Behind the artistry and the magic shows are three simple principles
En route to making history as the oldest winner of a men’s golf Major at age 50, Phil Mickelson produced plenty of key shots during his four rounds of this year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
While it’s difficult to rank which shot was most important, certainly there were two big moments early in his final round that, in retrospect, saved the day and delivered the sixth Major win – and 45th PGA Tour victory – of his World Golf Hall of Fame career.
It’s no surprise that both shots came via the short game.
The first of those shots happened at the par-5 second hole. Mickelson had bogeyed his opening hole and needed a bounce-back. His approach shot left him in the rough near a greenside bunker for his third shot. Had Mickelson been right-handed, he might have had to stand in the bunker to make his swing; being left-handed fortunately gave him a better stance. His delicate chip left him with a tap-in birdie.
The second big moment ended up being the signature shot of the championship.
It came at the par-3 fifth. His tee shot had left him in a bunker. Fortunately, he had a flat lie, and his blast from the sand rolled into the cup for his second birdie of the day. It gave him a two-shot lead at the time in his slugfest with playing partner Brooks Koepka. While the battle was not over, the hole-out proved to be the big boost Mickelson needed at the time.
“Certainly it was a momentum builder,” he said afterwards. “It was a little bit early in the round to start jumping ahead because so much can happen. It was only the fifth hole, but that was a big momentum thing.
“Biggest thing was getting it up-and-down. I just didn’t want to throw away another shot and I had fought hard to keep the round in check and I was still 1-over through four. I just needed to get that up-and-down and to have it go in was a bonus, but I knew I had a lot of work ahead.”
For all his attributes as one of golf’s all-time best performers, Mickelson’s calling card is his magical touch with his wedges around the green. Time and time again, he makes a chip or a bunker shot look ridiculously easy; most amateurs and weekend players, meanwhile, struggle to unlock the secret of those shots.
“There’s a variety of shots we can hit around the green,” Mickelson says. “But everything stems from our foundation, our most basic chipping motion…
“In chipping, you’re dealing with a 60-degree wedge, where the leading edge is coming into the ball first. Because of that, there’s only one way to chip. Everything we do in chipping is designed to keep the leading edge down.”
In a video produced by Callaway Golf, Mickelson lays out the three fundamentals to achieve that goal.
He calls it Chipping 101.
1. Weight position
“You’ve got to be on your front foot because if it’s on your back foot, the leading edge comes up,” Mickelson explains. “So your weight has to be on your front foot.”
2. Hands forward
“Your hands cannot be behind,” Mickelson says. “They have to be in front, creating almost an inverse line. You don’t even want it to be straight. You want it to be turned where your hands are ahead.”
3. Decide: Low or high
“If you’re going low,” Mickelson says, “the ball’s off your back foot. If you’re going high, the ball’s off your front foot. But it should never be in between your feet.
“Most people chip with the ball in between their feet and they’ve not decided what shot they’re going to hit. When the ball’s in between your feet, you can’t put your weight forward because you’d go over the top of it. If you want to try to hit it high, you have to scoop it, so you put your weight back to try to help it up.
“You can’t chip with the ball in between your feet. Yet you have people time after time try to chip with the ball in between their feet.”
To summarise… weight on your front foot, hands forward and avoid a ball position that’s mid-stance. “If you do that,” Mickelson says, “you’ll make solid contact every time. It’s the easiest short swing in golf but nobody does it right.
“Well, very few people.”
Mickelson, of course, does it right more than anybody else in golf.
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Feature image by Getty images: Tom Pennington