Golf tips: Keys to coming from behind

By T.J. Auclair
Published on
Golf tips: Keys to coming from behind

Hideki Matsuyama is the real deal. On Sunday, the 24-year-old from Japan notched his fourth victory on the PGA Tour, outlasting Webb Simpson in a four-hole playoff at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Matsuyama began the day four strokes behind 54-hole leader Byeong Hun An, but fired a 5-under 66 to get in a playoff with Simpson, who had a remarkable 7-under 64, before winning at TPC Scottsdale for the second time in as many years.

So how do you approach the day when you're trailing like Matsuyama and Simpson were?

We figured there was no better person to ask than PGA Professional David Hutsell. Hutsell, a teaching professional at Woodholme Golf Club in Pikesville, Maryland, won the 2011 PGA Professional Championship at Hershey Country Club, overcoming a two-stroke deficit in the final round before winning in a three-way playoff.

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So what's it like playing from behind?

"In that situation, a lot of guys talk about how you feel less pressure," Hutsell told us. "I'd say that's true to a degree. It's always difficult to sleep on a lead, but it's also a good feeling to have. You feel like you're the one in control. But, as you watch tournament golf today, it looks like no lead is safe with as low as players are shooting."

The key for Hutsell at Hershey was a quick start. He got into the mix with two birdies and an eagle in his first six holes.

Similarly, Matsuyama soared up the leaderboard in Phoenix with an eagle and a birdie in his first five holes.

"Once you get close to the lead like I was at the turn in Hershey, you start thinking you have a chance to win," Hutsell said. "Once you start thinking that way, you need to stop immediately and stay in the moment -- the old 'one shot at a time' cliche that couldn't be more accurate."

As it was for Hutsell in 2011, he double-bogeyed the par-3 16th hole, but holed a 25-foot birdie at the 17th and parred the 18th before waiting around to see if he'd be in a playoff.

Simpson and Matsuyama both finished before the final groups and had a little time before the playoff.

Hutsell said, in his experience, the brief break wasn't much of an issue.

"Any time you're hitting solid shots, your confidence builds," Hutsell said. "I had a very good week with the putter. That takes some pressure off the iron game -- you don't have to hit it perfectly."

For Matsuyama, he putted well, but there was also a distinct advantage that Hutsell saw -- his driving ability.

"He's obviously long off the tee and that's one of his strengths," Hutsell said. "He also has a great putting stroke. Any time you can drive it as long as he does and hit a lot of fairways, you increase your chance of hitting greens with shorter irons into the green. It's interesting. In the playoff yesterday, you had contrasting styles -- Webb isn't extremely long. Distance isn't everything, but it is an advantage, particularly when you're putting well."

So what can you glean from Hutsell, Matsuyama and Simpson? Chances are you aren't going to be playing in events that are as high profile as what they're playing in, but the message is the same even if it's a local tournament, club championship, or a match with your buddies where you're trailing late: stay positive.

"If you find yourself playing from behind, stay as positive as you can," Hutsell said. "If there's any doubt in your mind, it will certainly effect how you play or hit shots. Maintain a positive attitude even if you're not striking it as well as you'd like. It will help. The mind plays a huge part in the game of golf, even in between shots, so thinking positively and being confident in your decision making will help you to hit better shots in the long run."

Experience counts for something too.

"The more you can expose yourself to the pressures of playing in matches and tournaments can only help you when you find yourself in a situation with a chance to win," Hutsell said. "When you get that opportunity -- it doesn't happen as often as we'd like -- if you can, grasp it. It's an amazing feeling and one you want to experience again and again."

Hutsell said this whole outlook can also be applied to what the New England Patriots accomplished in winning Super Bowl 51 on Sunday, overcoming a late, 25-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime.

"I have no idea what was said in locker room at halftime, but I'm sure it was something like, 'we still had 30 miunutes to play, anything can happen,' Hutsell said. "Whether you're ahead or behind, everyone feels pressure. How you handle it decides whether you have success or failure. The Patriots have had success in these situations before. They could take some comfort in that. Your desired outcome is easier to achieve when you're able to recall a past experience where you performed well under pressure."