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The flop shot that kept Jordan Spieth from flopping at The Masters

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Late in the day on Saturday at The Masters, it was looking like a coronation was taking place. Jordan Spieth had a crazy big lead through 52 holes and looked virtually bullet proof. He was Superman!

Then things got interesting in a hurry.

Spieth made a mess of No. 17 from just off the green, and from the middle of the fairway on 18, he hit it wide right into the patrons above the bunker. With the pin position on the back right of the green, he was terribly short sided. You could hear the ghost of Bob Rosburg saying, “He’s got not shot.” This is where Jordan proceeded to hit the shot, specifically hit the flop, that saved The Masters for him. It was a momentum-shifting shot of immeasurable proportion that took him into Sunday on a high note. Instead of finishing double bogey-bogey (or worse), he made the par that Greg Norman needed in ’86 from the same spot.

I can coach a player to play eight different flop shots. I have them all named: Flip Flop, Freddie Flop, Cut Flop, Full Flop, Closed Flop, Max Flop, Set Flop and Safety Flop. The one that Spieth played is the most common one used on the PGA Tour under pressure, because it’s the least risky of all the shots. It’s called “The Safety Flop.”

So how did he pull it off?

The other day I set up the same shot as Jordan: short sided, above the green, skirting a bunker, landing on a down slope. The missing elements are millions of people watching at home, a full gallery on No. 18 and the pressure of The Masters. Otherwise, it was very similar!

Flop_recreate

The Setup

  • Club selected was my 60-degree wedge.
  • Ball forward in my stance (opposite the logo on my shirt).
  • Face open 45 degrees (or more if the situation dictates it).
  • Hands low and not pushed forward.
  • Pressure balanced 50/50 on my feet with my feet close together.
  • Left foot flared to support rotation of the chest forward through impact to the finish.
  • Arms completely relaxed with zero tension.
  • Slight tilt to the shoulder line, with the front shoulder up and the right hip inward a little.

Flop_Setup

The execution of the shot requires two pieces: One is speed, and two is the swing.

First is the assessment of the speed needed to make the ball go forward, but also to make it go up. When golfers hit a flop shot most of the time, they only account for the speed necessary to make the ball go forward horizontally like any normal shot. They end up hitting a high, soft shot that goes about half the required distance. But since this shot has two factors, horizontal and vertical, you have to account for the energy needed to meet both requirements. So you need to power the swing to propel the ball upward and forward, and this requires you to swing harder than if you were just going forward and low with the shot. A key is to keep the speed of the chest moving with the fast arms. There is no lower body in this shot. It is all upper body speed from the chest and arms.

Ball_Vectors

The bigger the difference between the two lines, the more you have to add energy to account for the “up” in the shot.

The swing is part two. I call it the “Safety Flop” because the setup is very vanilla without any special tricks. It’s the easiest of the flop swings to execute, and I can teach someone the “Safety Flop” simply in one session.

The Swing

  • The backswing is very vertical, with the right arm hinging immediately and the swing moving in a “V” shape. You are setting the distance of the shot with the size of the backswing.
  • On the downswing, with the vertical angle of attack, the open club face slides under the ball lifting it high and straight. Some of the errors I see in executing this shot include taking the club back too low and also too much around. Both of these will make you hit the ball to the right, sometimes drastically.
  • Another problem is that most players generally stop their follow through too soon. Keep it going! If you were going to throw a ball underhanded, high and soft, you would finish the toss with your hand high. The lower body is not an active participant in this shot. So keep it quietly responding to the movements up top.

Vertical_Backswing

The other part of the swing that is necessary — and a learned trick — is the follow through. I want you to learn it by reverse engineering it. Work it back to impact from the finish to feel it correctly.

Check out this picture of my finish.

Flop_Finish

Notice how the face is open and looking at me, and the shaft is leaned toward my head. This is a huge key in making the ball go straight up and land very softly, so practice posing in this position. From here, return the club head back to the ball like you are swinging backward. Feel all the movements that this entails. Now from the ball, go forward to this position again without taking a backswing. Keep repeating this until you look like the picture every time. You should feel the club face rotating open as the shaft feels like it is going to hit you in the forehead.

If you can learn the more vertical backswing the safety flop requires, and also learn to put the club in the right position on the finish, you can execute this shot successfully. All that is left to do is judge the power needed to hit the ball up and forward. Just pick the correct backswing length to do that.

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If you are an avid Golf Channel viewer you are familiar with Rob Strano the Director of Instruction for the Strano Golf Academy at Kelly Plantation Golf Club in Destin, FL. He has appeared in popular segments on Morning Drive and School of Golf and is known in studio as the “Pop Culture” coach for his fun and entertaining Golf Channel segments using things like movie scenes*, song lyrics* and familiar catch phrases to teach players. His Golf Channel Academy series "Where in the World is Rob?" showed him giving great tips from such historic landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, on a Gondola in Venice, Tuscany Winery, the Roman Colissum and several other European locations. Rob played professionally for 15 years, competing on the PGA, Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide and NGA/Hooters Tours. Shortly after embarking on a teaching career, he became a Lead Instructor with the golf schools at Pine Needles Resort in Pinehurst, NC, opening the Strano Golf Academy in 2003. A native of St. Louis, MO, Rob is a four time honorable mention U.S. Kids Golf Top 50 Youth Golf Instructor and has enjoyed great success with junior golfers, as more than 40 of his students have gone on to compete on the collegiate level at such established programs as Florida State, Florida and Southern Mississippi. During the 2017 season Coach Strano had a player win the DII National Championship and the prestigious Nicklaus Award. He has also taught a Super Bowl and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, a two-time NCAA men’s basketball national championship coach, and several PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players. His PGA Tour players have led such statistical categories as Driving Accuracy, Total Driving and 3-Putt Avoidance, just to name a few. In 2003 Rob developed a nationwide outreach program for Deaf children teaching them how to play golf in sign language. As the Director of the United States Deaf Golf Camps, Rob travels the country conducting instruction clinics for the Deaf at various PGA and LPGA Tour events. Rob is also a Level 2 certified AimPoint Express Level 2 green reading instructor and a member of the FlightScope Advisory Board, and is the developer of the Fuzion Dyn-A-line putting training aid. * Golf Channel segments have included: Caddyshack Top Gun Final Countdown Gangnam Style The Carlton Playing Quarters Pump You Up

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Jim

    Apr 20, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    I was right beside Jordan when he hit that shot, and honestly it wasn’t a very difficult shot. Granted it was followed by a great putt, but I think an amateur that has a flop shot could get than within 15 feet 7/10 times. Making the putt probably 3/10, which makes it a great up and down for Spieth. But the actual flop shot admittedly wasn’t as difficult as it probably appeared on television.

    • Brutus

      Apr 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Like the author said, make it with all the pressure and patrons literally breathing down your back? 1 in a 25 would be a reasonable number. The shot would be hard enough, then add the pressure putt on and maybe it gets to 1 in 50. Oh, one has to throw in the confidence factor after butchering the last hole with a double bogey too. 1 in 100…

      • jim

        Apr 22, 2015 at 12:34 am

        You get used to all that attention, I’m sure. The point is, the shot wasn’t that bad. The elevation was nearly nonexistent, the bunker really wasn’t in the way (Spieth and his caddie were discussing a bump and run in fact, which would be dumb), and the green had almost no undulation where the pin was. Also, the lie was perfect. Jordan even responded to Michael when asked “how is the lie,” and Spieth said “I’ll hit grass first.” I mean, as an amateur, do you ever hit off half grass/dirt lies and feel it’s a good flop position? He was in the perfect lie for a flop, almost a fake lie. Trust me, this was an easy shot. The fame/attention, he was used to already, as you would be as well if you had his fortune.

  2. Earl

    Apr 20, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    Reminds me of a video I bought from Monte.. All that video made me do was it it fat and tons of shanks. So want my money back from that piece of junk video.infact most of his videos are crap

    • Rob Strano

      Apr 20, 2015 at 7:45 pm

      Earl, thanks for your comment…
      Regarding your struggles, that is what happens when the club gets behind your hands going back and you lose angle of attack. Be sure you get vertical and the club stays outside your hands in the backswing. That should help you play the safety flop.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Apr 17, 2015 at 9:41 am

    Another example of how the game has changed. In the 56° wedge era, he makes bogey there.

    • Alex

      Apr 17, 2015 at 11:13 am

      In the 56° era only Seve Ballesteros could’ve done that!

    • moses

      Apr 17, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      “GET OFF MY LAWN”!!!!!!!!!

      Really!!! That’s all you have to say?

    • TR1PTIK

      Apr 20, 2015 at 9:08 am

      I’ve hit a couple of decent flops with my 56*, but it’s a very low percentage shot because of the additional bounce. Sometimes you just have to use your imagination and try something a little different. It might work, it might not.

      • Rob Strano

        Apr 20, 2015 at 7:47 pm

        I did not get a SW until I was in HS. So I learned to flop the ball with a PW from age 6 through 14! Your bounce needs to be adjusted for your conditions and you need to get your hands down to be sure you slide the flange across the ground not into the ground.

  4. PK

    Apr 16, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Just watching Spieth set up for that shot gave me anxiety.

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Instruction

Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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