Phil's Magic Wedge Shot at Colonial

If you were lucky enough to watch the closing moments of the 2008 Colonial, you saw one of the greatest shots in the history of golf.

Phil Mickelson buried his drive into the woods on the last hole of the tournament. But once there, he threaded a 140-yard wedge shot between the trees to within nine feet of the hole, and then sank a birdie putt to win.

We were so taken with this display of genius that we decided to analyze his wedge swing, and also his swing on his errant driver.

The swing differences explain the outcomes of the two shots.

The Wedge

Here is Phil at address and the top of his backswing with his 52-degree wedge.

Phil Address Phil Top of Backswing

Phil changes his Spine Angle from 50 degrees to 36 degrees, a change of 14 degrees or 28%.

Since we know that alignment is responsible for accuracy in golf, changing your alignment by 28% between address and the top of the backswing is not a recipe for good ballstriking. Imagine if you were driving down the road and all of a sudden the alignment on your front tires changed by 28%. You would have a hard time keeping the car on the road, let alone trying to drive it through some trees. The same is true in golf--a change in alignment during the swing makes it hard to strike, let alone steer, the ball.

Here is Phil on his downswing and at impact.

Phil Downswing Phil Impact

This is quite amazing. It is the first time we have ever seen a golfer maintain the same Spine Angle at the top of his backswing, during his downswing and at impact when he started with his hands dropped at address.

Golfers who drop their hands below the swing plane at address, but who let centrifugal force pull the club away from them, pulling their arms and club into a straight line, have to reduce their Spine Angle to make up for the additional distance between their shoulders at address and impact. Otherwise, their club would be several inches underground at impact.

Phil got lucky on this swing. He was able to estimate precisely just how many degrees he needed to 'stand up' in order to compensate for centrifugal force. By guessing at 36 degrees, he was able to keep the same Spine Angle from the top of his backswing to impact, therefore guaranteeing that he hit his ball with the center of the wedge and thread it through the trees and onto the green.

He wasn't so lucky with the drive that got him there.

The Drive

Here is Phil at address and the top of his backswing on the drive that landed him in the woods.

Phil Address Phil Top of Backswing

Here you can see that Phil has changed his Spine Angle from 36 degrees to 30 degrees in anticipation of what he has to do in order to strike the ball with his club head. The change in Spine Angle is not as extreme as with his wedge (6 degrees vs. 14 degrees), so you may wonder why he mis-hit his driver.

Here is the answer.

Phil Top of Backswing Phil Impact

Phil did not 'stand up' enough at the top of his backswing, so he had to change his Spine Angle on the fly between the top of his backswing and impact. In less than a second, with the club going over 100 mph and pulling away from him with 100 lbs. of centrifugal force, Phil had to again change his alignment, guessing at just how much he would have to change in order to make good ball contact. Unfortunately, he guessed wrong this time, and his drive went into the woods.

Fortunately, he was able to save it, and won the tournament.

An Easier Way

While it is exciting to watch Phil pull the rabbit out of the hat at the last improbable moment, it has to be hard on him to rely on his luck and skill to win tournaments. It would be easier if he had a more efficient swing.

Phil could do this if he made a small change at address and eliminated the need to make any change at all in his Spine Angle during his swing.

The change is one we recommend to all our golfers: put your hands on the swing plane at address.

Once you do this, you don't have to guess at how much to change your Spine Angle between address and impact to compensate for centrifugal force--because you have already made your compensation before you started swinging the club.

With your hands on the swing plane, your arms and club are already extended on a straight line. Centrifugal force is not going to extend them any more, except for some minor stretching of the muscles between your shoulder blades (which you can prevent just by contracting them on the downswing).

When you make this simple change, your swing will look like these drawings, taken from our new golf book The Efficient Golfer.

You can see that our golfer above, because he starts with his hands on his swing plane, is able to maintain exactly the same Spine Angle from address to impact. In addition, since his hands and club start on plane, it is easier for him to keep them on plane. The result is that as he increased his average drive from 275 to 290, he improved his accuracy as well.

The Knees Have It

Another factor that helped Phil hit his miraculous wedge shot is that he kept his rear knee (see box) bent throughout his swing. This makes for a stable platform on which to rotate the spine.

Phil Wedge Address Phil Wedge Top of Backswing

By contrast, on his driver, Phil straightened his rear knee, adding another complication to his swing.

Phil Driver Address Phil Driver Top of Backswing

This is an improvement over what he did earlier this year, which was actually worse than his swing in 2007.

Phil Early 2008 Phil 2007

While it is good to see that Phil has improved his rear knee (which is one of the reasons he is playing better), greater attention to his alignment would garner him more wins. Maintaining a more stable Spine Angle and keeping his knees flexed during his swing would only support his already prodigious ballstriking skills.