Remember Rory's filthy flop-and-stop shot? Here's how he hit it
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Given what happened on the 18th green on Saturday evening at the Ryder Cup—when Patrick Cantlay dropped a long putt, caddie Joe LaCava zealously celebrated and chaos ensued—it’s easy to forget what happened just one hole earlier. Left of the 17th green at Marco Simone, Rory McIlroy hit one of the highest-spinning pitch shots that you’ll ever see, with the ball stopping just a foot from the cup.
Take a look at the filthy shot.
Pros make this low-launching, high-spinning pitch shot look so simple, but it’s a shot the average player rarely pulls off, if ever. That’s because not only does the shot require an incredible amount of confidence, but it demands a very specific technique—one that for many players is not intuitive, either.
On Tuesday at the PGA Show Demo Day at Orange County National, eight-time PGA Tour winner Brad Faxon, who works with McIlroy on his short game, explained how he was able to hit shot.
1. Wide open face
When amateurs try to hit the low, spinning wedge shot, they often figure they need a square or closed face to keep the ball low. While that seems intuitive, you actually need a wide open clubface when trying to generate maximum spin.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have been around him [McIlroy] a lot the last six years, and I’ve never seen a player that opens the face as much as Rory does when he’s hitting a chip shot,” Faxon says.
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The key when opening the face on this type of shot is to open it up before you take your grip. Lay the back up the club flat on the ground, let the face point towards the sky, and then take your grip.
2. Hit down on the ball, hard
A hot debate among modern short-game coaches is whether you should try to hit steeply down on pitch shots or come in with a shallower angle of attack. The steep contingent, led by Joe Mayo, who helped Viktor Hovland drastically improve his short game last year, argues that you hit the low, spinning pitch shot by dropping the clubhead steeply down on the back of the ball, instead of “sweeping” it off the ground.
Faxon agrees that McIlroy is hitting down on the ball a lot to hit this shot. “These players have a pretty steep angle of attack,” Faxon says.
Notice how Rory takes the club up pretty vertically in the backswing and appears to drop the clubhead straight down on the ball. This creates that steep angle of attack.
If Rory was hitting down on the shot so hard, then why is there no divot? That is a misconception, says Faxon. “Just because the club is coming down on a steeper plane doesn’t mean you’re going to take a big divot,” he says.
3. Rotate and extend
The secret to being able to hit down steeply on a chip shot without taking a big divot, Faxon says, is to rotate and extend your body hard throughout the downswing and into the follow through.
“He's continuing to rotate his body, extend his legs,” he says. “If you watch the height of the belt loop or the logo on a visor, that is really going up too.”
Take a look at the slow-motion video above. We’ve drawn lines on where Rory’s head is at address. Notice how in the downswing, Rory’s head moves up and back away from the ball. This is the extension that Faxon is referring to.
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This the movement that allows the club to hit straight down on the ball and then quickly rise up through impact without digging into the turf.
4. Speed, lots of speed
The final piece to hitting this shot is to commit to tons of clubhead speed. You can’t create a lot of spin without speed. Notice how Rory is aggressively swinging through the shot, even though he’s only trying to hit the ball 20 yards or so.
“You’re got to have a tremendous amount of speed,” Faxon says. “If you've ever played table tennis, when you hit a very spinny serve, you're hitting a very small portion of the racket on a very small portion of the ball. What's happening is real speed.”