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Secrets of the Short Game by Phil Mickelson
Secrets of the Short Game by Phil Mickelson
This has become one of my favorite books of all time. After searching for an answer to the long game a few years ago, I have let my short game fall by the way side. This book, along with the Secret in the Dirt community and Geoff Mangum’s Reality of Putting, has renewed my love for the game played 100 yards and in.
First off, it’s refreshing to see a golf book come out today that highlights a player’s game so thoroughly, leaving nothing back and delivering all of the best information straight to the consumer, who’s paying hard earned money to get better at this wonderful game. It’s so easy to snap a few pictures, write some generalized golf “tips”, and let the buyer figure it all out.
The book literally has every picture you will ever need to see related to the short game. Pitching, chipping, sand play, putting. It’s all there. Sometimes I’ll be reading through a golf book and wish they had covered the same topic with a picture from a different angle. That won’t happen here. HarperCollins publishing spared no expense when making this the most comprehensive book on Phil’s game that they could.
This book starts off where it should – Phil’s putting. He is famous for being a good putter, and has recently got some positive press because of the addition of Dave Stockton to his team of teachers. (As a side note, I actually had a lesson with Dave Stockton, and wrote about it on my blog here). The one thing most evident when reading through the information that Phil has about putting is not his technique. It’s the feedback he gets on every shot. Not only whether or not it goes in, but he knows where he was aimed, what line the ball started on, how it tracked, how good his speed was, and other factors depending on what part of his putting he’s working on.
I’ve practiced under these conditions before, and it’s not fun. Your brain is overloaded with information, almost like you’re studying for a chem final the night before. But that’s certainly the definition of quality over quantity of practice, and it made me realize how little I use feedback devices while putting.
He touches on two very good points about putting:
First of all, he acknowledges that the type of putter you have determines how you should set up to the ball. Many people try to force a putter to setup a certain way, rather than going down to the pro shop and adjusting it to the specs that would work the best. I fell into the latter category when I first started, and the small investment of time and money it may take to get fit for a putter is made up with a more relaxed, laid back, comfortable feeling the next time you step over your putter.
Secondly, he reminds us that most people under read putts. Since gravity takes control of a ball’s roll as soon as you hit it, the idea of “putting to an apex” is inherently flawed. When the average golfer (and even some pros) make a putt, it’s almost always because of a compensation they made during the stroke that hit the ball high enough to make up for the initial misread. When you practice with feedback, these small truths about putting come up and the golfer can improve. Most people (myself included) know it’s just easier to go hit some 6 footers, 20 footers, and 40 footers on our local putting green, hope that we make a few, and call it “practice.” This book is a good kick in the pants.
One drill that he mentions in his book, the circle drill, was actually introduced to him by none other than Jackie Burke. The drill involves hitting 100 putts in a row from 3, 4, 5, and 6 feet. Phil acknowledges Jackie for teaching him the drill and there’s no doubting it has improved his putting under pressure from his results on tour the past few years (over $20 million in prize money since 2007).
The Short Game
After putting, Phil covers the rest of the short game. We’re introduced to Phil’s “hinge and hold” method, which is pretty easy to figure out from the name of it. After playing the ball forward, he cocks his wrists on the way back and holds them through impact. From chipping to pitching to sand play, for all shots inside of 50 yards, he uses this method. I’ll just briefly talk about each one of them.
Phil covers playing different types of chips from different lies (fluffy, bare, uphill, downhill), and those thoughts are great. The only thing I disagree with him on as far as chipping is concerned is using the 60 degree wedge for every shot. Playing golf for many years has taught me two things:
1. Anyone can learn to play this game well if they practice efficiently. There are really no “naturals,” only guys who have practiced so much that they make it look easy.
2. Guys who have a natural ability at a young age started the game at an even younger age.
Phil says right in the book that he used to pitch around his backyard as a kid, and as a result got very comfortable with the lob wedge. I would put money down that he could hit every shot he wanted to around the green with only the lob wedge. But not every golfer can, or should do this at the start.
There’s nothing wrong with chipping with a 5 iron or hybrid or gap wedge. Every golfer will find that special club that they trust more than others. I think Tiger said in his book that his sand wedge was his favorite to chip with. That’s fine. But when you chip with other clubs, you start to learn about how trajectory affects the rollout of chips. And we all know of those few times when Phil’s lob wedge has gotten him into trouble. (Plus, if you ever play overseas, you’re definitely not going to be lobbing up the ball every chance you get). This putt from Rickie Fowler is a perfect example of how it’s often better to keep the ball low for certain conditions:
Back on the plus side, however, this book describes so many different “trouble lies” that re-reading over them makes me want to go out right now and practice them all. He’s basically giving you that get-out-of short-game-jail card you’ve been waiting for.
This is one part where this book shines. Phil outlines a full proof plan for getting out of the sand time and time again. I can agree with his outline 100%, and this is an area that can bite you on the course if you’re not prepared, and turn a par into a double bogey in no time. He covers uphill, downhill, sidehill, plugged, and everything in between.
Pitching and Flop Shots
The pitching section is more of the same. The action is the same as it is for chipping, but the distances are longer. Again, this section has amazing pictures and thoughts to match. After the section on pitching, he goes over the infamous flop shot that he is famous for, and even has some fun in describing the “negative loft” lob shot, where the ball actually ends up behind him (below). These sections are great, and I can’t wait to take this book back out to the range to practice these specialty shots, pictures fresh in the mind.
I can only think of one downside to this part of the book. As I stated before, Phil plays pretty much all of his short game shots inside his left foot. For sand, I certainly think that should be the case. But for chips and pitches, I’ve played great while playing all of my wedges in the middle of my stance. When I was just starting out, it felt easier to hit down on the ball and get a consistent trajectory for all of my wedge shots.
Now I can play all of my chips and pitches inside of my left heel if I wanted to, but I take comfort knowing that I can do both. My scores really started to get consistent when I wasn’t afraid to tweak the ball position for all the clubs in my bag to fit the shot at hand, especially with the wedges.