How He Hit That: Mickelson's checker chips on Day 1 of the U.S. Open
By Matthew Rudy
The tight, firm collection areas around Pinehurst No. 2 lend themselves to lower-risk putt approaches, and on Thursday, that was the dominant strategy for most players. But not Phil Mickelson. On the front nine, he got up and down three different times using his most lofted wedge -- a 64-degree model with zero bounce.
The first time, he played his traditional full-speed flop shot to carry a rise, dropping the ball 20 feet from the hole and letting it roll out to three feet. The next two were equally brave, but less visually spectacular. For those, he turned down his wedge and nipped low shots with extreme spin that hit once, checked up and trickled out to kick-in range. A handful of other players used the shot Thursday, but none were as cold-blooded about using it from a foot off the green when a putt would have been much easier on the nerves.
"The conditions at Pinehurst are tight, so bounce is not your friend," says instructor Jonathan Yarwood
, who helped Michael Campbell win the last edition of the U.S. Open held at Pinehurst in 2005. "Phil is able to get the leading edge of the club to nip the turf instead of dig. He makes solid contact and produces a lot of spin."
Mickelson's setup helps promote the clean, confident contact the shot requires.
"He stands really close to the ball, which does two things," says Yarwood, who is the Director of Performance at Bishops Gate Golf Academy in Orlando. "It raises the heel slightly, which prevents the club from digging. It also allows the arms to connect to the body, and stops them from controlling the shot."
By setting up with his shirt buttons ahead of the ball, Mickelson starts with his weight forward and keeps it there during the swing. Most amateur players struggle with basic chips because they start with or leave their weight back, which shifts the flat part of the swing to a point behind the ball.
"The last tour player key in the shot is how Phil accelerates the shaft through impact," says Yarwood. "Instead of hinging the club on the backswing and holding it through the shot, he accelerates with his lower hand, so that the shaft catches up at impact and bottoms out ahead of the ball. The speed created by the lower hand is what produces all the spin."