Phil Mickelson - how he developed his short game

Published 15/07/2012 17:14:00

In this special feature, Into the Rough speak to Phil Mickelson aka Lefty - one of the best short game players ever to have joined the pro tour. Phil's wide variety of short game tricks was just one thing we wanted to get to the bottom of...

Into the Rough: Your short game is legendary. Was this something you focused on as a youth or something that came naturally?

Phil Mickelson: I never thought my short game would have this much of an impact on where a lot of people would focus. Growing up, it was something I could practice on easily because I had a chipping green in the backyard. Because of that, I practiced that part of my game quite often. More importantly, I enjoyed practicing it. It certainly has become a strength of mine and its been that way for as long as I can remember, even back to when I was 9, 10, 11 years old.

ITR: Does practicing the short game still create some excitement with you?

PM: Oh yes. I still continue to enjoy practicing on it. It's much easier to practice to a green 45-50 yards away than to hit balls 200-225 yards away. I still enjoy taking a full swing and getting under the ball to where it goes maybe 10 yards with a lot of spin. And people still talk about me taking a full swing and hitting a shot over my head and the ball landing behind me.

ITR: Many amateurs are not as fond of practicing on their short game as they are bombing tee shots on the driving range. What did you do to make the practice more exciting?

PM: I played a lot of games to keep the fun in the practice and to put me in some pressure-type situations. There's plenty of fun, creative games you can play with your playing partners, friends, or even by yourself. You can test yourself by putting more pressure on a certain putt or a difficult chip. There are many games you can play and you only need four or five balls to do it. You can chip for competition with friends or see who gets it closer to the hole from out of the bunker. But the short game is a very easy way to have a little form of competition and also make yourself a better player. The short game is such an intregral part of the game.

ITR: How important is creativity in the short game?

PM: Other than execution, it might be one of the most important facets to have around the green. I didn't decide one day during a tournament to try a full swing flop shot from 10 yards out. It had to start somewhere, which was the practice green in the backyard. You're not always going to have the best of lies around the greens or a ball sitting up in the bunker. You might be buried in the lip of a bunker or in some thick rough in front of a water hazard you must clear to reach the green. That was one of the reasons many thought I would win the 1999 U.S. Open. At Pinehurst, you needed a creative short game around those greens. And I sure was tested a couple of times.

ITR: So would you tell golfers to put themselves in different situations around the green?

PM: Exactly. And try shots you think are nearly impossible or you will never attempt on the course. Because one day, you might need to attempt that impossible shot. Your results might not be what you want, but at least you knew in some sense how to execute that shot. And then you can learn from that experience and practice it again or be ready when you face that situation again.

ITR: It seems you are so comfortable when faced with a difficult chip, impossible putt or trying sand shot.

PM: It all comes back to how much you practice on it and how confident you are with your short game. Confidence mostly comes from practice and believing you can execute the shot.

ITR: Being a left-handed golfer on the PGA Tour, do you see any advantages from your perspective that might hinder right-handers?

PM: None that I've really noticed. I've noticed that the well designed courses are set up for both left-to-right and right-to-left shots and have a good mixture of shots. What side of the ball you hit from should not really matter when you play a golf course.

ITR: How are you able to flop a shot so high in the air with a very long back swing?

PM: I get asked how to hit the lob shot all the time. My quick tip is to open the club face all the way, swing hard and make sure to get underneath the ball. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?

ITR: How do you hit a flop shot off a tight fairway lie?

PM: With a difficult lie, it is very important to remember to keep your weight forward and swing down steeply behind the ball to get the club underneath. Off a good lie, it is important to move the weight more back so the club bottoms out or shallows out through impact. It's a shot anyone can learn, but it takes a lot of practice.

ITR: What are you doing different to get more distance?

PM: I have tried to create a better balance in my swing. What that allows me to do is to swing harder without losing control. I have been able to swing harder and gain more distance without giving up accuracy.

ITR: From a mental aspect, how do you approach a round of golf to maintain a level of consistency for an entire round?

PM: Mental preparation for a round is difficult. It is much easier once the round begins. The anxiety created before a round can make it difficult to stay relaxed. During a round of golf, it is important to be as patient as possible. Over 18 holes, there will be good shots and bad shots. A good round is one that has 12-13 "maintaining" holes or par holes, where par is a good score. There will be 5-6 holes in a round where pins are accessible and birdie is a realistic score. A good round is taking advantage of those birdie holes and as I said, maintaining on those other holes.

ITR: Would you ever consider designing a golf course? If so, what concepts or features would you like to incorporate into your design to make it your signature course?

PM: I would love to design some golf courses, but I don't want to do it as a business. My business is playing golf. That is how I feel I make my living. I think it would be very interesting to design a golf course with the ideas and concepts that I have. My philosophy is "less is more." By that I mean not doing too much with the land or with the course, trying to keep it as simple as possible, and also allowing the player a variety of shots into certain pin placements around and into the greens.


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