124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2



TIPS FROM THE TOP

'I can't emphasize it enough': Phil Mickelson’s bunker basics from his best season

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Phil Mickelson was famous for his incredible wedge game. He could get up and down from anywhere—and even up-and-in—with his trusty 60-degree in hand. And it was Mickelson’s short game that led him to his career-best four-victory season in 2005.

Of his four wins that year, Mickelson’s most memorable was the 2005 PGA Championship where he left his chip on 18 to a foot and made the tap in birdie to secure his second major victory.

And Mickelson’s precision around the greens wasn’t just limited to his famous flop shots. During the 2005 season, every aspect of Mickelson’s short game was lethal. He was 12th on tour for strokes gained around the green, ninth on tour for scrambling and 15th on tour for sand saves.

So who better to take some greenside advice from than Mickelson in his prime?

Since I’ve been struggling with my own short game, I went digging in the Golf Digest Archives for a Mickelson short game tip from 2005 in hopes that it would fix all of my greenside issues.

To my surprise, I found a bunker tip from Mickelson that’s simple, yet genius.

In an article from August 2005, Mickelson explains that most bunker technique is taught with fluffy sand as the standard, but when that’s applied to firm or wet conditions it doesn’t always work.

“In packed sand you don’t want your wedge to hit the ground too early and bounce into the middle of the ball,” Mickelson said.

When that happens, it results in an inconsistent strike, like the dreaded skulled bunker shot.

Tilt spine toward target

“To prevent that, set your weight forward and tilt your spine toward the target,” Mickelson said, “From there, you’ll automatically hit closer to the ball. You’re playing this shot with an open clubface, so you won’t have any trouble getting the ball up.”

Mickelson goes on to say that the most crucial part of this adjustment is maintaining the forward weight position.

“I can’t emphasize enough that your weight has to stay forward on bunker shots from firm sand,” Mickelson said.

Keep weight forward

Keeping your weight forward allows you to enter the sand just behind the ball and take the right amount of sand every time.

“To get a feel for this setup, exaggerate by lifting your back foot slightly off the ground as you practice shots,” Mickelson said, “With no place to shift your weight you’ll be forced to keep it forward. Repeat this feel when you hit shots from firm sand on the course.”

Now that you have Mickelson's legendary knowledge of how to hit a firm sand shot, you can approach these lies with more confidence on the course—and hopefully leave yourself a nice putt for par.

Head over to the Golf Digest Archives for more instruction from golf's greatest players and teachers.