WHO: Jhonattan Vegas
WHAT: 30-yard flop shot to three feet
WHERE: 543-yard par-5 18th hole at PGA West
WHEN: First hole of the playoff at the Bob Hope Classic
Everybody says it takes a little luck to win, but Vegas made his own luck at the Hope. On Sunday, he faced two almost impossible situations in the playoff, and it would've been easy to have felt dejected either time. Instead, Vegas stayed positive and seized the moment in both instances.
On the first playoff hole, Vegas short-sided his approach shot, putting his ball in the rough with a big bunker between the ball and the green. What's more, the flagstick was tucked near the edge of the green, so Vegas had just one shot choice: a flop shot, and his ball had to land in the rough or there was no way to get close to the hole. Vegas took a huge swing and the ball skied up, landed in the rough, rolled downhill toward the hole, lipped out and stopped three feet away. Vegas made the birdie to match Gary Woodland. On the second playoff hole, Vegas pulled his drive into the water. But he remained upbeat and stuffed a 160-yard nine-iron to 10 feet, and then he drained his par putt to beat Woodland, who made bogey on the hole.
The flop is a shot that every golfer needs, but few players have the guts to pull it off. The best way to practice is to hit shots over anything that creates an obstacle and forces you to immediately lift the ball. Using your most lofted wedge, start by hitting over something like your golf bag. Stand the bag up and stand as close to the bag as possible while giving yourself enough space to lift the ball over the bag. Be sure to open up the clubface a lot and to take a big, fast swing. The bigger the swing, the shorter the shot will travel because the club will slide under the ball, lofting it in the air and imparting lots of spin. After hitting a number of shots over your bag, find larger obstacles to flop your ball over. I like to hit over bushes and small trees. The goal is to learn to maximize the trajectory, or height, of the ball flight.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Mark Wood teaches at Fiddler's Elbow Country Club in Bedminster Township, N.J.