the top three on tour in total driving, a statistic that combines distance and accuracy, in two of the past three seasons. But what Mahan really wants is that high-arcing tee shot that flies at least 290 yards. This is not an ego thing, he says. It's a necessity thing, an adjustment to course setups on tour that require longer and longer carry distances.
"Everything is a 290 carry now, so I want to hit it higher, stretch another 10 to 15 yards out of my drives," says Mahan, who won two PGA Tour events in 2012, the fourth and fifth of his career. "I'm always trying to be even more consistent with my driver, but now I want to hit that high bomb."
To get more air time on his tee shots, Mahan is looking to change a fundamental principle of his swing. His clubhead is descending slightly when it makes contact with the ball, says his coach, Sean Foley. A downward attack angle with the driver is not unusual on tour--and helps Mahan's driving efficiency--but Foley says many of the longest hitters sweep the ball off the tee. Their clubheads are ascending slightly at impact, which makes the ball launch higher with less backspin and, as a result, maximizes carry. That's where Mahan wants to be.
"He's not trying to hit it harder," Foley says. "He's simply setting up with the ball slightly more forward in his stance and tilting his spine a little more away from the target. Those things will help hit it farther."
Mahan says, "I'm also working on staying back with my body so my arms get fully extended through impact. That creates more speed without swinging harder."
These changes might seem significant, but they are hardly noticeable. And if Mahan's effectiveness suffers, Foley says you can bet he'll go back to swinging the driver like he always has. Mahan started strong this year, reaching the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February. (He lost 2 and 1 to Matt Kuchar.)
"We've been working on the same things for years," Foley says. "It's making sure he has good posture, keeps his left arm connected to his body for most of the swing, and gets the clubhead swinging inside the target line as soon after impact as possible.
"If you look at pictures of Ben Hogan at impact and compare them to Hunter, they're identical. Now you understand why he drives the ball so well."