How Hudson Swafford made a pressure-filled situation look easy

Hudson Swafford
USA Today Sports Images
Hudson Swafford embraced a pressure-packed situation late at the CareerBuilder Challenge on Sunday and went on to win his first PGA Tour event.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
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Published: Monday, January 23, 2017 | 11:50 a.m.

Until Sunday, Hudson Swafford had never won on the PGA Tour.

In the final round of the CareerBuilder Challenge at PGA West, Swafford emerged from the pack with a 5-under 67 to claim his maiden win on Tour, good for a two-year exemption and a trip to the Masters.

Swafford's winning margin was a single stroke over runner up Adam Hadwin, who fired a 59 a day earlier.

The win -- at least in regulation -- wouldn't have been possible without Swafford's gorgeous shot at the par-3 17th hole, a tricky short one, known as "Alcatraz."

Here's a look at the shot that won the University of Georgia product the tournament:

So how did Swafford pull off a shot like that when he had a one-shot lead with two holes to go, playing in the final group and looking for his first win (Hadwin also birdied the 17th)?

PGA Professional Ryan Benzel, Director of Instruction at Sahalee Country Club and the reigning Western Washington Chapter PGA Teacher of the Year, noticed something about that feisty 17th hole that may have made things a touch easier for Swafford.

"First off, that's an intimidating par 3. They don't call it 'Alcatraz' for nothing," Benzel said. "There's water all around and it makes a small target look even smaller. The hole location on Sunday was back right. Hudson had to like that."

The reason, Benzel explained, is because a left-to-right ball flight -- or a "fade" -- is Swafford's natural shot. In other words, thanks to the hole location, the shot really fit Swafford's eye.

"Just the look of the hole suited his ball flight," Benzel said. "It worked out to be a normal, stock shot for him. When someone works it left to right, they're going to set up left of the intended target. For him, he was probably aiming more at the middle of the green and had the face open a little to move the ball toward the target."

It worked beautifully.

Benzel says there were a couple of key factors that made the shot easier for Swafford despite the intense circumstances.

"First, it was his proferred shot," Benzel said. "While the pressure was on, he still was able to stay in his comfort shot. Secondly, he selected a club that he could make an aggressive swing with. He didn't use more club and try to take something off it. Instead, he took that nice, aggressive swing which made his motion simple and natural -- he wasn't having to manipulate his swing in any way. Everything worked. As a result, he stuffed it inside of two feet, made the birdie and wound up winning by a shot."

What can you learn from Swafford's masterful swing at a crucial time in the tournament?

"For the average player, it's a lesson that you just have to swing down the line you aimed yourself on," Benzel said. "Swafford was aiming somewhere other than his intended target -- the middle of the green most likely -- because he believed that his natural swing was going to fade the ball back toward the flag. That's the key for hitting a fade or a draw. Swing down the line you aimed yourself on."

Keeping it together under the pressure Swafford was feeling on Sunday also had to do with training.

"He's hit that shot hundereds of thousands of times on the range, while practicing on the course and in tournaments," Benzel said. "It was the details surrounding this one that made it tougher than others. The circumstances. As a competitor, he just needed to stand there, trust all his practice from years past, control his breathing, keep heart rate under control, hit a golf shot and execute. That's what he did and now he's a PGA Tour winner."

The bottom line for the average golfer?

Practice, practice, practice. Then when you're faced with a pressure scenario -- a career low round, to win a match against buddies, etc. -- you'll have confidence in knowing you've executed the shot in question before.  

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.