Think of all the tournaments and majors that Tiger Woods has won over his amazing career. But if we had to pick just one shot from all those victories, what would it be? For me there is no question. Masters in 2005, on the famous par-3 16p hole on a Sunday afternoon.
This highlights the importance of good chipping. Of course, we pay a lot of attention to riding and putting. The driver and the putter are clubs of golf glory – everyone wants to drive well and hit well. But no golfer in the world goes through a round without having to play a chip somewhere on the course. We never play that perfect round where we’re in the perfect spot all the time, so being able to pocket chips is essential.
At AMERICAN GOLF, we’ve compiled some tips for chipping and things to avoid that will hopefully help you master the technique and mental processes we need to learn to chip well.
What happens if you can’t chip
How many of us remember the name Kenny Perry? Not much, unless we’re a bit of golf geeks! Well, Perry was a great American player, regular PGA Tour winner and Ryder Cup golfer. But he had one glaring weakness in his game – he was a lousy chipper (by professional standards). In 2009, at the age of 48, he was on the cusp of his biggest career breakthrough when he led The Masters two holes to play. What happened when the nerves rose? He missed the green at both 17 and 18 and failed to get up or down. He then played a bad chip and lost in the play-offs to Angel Cabrera of Argentina. His chance at immortality was gone because the gods of golf challenged him to overcome his weakness on the biggest stage, his ability to chip well, and he couldn’t do it.
Again, this story highlights the importance of chipping. Some of us need to play these types of shots more than others because we are not as accurate. But ALL of us must be able to pocket chips – this is an essential skill for a good golfer.
When to chip
We are only a few yards from the green, but there is some coarser grass or uneven grass between us and the putting surface. If we use a putter, it is very unlikely that the ball will go through and hit the green. Therefore, we only need a little loft to get the ball moving. For such a shot, we could use a more lofty stick, such as a sand wedge or a slotted/lobed wedge, but the margin for error is much smaller.
Instead, one way to put the ball on the green is to take an iron with a seven or eight out of the bag. Keep the stick in a very upright position. Then take our hands and grip the club down the shaft, almost at the end of the grip. This gives us more control. From here, look at how far we are between the ball and the hole and use the club as a putter. The extra loft will guide the ball over rough ground before it starts to slow down when it reaches the putting green and hopefully rolls close to the hole.
Using a hybrid to chip
When we’re a few yards from the green and we’re dealing with an awkward or poor lie, but the flag is on the other side of the green, another possible club we could use to make that shot is a hybrid. Why? That sounds crazy. In fact, the club has a wide sole and will not hit the ground during play, as it is specially designed to move smoothly over the surface. This is an especially good chip for playing in winter or wet conditions when we can’t rely so much on turf quality for chopping and throwing high-altitude sticks.
Again, as with the seven-point iron, we want to keep a fairly narrow stance and put our hands on the handle. For this shot, we want to use a putt-like motion, using the same shot we would use for a long putt. The key is the power of the hybrid, allowing the ball to cut through uneven terrain and run across the green towards the hole.
Shots at close range
Pitches that are 20-30 yards long are called short range pitches or chip shots because we will need to kick the ball into the air. Pitking Wedge or Sand Wedge are good clubs for these shots as they have just the right height to throw the ball into the air.
First of all in the address we want the ball to be in the center of our stance. Next, we need to adjust our body position so that we lean slightly towards the target, so our weight is in front of the ball. We also want to keep our hands further away than conventional iron strikes so we can gain more control.
Now, when it comes to these chips or pitches, we don’t want to do a full swing. It can be a half swing or a three-quarter swing depending on how far you want to hit the ball. But we want to be fluid and relaxed. This means that our main wrist (gloved hand) must be flat, otherwise we may change the face of the stick, causing it to open too much and inadvertently changing the stroke we are going to play.
We want to get the bat back, then imagine we’re almost throwing the ball to the target, going through a downswing to hit the ball, ending with the chest facing the target.
Avoid thin or thick chips
Because chip hits are quite delicate by nature, the line between success and failure can be a thin one. And getting a bad shot can cause us frustration and embarrassment. We feel frustrated if the ball goes only a few meters or embarrassed if it goes many kilometers away from our target. Our game partners don’t know what to say or where to look.
The two dangers of chipping are too thin or too thick. Too thin is when we lean back on a chip hit, as if we were using our own body position to create a loft to kick the ball into the air. The end result is that we don’t put our body in the correct position at the point of contact and we thin the ball across the floor without taking it off the ground at all.
Another known disadvantage is that we are too fat. Since chip strikes do not require much force, we often try to be too gentle. Sometimes this means that our swing becomes slower as we reach the ball instead of keeping it in the same rhythm, and our club digs into the ground instead of going through it, and we make heavy or massive contact and the ball ends well before our the intended target.
Mentality why pitching or chipping
We all need technique to play a good chip. But we also need a good mental attitude. The best players think they can put the ball in the hole, and if they don’t, they’re very close. Thinking so positively, they stand over their shot in a relaxed and confident way. If we can feel confident in our technique, we can stand over the ball confident and relaxed. When we’re all like that, we’re more likely to hit it right.
When we worry about a chip shot, we tend to overthink and worry about what could go wrong. And when we do, guess what happens? Usually something goes wrong because we are uptight and not everything is as slow as it should be. Therefore, being positive and confident is a key ingredient in improving our chipping.
Visualize the shot
When we stand on the putting green, we usually look at the lie, assess the slope and speed of the green, and visualize the direction we want the ball to go in the hole.
Well, this is exactly the same process we should have with a chip shot. Our first thought should be, “Where do we want our ball to land?” Are there any slopes on the green that we need to go up or down? Is the green soft and slow or hard and fast, thus changing a good place to land the ball? These are all factors we should take into consideration when we’re over a chip, because visualization is a good way to account for our attempts to stack well.
One of the things about being a good chipper is that it makes us competitive players. If we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we have a chance to save the hole by making a good chip and putt. In matchplay, this can mean halving or winning a hole when it looks like we’re going to lose it. In Strokeplay or whatever individual game we play, this may mean saving one or two shots by getting a fourth instead of a fifth or a fifth instead of a six or seven.
Good chipping (if it ends in a good shot) helps to build confidence and momentum on our round, which we can use on the next hole, which will hopefully translate into our longer game.
Practice, practice, practice
Now we all want to hit the booming drives. But a professional golfer would tell us that it’s more expedient to spend time working on our short game. This is where we can knock out so many shots from our innings.
Hitting chips isn’t physically demanding, so hitting 15-20 chips won’t tire you out. Good chipping is all about finding the right pace and timing. Practice makes perfect as we can learn how a good chip feels off the stick – smooth and rhythmic.
We can find 10-15 minutes before the round or a quiet half an hour on another occasion. We may even be lucky enough to have enough space in our garden to do some mulching. With practice, we have a chance to create a scenario where the chip is a shot that gives pleasure, not fear.