Big Play: Dustin Johnson's flop-shot meltdown

Dustin Johnson's Sunday nightmare began when he flubbed this chip on the second hole.
Kohjiro Kinno/SI

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — There were more groans than cheers heard throughout the galleries on Sunday during the final round of the U.S. Open. A couple of errant pitch shots by third-round leader Dustin Johnson on the par-4 second hole started the carnage, which featured more than a few clunkers normally reserved for the weekend duffers at Pebble Beach.

Johnson wasn't the only culprit among the leaders Sunday: Both Tiger Woods and Ernie Els donated balls to the ocean and Phil Mickelson three-putted from 12 feet after driving the 325-yard par-4 fourth hole. In honor of all the miscues on Sunday, we're renaming this edition of the "Big Play" the "Bad Play." Johnson's triple-bogey on No. 2 headlines the group.

THE SHOT: Leading by three, Johnson hit his approach shot into an awkward lie in the fescue near the lip of a bunker. Forced to play the shot left-handed, Johnson hit his third shot only a few feet into the deep rough. He then tried to hit a cut-lob shot to the firm, fast green but slid the club underneath the ball and squirted it a few more feet. On his next attempt, he hit a near perfect lob shot to three feet but then missed the putt for a 7, which dropped him into a share of the lead with eventual winner Graeme McDowell at 3 under par.

"The danger of hitting the flop shot in that situation is exactly what happened-it either comes out perfect or you cut underneath it and leave yourself the same shot again by your feet," said Laird Small, director of the Pebble Beach Golf Academy and a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher. "If the lie was so bad [on the third shot], he could have pitched the ball into the bunker and tried to get up and down from there or taken an unplayable and dropped two club lengths on either side of where he was. Either way, he probably makes no worse than double bogey and he still has the lead."

Johnson compounded the error by taking driver out on the next hole — the short, dogleg left third — and wound up sailing his tee shot over the 16th green into lost territory. After the allotted five-minute search, Johnson had to go back and re-tee. While his original ball was eventually found, it was too late, and he wound up making double bogey to fall off the lead. Johnson wound up shooting an 82 and finished five shots back of McDowell.

"He felt that was the best way to recover," said Small about the drive on No. 3, "but we see it time and time again when someone tries to get it all back at once, they make a big number. "I go back to Jack Nicklaus' mentality in major championships: number one, don't compound one mistake with another; and two, after a bad hole, take whatever club you can to keep you in play, even if it's a 5-iron."

HOW TO PLAY THE FLOP:

If you must play a high flop shot, Small suggests doing the following: 1) Open the face of your highest-lofted wedge and move the handle back so your hands are in line with the clubhead or slightly behind it. This exposes the bounce so the head can glide through the grass easier. 2) Open your stance relative to the target line and point your clubface at the target. 3) Swing along your stance line, essentially cutting across the ball. You'll contact the ball closer to the toe, which helps the ball come off softer with less energy. Don't make too hard a swing because you risk catching the ball on the upswing and blading it across the green. Swing long but easy.

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