Phil Mickelson did not invent the flop shot but he has become such a master of its execution, and in the process made par or birdie from almost impossible situations, that other tour pros have been obliged to follow where he led. None have shown quite the finesse and prowess as the man that golf now loves to hate but that’s not surprising – when it comes to this particular shot, he’s a genius.
While it is unlikely that you will achieve Mickelson’s level of mastery, the flop shot can still help you out of tricky situations. In extreme cases it may be the only option available to you. What pro golfers learned some while ago, and handicap golfers are becoming increasingly wise to, is that developing a skilled short game is often the quickest route to significantly lower scores. We all like to blast the ball as far as possible, or at least give it a mighty thump, but expertise on and around the greens is often the key to lower numbers on your scorecard.
What is a flop shot
A flop shot is one in which the ball travels high but not very far, and lands softly with very little roll. In difficult circumstances you may have to play one just to get out of trouble but in most instances you will play the shot from close to the green, when the hole is cut near to the edge of the putting surface. Frequently, but not exclusively, you will be trying to clear a bunker or water hazard (penalty area).
What do you need to hit a flop shot
This is one area of golf where you need a specific bit of kit and that’s a lob wedge. For many golfers, the most lofted club in their bag is a sand wedge, which are typically manufactured in lofts between 54-58 degrees. Lob wedges generally come with 60 degrees of loft but you can get 62 degrees or even more. However, if you cannot get the result you want with 60 degrees, you might want to consider snooker or bowls and leave the golf to someone else.
Of all the shots you might want to try on the course, the flop is without a doubt the one that you don’t want to attempt without first practicing. It takes a little bit of skill but far more importantly, commitment. Think of a bunker shot, where the biggest fault you see among handicapped golfers is a lack of follow-through. The golfer knows they need to take sand but do not commit to swing hard through the shot. Almost certainly this is because they are afraid of thinning the shot and watching the ball skitter across the green like a startled cat. The same negative mindset can affect people trying the lob shot because a similar degree of commitment is required. To take the shot on during a round takes a wee bit of courage and confidence, and that can only come with practice. Typically, a lob shot will travel 20-25-yards but you can fine tune this with practice.
Mistakes when hitting a flop shot
Let’s start with the negative, and the most frequently seen error committed by golfers attempting a lob shot – and the same applies, incidentally, to bunker shots. The golfer knows they need as much loft on the club as possible, so they want to open the clubface. Grip a wedge and, right-handed golfers, rotate your hands to the right. This opens the clubface and increases the loft. What many golfers do, however, is set the club behind the golf ball, grip it as normal and then rotate their hands. Unfortunately, during the downswing their hands will automatically return to the address position, returning the clubface to its original neutral, or even closed, position. Instead, set the clubhead behind the ball and rotate it to an open position before you grip it.
If your ball is on the fairway or sitting down in light rough, green for go. If it is on a tight, firm lie or perched up on top of thick grass, red for danger. Off a tight lie it is easy to hit the ground fractionally behind the ball and smother it. From a fluffy lie you can slide the clubhead underneath the ball so that it travels virtually nowhere.
Because you have opened the clubface you need to aim left of your target. That is, aim your feet, hips and shoulders left, while the clubface points at the target. Have the butt end of the club pointing at your belly button – your hands should not be ahead of the shaft. Critically, put most of your weight onto your left leg (if you’re right-handed). This will encourage a steep angle of attack, making sure you hit down on the ball and minimises the chances of thinning it across the green. The ball position should be forward in your stance.
What you are aiming to do is take a full swing (backswing and follow-through), with a lofted club that has an open clubface. Because your feet, hips and shoulders are pointing left of the target you will automatically swing on an out-to-in swingpath. Imagine the clubhead sliding underneath the ball and – this cannot be emphasised strongly enough – do not decelerate. Once you have set up correctly you must commit to the shot and this is where it takes a bit of courage, which is why practice is so crucially important. You need the confidence to know that that the harder you swing, the higher, not further, the ball will fly. You may even find, once you gain more experience, that you hit it so high that it drops into the bunker of water hazard you’re trying to avoid but this can be rectified with just a little experience.
If you have the flop shot in your armoury, you will be literally and metaphorically ahead of the game as it is one of the greatest shot-savers in golf. Get yourself a decent lob wedge – the array from which to choose is tremendous – and practise. Check the lie of your ball, open the clubface, aim your body (but not the clubface) left of target, put most of your weight on your leading leg and swing with conviction.
Watch the master at play showing us how to hit a flop shot:
About the Author
Martin Vousden - Golf Writer
Martin Vousden joined Today’s Golfer in 1988 as a staff writer and quickly rose to become editor; under his stewardship it became Britain’s best-selling golf title. He then became launch editor of Golf Buyer and Swing magazines, before moving to Scotland to take over at ScottishGolf. After five years he became (and remains) a freelance journalist, having written for numerous titles, including Golf Monthly, Golf Punk and The Clubhouse, which is based in Malaysia. He lives in Angus, about 12 miles from the Carnoustie course that beats him up every time he plays it, so he joined Kirriemuir GC. His handicap of 19.3 rises inexorably with every passing year.
Martin’s golf bag contains:
Ping G400 driver
King Cobra F/Speed 3-wood
Kane Golf 5-wood
Callaway Big Bertha 7-wood
Wilson D9 irons, 5-gap wedge
Yonex Z-Force sand wedge
John Letters Golden Goose lob wedge
Putter: GEL Ruby or Odyssey 2-ball blade (depending on which is behaving itself)
TaylorMade Distance Balls (yellow, just because he likes the colour)