Just How Good Can Your Short Game Get?
The story of Phil Mickelson's play on the last hole at Torrey Pines has drawn tons of criticism. "He should have gone for it" being the most common criticism of his decision to lay up on his second shot. If you read the explanation he gave, his lie was not good enough for a 3-wood, and his hybrid would not have cleared the water from that lie with the grass laying against him. So, Phil opted to lay up to a range where he was confident he could have a chance to hole out from the fairway. And he nearly did. Wouldn’t that have been a fabulous ending??!!

In other words, Phil had more confidence in his ability to hole out from 72 yards, than he did on pulling off a “hero” shot with a 3-wood or hybrid from a nasty lie. Why? Because he practices his wedges religiously and knows how to hit a precise wedge from nearly any distance. And that’s because he hits 1,500 shots a month at towels on the ground at various distances. And he’s done that for seven years! You can bet for sure that he doesn’t practice that many shots in a lifetime with a wood or hybrid from a similar nasty lie.

To me, there are several lessons to be learned here. Phil is unquestionably one of the finest short game practitioners to ever play the game. He is skilled, has a surgeon’s touch and knows how to get a ball from ‘A’ to ‘B’ in more ways than probably anyone. Is that God-given talent? There has to be that element. But in my opinion, it’s more about drive, ambition, dedication and fun. And because it’s fun, Phil practices his short game more than most others out there . . . maybe anyone else out there.

Another short game wizard of his time, Tom Watson, wrote a wonderful book on the short game called “Getting Up and Down”. I highly recommend it to you as a great read. In it, he explains that his father introduced him to golf when he was just a tyke, with a putter and ball on the practice green. He got the biggest thrill, he said, when that ball would go in the hole. And from that very beginning, he said he rarely rakes a ball away from the hole, as that final act is the entire objective of any golf hole.

So if the sight of the ball going in the hole, regardless of the distance, is the most enjoyable thing . . . the closer you get to the hole . . . the better your chances of seeing that payoff . . . the more fun the shot has to be. Right? But how many of us play that way? In your last round of golf, on how many of the 18 holes did you actually get to reach down and get your ball out of the hole, rather than have your buddy knock it back to you from a foot or two away? In Watson’s world, and I would imagine Phil’s as well, that would be denying you the ultimate pleasure of having traversed the 4-600 yards to get to that point.

My point today is that if you want to score, have Phil’s dedication to the short game be your guide and inspiration. Few of us have the physical skills, nor the time, to even come close to matching the PGA Tour players’ shotmaking and power. But if we spent an hour or two a week on and around the practice green, or even at the local school yard, working on our wedge play techniques and skills, it would pay off in multiples every time you tee it up.

I’m just sayin . . . . .

photo source
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[ comments ]
inok11 says:
I couldn't agree with you more. Especially on Left''s decision to lay up. It amazes me how many people were critical of him laying up.
Backquak says:
I love the sound of a ball falling in the hole and it shows cause my buddies know not to tap it back to me, and its something my kids really enjoy too. There have been times that I get a little frustrated with my kids insisting on holing out when people are waiting for us to clear the green, but I try my best to remember the whole object of the game is to get the ball in the hole, not get it close to the hole and pick it up.
aaronm04 says:
The only issue I had with Phil's decision was that it was so anti-Phil. His course management makes me cringe at times so to see him actually make a smart play was a surprise, especially trailing. I also wonder how much better he could be if he could hit a fairway every once in a while.

I actually hole out most times on the course even after I get a "that's good" from others in my group. I don't like to see the ball go in the hole as much as I love the sound of it dropping into the cup but I sure see Watson's point.
bkuehn1952 says:
Phil plays about 25 tournaments in a year. That is 4 rounds times 25 times 18 for 1,800 golf holes. How many times does he hole out from 75 yards or more during the year? If he did it 18 times (which I doubt) that is 1 percent of the time. So when he laid up he had a less than i chance in one hundred of making the shot. He may have a lot of confidence but it is misplaced if he truly believes trying to hole out from 75 yards is the smart play.

I think most of us agree that the smart play would have been to wait to see what Bubba did with his putt before pulling the trigger on the lay-up. Once Bubba made the putt, the decision then should have been to go for it.
LongTimeAway says:
Interesting assessment of Phil's course management and practice habits, and comments on the thrill of holing out. It sounds like once Phil had the nasty lie the second and third shots were the best percentage play --no matter how low that percentage was. It would be fun to have the short game skill that leads to that sequence of shots. :-)
stedar says:
I think Phil gave a good example of course management - yes, going for it would have been exciting and I have been one to do just that. As percentages go, 1 in 1000 would work so if laying up to get a 1 in 100 chance is on, then that is a better call. We all could learn from the example, particularly when the decision to go for it could lose 2 shots if you miss, or lay up and only lose 1 shot makes the difference between me hitting an 80 or 79 - I'll take the 79 any day... I also think a chance at 79 yrds out is better than a water hazard option... If only I had the same conviction on the course, I always feel I can make the impossible shot and get a surprise when it doesn't work out as planned ;-)
Backquak says:
should phil's lay-up go on the show as "wuss golf"? according to the show we are suppose to go for it every shot no matter the consequences of the poorly executed shot, aim for the hole in one.
Backquak says:
the link to wuss golf
DoubleDingo says:
I picked up the ball from the hole 18 times in my last round, and 26 times in the round before that(played 27 holes). 26 times because I picked up on one hole so as to not hold up the group behind us. On that hole I just could not chip or pitch on the green to save the my life. I most definitely need to practice my short game so I can get more up and downs, pars, and birdies. For some reason I play my long irons better than my short irons.
cjgiant says:
Sometimes is a pace thing and to tap in and pick up the ball from the hole involves more thought and care (not stepping in lines) than the benefit. However, if there are "legit" reasons for picking up for more than a couple holes, I to feel the itch of withdrawal from hearing ball hit bottom of cup.
KVSmith59 says:
bkuehn1952 - right on the money. "I think most of us agree that the smart play would have been to wait to see what Bubba did with his putt before pulling the trigger on the lay-up. Once Bubba made the putt, the decision then should have been to go for it."

If he was fairly new and low on the money list every year, yeah lay up as you need the cash. He doesn't. The only thing he should have been playing for was 1st place and there was very very little chance that he could have holed that out. He really had nothing to lose by going for it. Put it in the water and he may have dropped down a few slots, but he can afford it financially. What would Tiger have done? lol
DoubleDingo says:
Well, since the Subject Line is about how good can your short game get, and how my short game ruined my score on Saturday, I need to really focus on improving with my wedges. Putting is still okay, 1.8 avg. So how good can my short game get? Seeing how poor it is at the moment, it has a ton of room for improvement!
aglazier says:
Very well argued bkuehn1952. BTW- to further prove your point, there is no way he holed out 18 times, probably not even half that, which means his chances of holing out were .5% at best.

I understand the lie was bad and unpredictable, but I think most of us would agree that the chances of Phil easing up on a 3 wood or hoping to catch it clean with a hybrid in spite of the bad lie and then making the putt were better than the 0.5-1% option that Phil went with.

I understand playing it safe for the money argument, but remember Phil actually finished 2 STROKES ahead of Dustin Johnson in third place (and remember the entire field had already finished). SO, PHIL WOULD HAVE FINISHED IN SOLO SECOND EVEN IF HE MADE PAR ON THE FINAL HOLE. Meaning, even if he went for it and hit it in the water or hit the ball into the grandstand he could made an easy up and down for the solo 2nd.

Bottom line: MAJOR BRAIN FART BY PHIL AND BONES. But heh, we've all been there.
Albatross says:
Funny, if Phil had gone for the shot and hit it in the water, would we be criticizing him for an impossible shot from a poor lie? I suspect we would. He got second and still we criticize him. No win for him no matter what he does.
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Terry Koehler is "The Wedge Guy" and President of SCOR Golf- The Short Game Company.

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