Phil Mickelson’s Secrets of the Short Game

Mickelson's Secrets of the Short Game DVD is available on Amazon for less than $20.
Mickelson’s Secrets of the Short Game DVD is available on Amazon for less than $20.

I think Phil Mickelson has the best short game I’ve ever seen, and over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been watching Mickelson’s Secrets of the Short Game in Advanced Elements of the Short Game. We’ll watch a segment or two before pausing the DVD to hear whether or not PGA Professional Jay Friedman agrees with Mickelson’s philosophies. It’s tough to argue with a man who’s won five major championships and is in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Mickelson says 90% of making putts has to do with face angle and where the putter face is aimed. He says aiming the putter face correctly is the single most critical element in making putts and that all that matters is the alignment of the putter face at impact. Mickelson says in all his years of playing Pro Ams, he’s never seen an amateur aim the putter correctly.

Mickelson worked with short game guru Dave Pelz to develop the Putting Tutor, which closely resembles the gate drill but allows the player to make sure the putter head is properly aligned. It looks like a great training aid if you have $49.99 lying around.

Mickelson believes it’s not how well you putt, it’s where you putt from. A few years ago, he spent some time with 1956 Masters and PGA Champion Jackie Burke, and ended-up adopting Burke’s Three-Foot Circle Drill. He calls it the “foundation” of his entire short game.

Mickelson’s goal whether he’s putting or chipping is simple – to get the ball inside a three-foot circle around the hole. Three-feet isn’t just an arbitrary number. The statistics are actually pretty stunning:

* Players make 97-100% of putts inside 3′
* Players make below 90% of putts inside 4′
* Players make 75% of putts inside 5′
* Players 55% of putts inside 6′ (an exponential fall-off)

It’s no wonder why Mickelson is so obsessed with the three-foot circle. The numbers back it up! For the Three-Foot Circle Drill, Mickelson sets up ten balls around a hole with a little break to it and tries to make 100 three-footers in-a-row. There’s not a lot to it. Mickelson sets up the circle using a sand wedge or a 7-iron and says the trick Burke taught him is 25-75: back 25% and through 75%. You want to hit the ball aggressively but still have it die into the hole.

When he's on Tour, Mickelson does the Three-Foot Circle Drill 3-4 times a week.
When he’s on Tour, Mickelson does the Three-Foot Circle Drill 3-4 times a week.

The goal here is to get into a rhythm (from the number of the putt to the amount of time and the steps in between) and to focus on the process, not the result. When he has a pressure putt, like Mickelson did to win the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol, he’ll step to the side and create the same rhythm this drill has instilled in him. Mickelson’s not thinking about making putts, he’s just practicing the “process” of making putts so it becomes second nature out on the golf course.

The Six-Foot Circle Drill is just what it says. Mickelson’s goal is to get around the circle just once without missing. He’s still thinking 25-75, and he tries to start with a straight putt. This is a lot more difficult when you consider the stats say nearly half of them (45%) will go begging. The break is a lot more noticeable – and a lot more influential – from this distance, and Mickelson makes 7 out of 10. That’s still way better than the Tour average of 55% from 4-10 feet.

Mickelson says he has never met an amateur who reads enough break in his putts, and says he’s only played with a couple of Tour players who read the proper amount of break. Pelz did a study of high handicappers. On putts over 20 feet, they under-read their putts 100% of the time! Most players miss putts on the low side because they mis-read the break. The apex of any breaking putt is right at impact. Mickelson says if you train yourself to read the proper amount of break, every putt is a straight putt. The process of training yourself to properly read putts never stops.

The last putting drill Mickelson demonstrates is a lag putting drill he developed with Pelz from 40′, 50′, and 60′ away. Mickelson credits this drill for his 2006 Masters victory, which came two months after he and Pelz developed it as a way to work on touch. He starts by putting three balls into the three-foot circle from 50′ away before moving up to 40′ for three balls and then back to 60′ for three more balls. He putts the 10th ball from 50′.

Mickelson says aiming the putter head correctly using a training aid like the Putting Tutor, is the single most critical element in making more putts.
Mickelson says aiming the putter head correctly using a training aid like the Putting Tutor, is the single most critical element in making more putts.

The speed of Mickelson’s stroke (how hard or how soft he hits it) remains constant. Only the length of his backstroke changes based on the distance. If at any time he misses the circle, Mickelson starts all over again. It’s a way to add a little extra pressure to the putts. He also prefers to practice putting downhill, where three-putts happen the most, even though PGA Tour players only three-putt from 21-50 feet about 9% of the time.

Then it’s on to the basic chip shot. Mickelson says there are a lot of different ways to putt effectively, but that the “hinge and hold” is the only effective way to chip. He uses a 60-degree wedge from just off the green, breaks his wrists immediately going back (the hinge), and holds and accelerates through impact.

Mickelson says you have to be aggressive into the ball and through impact to be effective in consistent chipping. He says every great chipper does it, even if they don’t acknowledge it. Mickelson plays the ball slightly forward and makes sure his leading arm and the club form a straight line at the finish. I don’t know if you would use this method if you had to chip the ball to a pin across the green, but I will admit that Mickelson makes a pretty compelling argument for the proper way to chip from just off the putting surface.

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