Where Mickelson Flopped
This is an article from the Feb. 21, 2000 issue
Everyone considers Phil Mickelson to be a virtuoso of the flop
shot, which has become a staple of the modern game. He is
legendary for his circus shots on the practice range, where he
can gently flip his ball just over another pro's shoulder into a
hat that player is holding, or take a full rip and hit a 10-yard
shot that spins back five. "Phil does things that nobody else
even tries," says Skip Kendall. That's why it's so startling to
hear Mickelson say, "I've known for years that my short game has
Since his rookie year in 1993, Mickelson has been mostly abysmal
in the Tour's scrambling statistic, which measures how often a
player makes par or better after missing a green. Four times he
has ranked 114th or worse. Here's why: Instead of sticking with
the 60-degree lob wedge he used so effectively as an amateur,
Mickelson switched in 1994 to a wedge he helped design for the
company whose irons he's paid to play. This season he switched
back to the club he used in his formative years.
The wedge he had been using as a pro, made by Yonex, had less
bounce than his old club, a 1988 Ping Eye2 L-wedge. (Bounce is
the degree of separation between the leading edge of the clubhead
and the end of the flange on the back of the club.) More bounce
helps a club ride through sand and grass without digging in.
Mickelson has always said that the key to the flop shot is to hit
slightly behind the ball and let the club glide under the ball.
The trouble with the Yonex was that it sometimes grabbed the
grass. "I thought they were identical, but they didn't perform
the same," he says. "I would still hit some good shots and hole
out my share, but the consistency wasn't there. I had to change
my technique to get the club to perform, and that hurt my short
Because he wasn't getting the ball as close to the hole from off
the green, Mickelson was leaving himself more putts in the
difficult six- to eight-foot range. That contributed to a loss of
confidence in his putting, which led to crucial misses, like
those at last year's U.S. Open and Ryder Cup.
Mickelson wishes he had returned to his old wedge earlier. He
didn't for two reasons. First, he experienced a problem common
among U.S. pros who play Japanese clubs. "It was difficult, with
the factory in Japan, to have the clubs properly altered," he
says. Second, out of loyalty to his sponsor, he did not want to
admit the club was causing him trouble. "Because I was so
involved with the design of the wedge, I felt an obligation to
play it," he says. "So I stayed with it and just kept hitting it
over and over."
Last year, though, Mickelson did not win for the first time in
his seven seasons, and that caused him to take stock. One of the
missed shots that stuck out came in the Open at Pinehurst, where
he excelled because he was the only contender with enough skill
and nerve to use a 60-degree wedge from the tight turf around the
greens. However, he says, "the shot I was mostly playing there
was a low skipper in which I put my hands ahead and caught the
ball first, so the [club's] bounce didn't make any difference."
On the 70th hole Mickelson was leading Payne Stewart by one when
he tried to hit a 20-yard shot from the greenside rough that
required sliding the wedge under the ball. He left the shot 10
feet short and missed the putt to drop into a tie. "That was one
where the club dug in as opposed to scooting through," he says,
"and a perfect example of the problem I was having. It cost me."
So in the off-season Mickelson put the well-worn Eye2 back into
his bag. (He also replaced his Yonex pitching wedge with a Ping
and his 56-degree sand wedge with one made by Titleist.) "The
change came overnight," he says. "I've stopped giving a thought
to whether the club is going to dig. I've been getting up and
down left and right. This lets me go back to attacking pins."
On such small adjustments big comebacks are made.
Good Enough for Augusta?
Half a world away from Tigermania, Michael Campbell of New
Zealand has lit up the Southern Hemisphere. On Sunday, Campbell,
31, won the Australian Masters for his third victory in four
weeks, grabbing the final berth in next week's Andersen
Consulting Match Play. Although he has jumped from 159th to 65th
in the World Ranking since his hot streak began in November--when
he beat Woods in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Taiwan--and now
leads the European and the Australasian tour money lists,
Campbell has failed to turn heads at Augusta National. He was not
among the international players invited to the Masters, so the
second-hottest golfer in the world must improve his ranking to
50th or better by March 6 to qualify for the first major of the
Campbell played in his only Masters in 1996, the year after he
finished third in the British Open. Struggling from a severe left
wrist injury, he missed the cut at the Masters and the PGA and
floundered until late '97, when he began to retool his swing with
coach Jonathon Yarwood. "My confidence is very high," Campbell
says. "I've broken down a lot of barriers, and now the floodgates
are open." --Chris Lewis
Don't expect Tiger Woods to start another winning streak this
week at the Nissan Open in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Woods will
lay low for a while then work toward a peak effort for the
Masters at Augusta National, where he will continue a streak that
he really cares about with his second consecutive major title.
What do these players have in common?
They're the only players to beat Tiger Woods in match play since
he turned pro.
If you could play 18 holes with one of the following golfers when
he was 24,
which would it be?
Bobby Jones 13%
Jack Nicklaus 22%
Arnold Palmer 16%
Tiger Woods 49%
--Based on 2,912 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Which is the greatest feat: Nicklaus's 18 majors,
Jones's grand slam or Nelson's 11 straight wins? Vote at
Fifteen of the 64 pros in next week's World Match Play were not
in the field last year. Here are the new players, those they
replaced and everyone's World Ranking.*
S. Garcia (15) B. Glasson (68)
D. Toms (22) J. Cook (74)
C. Perry (24) S. Verplank (76)
T. Herron (31) I. Woosnam (77)
R. Goosen (32) E. Romero (78)
P. Lawrie (42) S. Leaney (88)
B. Geiberger (45) B. Faxon (90)
M. Weir (48) P. Sjoland (94)
T. Tryba (55) F. Minoza (97)
P. Harrington (56) C. Stadler (98)
D. Waldorf (60) S. Jones (123)
O. Browne (62) T. Watson (134)
D. Paulson (63) M. Bradley (154)
A. Cabrera (64) N. Faldo (183)
M. Campbell (65) P. Stewart (NA)
*Jumbo Ozaki, number 36, did not enter.
WEIGHT 180 pounds
WORLD RANKING 178
DISTINCTION Tour rookie who almost ended Tiger Woods's streak at
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, leading him by seven shots
on final nine.
STYLE OF PLAY Straight off tee. Hits approaches pin high rather
than shooting at flag. Has many 20-foot birdie putts and does
well when par is a good score.
BEST CLUB The putter. "I'm a realistic putter. I don't expect to
make every seven-footer."
WEAKNESS The power game (119th in driving distance). He struggles
with long irons. Doesn't hit many par-5s in two.
FAVORITE COURSE Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kans., a three-hour
drive from his home in Mission Hills.
GREATEST SHOT A 135-yard nine-iron to two feet on final hole to
win 1996 Boise Open, his first Buy.com victory.
THE MOMENT HIS WIFE, BLAIR, DECIDED TO MARRY HIM When Gogel
disqualified himself from the third round of the '95 Qualifying
school's final stage after realizing he'd taken improper drop in
Sutton Barbrey, Raleigh
Sutton, 16, won the 52nd Donald Ross Junior Championships at
Pinehurst No. 5, beating a field of 134 boys in the 15-17 age
division. After tying Andrew Lanahan at one-over-par 145 for 36
holes, Sutton, a junior at Millbrook High, birdied the first
playoff hole for the victory. The tournament attracted
competitors from 17 states.
Natalie Gulbis, Sacramento
Natalie, 17, edged Taffy Brower one up at Coral Ridge Country
Club in Fort Lauderdale to win the Ione D. Jones/Doherty Match
Play title. Natalie birdied the 36th hole to complete a rally
from 3 down against Brower. Natalie, who played in the LPGA's
Longs Drugs Challenge at age 14, will attend Arizona on a golf
Rick Ten Broeck, Chicago
Ten Broeck, 51, won the senior division of the Dixie Amateur at
Palm-Aire Country Club in Pompano Beach, Fla., beating Gunnar
Bennett 3 and 2. Ten Broeck, an older brother of former PGA Tour
pro Lance Ten Broeck, eliminated three other players on the way
to the title, including medalist Rick Woulfe.
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