QA with John Mahaffey

By Casey BiererFebruary 22, 2008, 5:00 pm

Editors Note: John Mahaffey turned professional in 1971 and recorded 10 victories during his regular PGA TOUR career including the 1978 PGA Championship and the 1986 Tournament Players Championship (now THE PLAYERS Championship). John joined the Champions Tour in 1998 and won the Southwestern Bell Dominion the following year. Born in Kerrville, Texas, John was the 1970 NCAA champion while at the University of Houston. John Mahaffey played on two World Cup teams (1978 and 1979 ' medalist in 1978) and was a member of the 1979 Ryder Cup team. John can be seen regularly on the Golf Channel where he works as an analyst on the Champions Tour.
A Conversation with John Mahaffey
Casey / Q:
John, how do you define an approach shot?

John / A:
I think its anywhere from 150 yards and in. But it would also depend on what the hole is. If its your second shot on a par-5, then thats an approach shot as well. A tee shot on a par-3? Is that an approach shot? I guess technically it is although I dont really think most people think of it in those terms. There are a lot of ways to define an approach shot but clearly it means a shot in to the green.
Casey / Q:
How do you rate the importance of the approach shot?

John / A:
The approach shot is absolutely critical in terms of scoring. And thats one of the things that Mr. Hogan talked to me a lot about when I first started. He taught me that you have to learn how to play your misses. You play the smart shot in to the greens. In other words, if the pin is on the left side of the green you should try to hit a draw to the flag using the slope of the green to help work the ball close to the hole. This way, if you happen to not draw it like you wanted to, you still have a 20-footer and youre not going to make worse than par. If you do draw it like you wanted to, youll have a nice putt at birdie. But you dont try to hit some crazy shot right at the flag, not pull it off, and end up in the water.
Casey / Q:
And with the pin on the right side?

John / A:
Just the opposite. If the pin is on the right side of the green you should try and hit a fade in there. But, dont overcook it. If you miss, miss to the center of the green. If the pin is up front you dont want to go long because chances are youll have a tough downhill putt. And if the pin is back, take a little more club, maybe hit the ball a little lower and let it skip back there. If you pull the shot off just like you want youll end up with a nice putt at birdie. But if the ball checks up short youll still be in the middle of the green and you wont make any worse score than par. Its one of the most valuable lessons Mr. Hogan taught me; par is a pretty good score.
Casey / Q:
Whats your take on working the ball? We dont seem to see as much of that out on TOUR these days.

John / A:
I think its all in how you grew up playing the game. The younger guys now are used to the ball flying straighter. They are more inclined to take dead aim at the flag because the ball doesnt move as much as it used to. I learned to play at a different time. A time when the ball curved a lot more than it does today. I grew up playing with Mr. Hogan, with Byron Nelson and Lee Trevino. These guys worked the ball a ton. They moved it all over the golf course: left to right, right to left, high, lowand thats how I learned how to play golf as well.

Casey / Q:
This is an equipment factor your think?

John / A:
Yes it is. Actually, its harder for me to play with the new equipment that is available today. I mean, I get the ball up in the air easier today because of the advanced aerodynamics of the ball and how low the center of gravity is and how well the perimeter weighting works. For me personally, as equipment advanced, I felt like I had to learn how to play all over again. In order to keep the ball down I had to strengthen the lofts on all my clubs by about a full club. So, the game today is different than it was when I was playing in my prime. I think we worked the ball in to the hole more with our approach shots than players do today. But, its not a case of better or worse, its just different.
Casey / Q:
When you won your PGA Championship, what about your approach shots worked well for you?

John / A:
I stuck a lot of short irons close the last three days of that tournament. The first day I shot a 75 so I wasnt really hitting any of my approach shots close. I just made the cut really with even par or something like that going in to the weekend. But on the weekend I played really well. I think I shot 68 and 66, something like that (75-67-68-66). I cant really remember all the numbers but I do remember I shot 8 under for the tournament which tied for the lead and then luckily, I won the playoff. But, I do remember that on the weekend especially, I hit a lot of wedges close, a lot of nine irons close. I know I hit a 9-iron for my second shot in the playoff against Jerry Pate and Tom Watson on the second hole and I stuck it about 10-feet left of the hole and I was lucky enough to drain that putt.
Casey / Q:
Well, you must have been pretty sharp or you wouldnt have been in a position to win.

John / A:
Overall, my short iron approach shots were pretty darn sharp that week and that put me in position to make birdies and score. And I was very conscious of those early lessons I learned from Mr. Hogan in terms of approach shot strategy. Play away from some of the tightly tucked pins, make solid pars when the pins were in tough places, attack pins with approach shots where the pins allowed for that. These are things that amateurs would benefit from if they incorporated it in to their own games.
Casey / Q:
How did you configure your wedges when you were playing on the regular TOUR?

John / A:
I always had two kinds of sand wedges. At the time I was in my prime we didnt really see a 60-degree wedge out there. 57-degrees was pretty much the most loft we played with. But I always had a wedge with a lot bounce and then I had a wedge with very little bounce. If we had really heavy sand at a tournament where the ball tended to sit down I would use the wedge that had bounce. If the bunkers were more hard packed I would go with the wedge that had almost no bounce.
Casey / Q:
Where do you see amateurs going wrong most of the time regarding their approach shots?

John / A:
I think amateurs make their mistake more often than not because they get wrapped up in how far they can hit a certain club on their approach in to the green. They think a 7-iron should go a certain distance, or a 5-iron, or a wedgeand in my opinion they are almost always taking too little club which forces them to have to hit the ball too hard. I run in to this all the time at pro-ams. The amateur will ask me, Hey pro, what did you hit on this par-3? And Ill say, Well, I hit a little 6-iron. And the amateur puffs out his chest and says, Wow, I hit a 9-iron. Im really long with my irons. Now, yes, I was on the back tee so I had a little bit of a longer shot but guess what? I made a nice controlled golf swing and hit the ball to 8 feet and the amateur yanked the ball left 40 feet because he came out of his shoes to hit the shorter club. Ive got a nice little putt at birdie and the amateur will be lucky if he can 2-putt and make a par. More often than not, actually, hell 3-putt and walk off the green shaking his head and wondering what went wrong.

Casey / Q:
Im laughing because you have described my game so well.

John / A:
Well, tell me, whats the better approach? Another one of Mr. Hogans lessons to me; its not how far you hit a club its how close to the hole you can hit a club. So as I watch amateurs play golf I think thats one of their biggest faults. They are almost always a club short. The next time you play, Casey, hit more club in to the green and tell me if it helped you score better. Deal?
Casey / :Q
Deal. Since were fortunate enough to have you in a giving advice mood, what else should amateurs be thinking about out there?

John / A:
Always play the smartest shot you can. Dont try and be the hero. Amateurs will often make a very big number on a hole because they tried to pull off an impossible hero shot. They rarely pull it off and a big number results. If youre in trouble, hit out safely to a good position so that you have a reasonable chance to make a good approach and maybe make your par but at worst youll make bogie. But you wont have shot yourself out of a potentially good round of golf. If you hit a bad drive, there is nothing wrong with putting yourself back in good position for your third shot, hitting your approach to the green close and making a bogie. OK, so you might make bogie but you can recover from bogie. You start making doubles and triples or worse, you cant recover from that. So, play the smart shot and play within yourself on approach shots and I think youll see your scores go down.
Casey / Q:
John, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us. I for one will take what youve said to heart, try it on the course, and Ill give you a call and let you know how it works.

John / A:
Well, it was my pleasure, Casey. I hope what weve discussed today helps some people out there.
Email your thoughts to Casey Bierer

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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1