Hughes has been laser-focused on speed training in recent months; after statistical analysis, he determined gaining distance off the tee could elevate him from an above-average TOUR pro into the game’s elite.
Extra distance helped throughout the week in Mississippi, but it was his tried-and-true competitive advantage, the flat stick, that provided the eventual edge.
Along with that hint of a motivational chip.
“I guess you could say it was fuel, because I definitely worked a little harder after (not making the International Team), and felt like that was a team I really, really badly wanted to be on,” Hughes said, “and I felt like I could have been a good help there.
“I totally respected (International Team Captain) Trevor (Immelman)’s decision to go in the direction he went, and there wasn’t a weak link on the team; they had 12 great players … I still cheered like hell for them to pull it off. But I’m definitely motivated for Montreal, and I don’t want to have to let that come to a captain’s pick next time when that comes around.”
The 2024 Presidents Cup will be contested at Royal Montreal in his native Canada, and Hughes’ resume for that team could not be off to a better start. He’s striving to maximize his potential, as evidenced by his pursuit of some extra distance.
Hughes is committed to speed-training work every other day, even during the throes of a tournament, and this week was no different. Prior to his Saturday round, Hughes conducted his routine on the driving range.
“The key with this training is I feel like I need to do it throughout tournament weeks, as well,” said Hughes, who came across trainer Mike Carroll’s “Fit For Golf” program during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic hiatus and has “upped the ante” in the last two-and-a-half months.
“(Saturday) before the round, I hit 10 drivers as hard as I possibly could, just to feel my top speed, and then I can work back to my cruising speed or a stock driver swing. Doing that, I basically want to elevate my ceiling, what my max can be, and then when I go out on the course, obviously it’s not going to be quite that fast, but I just want it to creep up over time. It’s been working so far, and I’ll keep working hard at it and see if I can get some more.”
Hughes saw his work pay dividends in Mississippi – he easily carried a fairway bunker on the fifth hole Sunday with a neutral wind, without flushing the drive, which might not have been the case in years past.
“One of those where you’re like, ‘That’s awesome,’” Hughes said of the 290-yard carry, “because that’s exactly why I do this.”
Distance aside, Hughes reached a pivotal juncture at the par-5 14th hole Sunday. Trailing Straka by one stroke at the time, Hughes missed the fairway right off the tee, and his second shot found a nasty lie in a fairway bunker.
He could only advance his third shot 45 yards, but he got up and down from 136 yards, draining a 16-foot par putt that kept him within a stroke. He proceeded to tie the lead with a birdie at the short par-4 15th, then matched Straka’s 72-hole total with three consecutive closing pars.
“He absolutely didn’t flinch,” said Hughes’ caddie Jace Walker of finding the bunker on 14. “We got up there and he just goes, ‘Well, we don’t have much, so we’ll just get it out and carry on.’
“Most players at that point would’ve complained, and making that par putt was probably the swinging point … his mental toughness, hanging in there when it’s not going well; a lot of guys quit a little quicker than he does. In Napa (at the season-opening Fortinet Championship), we talked about how having a good attitude the whole season is the biggest advantage you have over everyone. It’s more important than driving or putting. Commit to a good attitude, and it doesn’t guarantee results, but it sure helps them.”
Driving and putting certainly help as well. The putting might be innate, and he’s leaving no stone unturned on the driving. It added up to a breakthrough victory in Mississippi – ending an 157-event winless drought – and perhaps the best is yet to come.