How He Hit That: Hideki Matsuyama's calm putting
It's the last hole of regulation, and you're playing in front of a stadium full of people in what is normally a quiet sport, and 99 percent of them are rooting for the other guy. And the other guy is waiting on you to roll your 20-footer before he addresses his putt for birdie of half that length.
Oh, and by tour standards, you're a below average putter -- 147th in strokes gained putting going into the week.
So Hideki Matsuyama calmly rolled in his birdie putt, watched Rickie Fowler match it from 10 feet, then outlasted Fowler through four holes of an intense playoff at the Waste Management Phoenix Open to win his second PGA Tour event. Matsuyama made five birdies and no bogies in 22 holes Sunday, hit 19 of 22 greens -- and showed remarkable calm considering how much was lined up against him.
How did he do it? Top Texas teacher Corey Lundberg says it comes from Matsuyama's mental approach.
"The stats say the average PGA Tour player misses that final putt in regulation more than 80 percent of the time," says Lundberg, who is based at the Club at Carlton Woods in the Woodlands. "With all the additional pressure, how does a below-average putter rise to the occasion? I don't think it's because he had some kind of technical epiphany over that putt that let him perform over his typical skill level. It's because of how he framed the situation in his mind."
With fan-favorite Fowler sitting close to the hole, Matsuyama probably approached his putt as one where he had nothing to lose. "Plenty of research shows that performers who approach pressure with loss aversion -- trying not to lose -- tend to perform below their ability level, while players who frame the situation as a opportunity to gain may perform above their ability level as they become more focused on the potential positive reward."
What does that mean for you and your game? "Create practice scenarios where you simulate the pressure of real situations -- like games that require to you 'win' before you can leave the range," says Lundberg. "Then you're more familiar with how your body and mind respond, and you can practice techniques that help you cope with the pressure. You could see Matsuyama take one big breath as he approached that putt. That wasn't an accident. He has probably practiced that way over and over again as a way of coping with the pressure and making a stressful situation more routine."