Few sights thrill golf fans more than Phil Mickelson's famous “flop shot.” How can he make such a big swing, we marvel, and hit the ball such a short distance?
Talent is part of it, of course. A bit of practice helps, too. Mickelson was born with an abundance of the former, and began turning his gifts into skills at a very young age. As a youngster in San Diego, his parents installed a putting and chipping green in the backyard, where little “Lefty” – who is actually right-handed – spent endless hours practicing and experimenting.
It certainly paid off.
Of course, Mickelson didn't invent the flop shot. Nor is he the only current PGA Tour player to employ it with jaw-dropping results. (See Woods, Tiger.) But Mickelson wields it more often – and arguably more effectively – than anyone else in the game.
Mickelson's signature shot: A high-arching pitch with a lob wedge (60-64°) that lands with a thud, usually within a few feet of the hole.
What it looks like: Watching Mickelson hit the flop is, quite literally, one of the most breathtaking moments in sports.
He often takes a full backswing, as though hitting a drive or long-iron shot, and swings through with great force. Rather than rocketing past the target, the ball jumps almost vertically off the clubface, flies a very short distance, and falls on the green as if by parachute.
Mickelson finishes in a full follow-through position.
How Phil does it: It starts with club selection. Mickelson uses a lob wedge of at least 60°, often as much as 64°, for maximum height. What's somewhat surprising is that his standard lob wedge features 10° of bounce on the sole, which would seem to prevent the club from sliding under the ball as needed. However, Mickelson opens the clubface so much that bounce is minimized, and what remains helps him drive the ball up into the air.
How you can do it: First, you must recognize appropriate situations for using the flop shot. In general, it's a good option any time you've got very little green to work with or you're pitching downhill across a very fast green.
A good example is when a bunker or other obstacle lies between your ball and the flag, with the hole cut very close to the edge of the green just past the hazard. Your task: Get the ball over the trouble and stop it quickly. The higher you hit it, the less it will roll.
Like Mickelson, start by using a wedge with a minimum of 60° loft. Then:
- Set up with the ball between your left heel and the center of your stance.
- Without taking your grip, open the clubface so that it lies almost flat to the turf, pointing well right of your target.
- Grip the club in your normal fashion, making sure the clubface remains wide open. (Your hands will be on the left side of the club's handle rather than the middle.)
- Align your feet, hips and shoulders well left of the target.
- If playing from from short grass, lean lightly onto your left side.
- From thicker grass, position your weight evenly on both feet.
- Make a full, accelerating swing along the line of your body, and don't let the right hand roll over the left until well after impact.
It's best to practice the shot extensively before trying it on the course. On the range or practice green, experiment with your ball position and alignment to produce optimum height and length. And remember, if you're doing it right, the harder you swing, the higher the ball will go, with only a small amount of extra distance.
Phil Mickelson Sky Scraping Flop Shot
Phil Mickelson, in addition to being one of the most accomplished golfers of all time, has also been a fan favorite throughout his long PGA Tour career. The fans have been drawn to Phil over the years for a number of reasons, but a big part of the equation has been his risk-taking, exciting style of golf. You never quite know what you are going to see when you watch Mickelson compete in a Tour event, which is a big part of his appeal. Some would accuse the average Tour player of being a bit boring in his approach to the game, but that is never a charge that you could bring against Mickelson.
One of the exciting shots that Phil has been known for throughout his career is a sky scraping flop shot. Played from within close range of the green, this is a shot that is played with a 60* (or 64*) wedge for maximum elevation. Phil will often pull this shot out of the bag when there is very little green to work with between his ball and the hole. It is naturally a high risk shot, but it comes along with the possibility of a great reward when he pulls it off properly. While all players on the PGA Tour are able to reach for a flop shot from time to time, Phil has proven that he has the ability to play it better than just about anyone else in the world.
So, at this point, the natural question is this - should you attempt to add this shot to your game? On the one hand, it would certainly be nice to have the ability to flop the ball close to the hole when you don't have much green to work with. On the other hand, this is a risky shot that may be best left to the pros. The answer, of course, is that you will never know unless you try. This is a shot that isn't a good fit for every golfer, but it might work out nicely for you once you learn the basic fundamentals. If it doesn't work out for you, the only thing that will be lost is a bit of practice time. However, if it does work out, you will suddenly expand the number of positions around the course from where you can get up and down.
It should be made perfectly clear before getting any farther into this discussion that the flop shot is always going to remain something of a 'last resort' around the green. Even Phil Mickelson, a player with more than enough talent to pull off this shot, would much rather be able to play a basic chip up onto the green whenever possible. The flop shot is risky by nature, and it requires a combination of luck and skill to have this shot come off perfectly. When it does work, it can make you look like a genius - but it can also make you look quite silly when it goes wrong.
Despite the fact that Phil Mickelson plays golf left handed, all of the instruction below has been based on a right handed golfer. If you do play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Three Key Ingredients
Before we get into the details on how to perform this challenging shot, we need to outline the circumstances that need to come together in order for you to even attempt a flop shot on the course. Only when you have all three of the points below in place should your mind consider the possibility of turning to the flop. If any of the three pieces of the puzzle below are missing, you should move on to figuring out what other option you can use to get the ball safely on the green.
- The setting. First and foremost, you have to have a need for the flop shot in the first place. Generally speaking, the need for the flop shot will arise when you are faced with a short sided situation on a course with firm greens. Being 'short sided' means that the hole has been cut close to the edge of green on the same side that you have missed. In other words, you have very little green to work with, and you would have trouble stopping the ball close to the hole if you were to play a regular chip shot. Often, a short side situation that requires a flop shot will be made more difficult by the presence of a bunker between your ball and the hole. In that case, you obviously can't bounce the ball onto the green, so you are forced to go high in the air. If you can see another path to the hole other than the flop shot, you should take it. However, if the only real choice in front of you is to send the ball skyward, then you can proceed with the rest of this list.
- The club. Of course, you will need to have a club in your bag that is capable of hitting a flop shot. Typically, this wedge will need to have at least 58* of loft, if not more. If the most-lofted club in your bag is a 55* or 56* wedge, you will likely have trouble producing a true flop shot. You might be able to hit a high chip shot with that kind of wedge, but producing an actual flop shot demands that you carry a lob wedge in your bag. Also, if you play on a course with firm turf, you will need that lob wedge to have a low bounce angle if you want to be able to move it under the ball properly.
- The lie. This last point is an important one, and it is one that many golfers ignore when they decide to try a flop shot. Without the right kind of lie, you may as well try a different kind of shot - because your flop is going to be a failure. A good lie for a flop shot would be one where the ball is sitting cleanly with only a little bit of grass between the ball and the ground. If you have too much grass under the ball, you will likely go right under it at impact, and the ball will move just a few feet at the most. On the other hand, if there is almost no grass under the ball, you will run the risk of hitting the shot thin - and sending a rocket across the green. Most likely, you will find that the best time to hit a flop shot is when your ball is resting in the first cut of rough. Usually, this cut will be clean enough to give you a good look at the ball, but there will be enough 'cushion' to help you get under it nicely.
Only when you have the collection of all three of those conditions in place should you go ahead with your flop shot. Of course, that is assuming that you have already practiced this shot in advance. You shouldn't try any shot on the course that you haven't first hit in practice, and that certainly applies to the flop shot. This shot requires a skill that can only be developed through consistent and focused practice - in the absence of that practice, you will need to opt for another shot to get your ball onto the green.
Making the Swing
To prepare yourself to hit a flop shot out on the course, you will need to hit plenty of them in practice - and that means you need to understand exactly how this technique works. By knowing how you are going to swing the club before you even head out for a practice session, you will be one step ahead of the game. There is still a long road ahead before you can trust this kind of short game shot, but knowledge is key to eventually being successful.
The sequence below will walk you through the process of hitting a flop shot. During practice, be sure you give yourself a good lie from which to play the shot. Remember, on the course, you are only going to use this shot if you have a good lie, so there is no point in practicing it from a dicey position. Place your ball in a nice spot around the practice chipping green and then proceed with the directions below.
- To start, you will need to take your stance next to the ball. The stance for a flop shot is going to be significantly different from the stance you would use to hit a regular full shot. First, you are going to use a wide base with your feet slightly outside the width of your shoulders. You usually wouldn't use such a wide stance for a shot that is being played from next to the green, but you will be making a big swing and you need a wide base for balance. Also, the stance needs to be dramatically open to the target line - at least 30*, but likely closer to 45*. The club needs to be cutting across the ball from outside-in at impact, and that is only going to happen if you are starting with a significantly open stance.
- Now that you have your stance sorted out, you need to position yourself appropriately in relationship to the ball. For a flop shot, your ball position should be up near the front of your stance. In other words, the ball should be lined up approximately with the inside of your left foot. You want the club to be traveling roughly parallel to the ground when you strike this shot, so playing the ball in a forward position is your only option. If you were to move the ball back in your stance, you would hit it on the downswing and it would likely travel too far for your needs.
- As you set the club head down behind the ball to get ready to swing, be sure to lay the face of the club wide open as it lays on the ground. While you are starting with something like 58* or 60* loft on your wedge, that is not going to be enough to hit the kind of shot you are trying to execute. So, it is going to be necessary to lay the face wide open just as you would when playing from a greenside bunker.
- There is one more pre-swing point that needs to be managed, and that is the positioning of your hands in relationship to the ball. You should have your hands slightly behind the ball at address, as that is where you want them to be when you come back impact. On most 'normal' golf shots, you want your hands slightly in front of the ball both at address and at impact, but this is not a normal shot. Set your hands just an inch or two behind the ball at address and you will increase your chances of success.
- With all of those pre-shot checks out of the way, it is finally time to swing the club. As you start the swing, make sure to swing back along the line that has been established by your feet - which should be dramatically open to the target. That will lead you on an outside-in path that is perfect for lofting the ball high into the sky. Your backswing should be just as long as it is for any full swing - you need to go all the way back if you are going to generate the speed necessary to achieve a full flop shot height.
- As you swing down into the ball, your right hand is going to be the star of the show. You need to release the club head with your right hand as you approach impact to maximize both loft and speed. This is the trickiest part of the shot, by far. In many ways, it is like you are hitting a greenside bunker 'explosion' shot, only without the sand. There is simply no margin for error as you swing down into impact. If you get it right, it will be beautiful. If you get it wrong, it will be a mess.
The importance of practice when it comes to this shot cannot be overemphasized. If you don't practice this shot on a somewhat regular basis, there is almost no chance that you are going to be able to pull it off on the course. During practice, make sure that the far side of the green is clear just in case you hit the ball thin and hit a low rocket that shoots into the distance just a few feet off the ground. There is always a chance that this shot will go wrong, so don't practice it when others are potentially in harm's way.
Summoning the Nerve
There are no two ways about it - hitting a flop shot during a round of golf requires a steady nerve. You will always know in the back of your mind that this shot comes along with the potential for failure, so you will have to overcome those negative thoughts in order to execute the swing properly. If you don't have the necessary confidence in your ability to swing through the ball to a full finish, you will never be able to pull this off successfully. One of the reasons Phil Mickelson gets so much attention for his flop shot is the fact that he is willing to pull it out of the bag on the biggest stages. There is always a lot on the line when Phil tees it up, and yet he is still willing to take on this dangerous short game play from time to time.
The first key to finding the nerve to hit this shot comes in from your practice sessions. If you are able to produce quality flop shots in practice, that success will breed confidence that you can use on the course when under pressure. Obviously, hitting the shot in practice is nothing like hitting it on the course, but you have to start somewhere.
Another bit of confidence can be gained from the fact that you really have no other option when you choose to reach for the flop shot. When you are in doubt as to your club or shot selection on the course, your performance can suffer - but that shouldn't be a problem in this case. If you have picked the flop shot, you have done so because you really have no other option. So, with that being the case, the only thing to do is commit to the swing and give it your best try.
Finally, you can also pick up some nerve from the fact that this is just a game, and it is only one shot within the course of your round. Even if you don't pull it off, you will simply have to recover as quickly as possible. Of course, you would rather have the shot go right, but don't let this one moment overwhelm you. It's just golf, and it is just one stroke - maintain some perspective and your nerves should calm down nicely.
When you find yourself in a position that may require the use of a flop shot, you should have one goal in mind - getting the ball down in two shots. While much of the focus is going to be paid to the flop shot, that is really only the first half of the equation. If you don't follow up that flop shot with a good putt to complete your up and down, you won't have done yourself any favors in the end. With that in mind, you want to plan your flop shot in such a way that you will maximize your chances to get up and down as frequently as possible.
One of the biggest keys on this point is simply trying to leave the ball below the hole whenever possible. Putting uphill is always preferred over having to putt downhill, so favor the low side of the hole with your flop shot. Even if you leave the ball a couple of feet farther away in the end, you will be better off with an uphill putt that you can be aggressive with. Give the average professional golfer the option between a downhill three footer and an uphill five footer and they will take the five footer every time. Unless the hole is cut in a flat portion of the green, check the slope and favor the low side with your flop.
The other piece of planning that come into play when getting ready to hit a flop shot relates to avoiding a big number. Imagine for a moment that you are thinking about hitting a flop shot over a bunker to a hole location that is barely onto the green. There is nothing wrong with this plan, but you will want to aim at least a few feet behind the hole to provide some margin for error. If you try to pull the shot off perfectly, and you come up just a bit short, the ball will be in the bunker and you will have real problems. By playing the ball just a bit long, you can walk the fine line between playing aggressively and playing smart. You will still give yourself a chance to make a putt for your up and down, but you will also take the big number out of play. A single bogey isn't the end of the world in terms of your score - but it is nearly impossible to recover from a triple.
It is unlikely that your are ever able to play flop shots with the proficiency of Phil Mickelson, but you can still work on adding this valuable shot to your game. You will want to avoid situations that require a flop shot as often as possible, but it is nice to know that you have the option available should you need it. Combine the advice in the content above with plenty of practice time and you just might be able to pull off your own flop shot in the near future.