My Chipping Formula

I have tried every formulaic chipping system you can think of, all the ones in the books and YouTube videos, and none of them worked. Chipping by feel didn’t work so hot, either.

But this year, I finally figured it out. It is incredibly easy, and I’m going to tell you how to do it.

First get a lesson on how to chip. You might think you know how to hit this stroke, but you really don’t. You’re doing something you made up and that’s not good enough. Learn from a pro how to do it the right way.

I had a lesson, and at the start, I told the pro that I wanted to run the ball to the hole instead of fly it, and he said that’s the best way to chip. Then I told him I wanted to learn the shot from scratch — not refining what I know, but learning it from the start.

He didn’t quite get it at first, because when I dropped a ball and picked a target, he said, “OK, what club would you use?” I said, “I don’t know. Put one in my hand.” Now he understood and I had a tremendous half-hour lesson, with six parts of a sure-fire chipping stroke to work on.

I went home and practiced in my back yard, hitting that shot every day until those six parts had fused into one movement that I could repeat like it was second nature. That took about two months.

Then I went to the practice green with my 8-iron through lob wedge (six clubs total) and hit chips with each club using an identical stroke. That’s the key — the stroke is identical with each club.

I hit ten chips with each club and walked off the distance that the good hits centered around. What I came up with is a list of six distances that I can chip to using the same stroke. I wrote those distances on a 4×6 card and put it in my golf bag.

Now, when I have a greenside chip, I walk it off and pick the club according to the chart. I just have to do one thing the same way every time and the club does the rest.

These are my distances:
8-iron 36 yards
9-iron 32 yards
PW 26 yards
GW 22 yards
SW 17 yards
LW 13 yards

If the distance is in between two clubs, I pick the shorter club and hit the ball a bit harder. For example, I would hit a 20-yard chip with my sand wedge.

This system works like a charm. The only thing you have to do is practice your chipping stroke at least three times a week to make sure you maintain it at a particular standard. You can do that in your house off the carpet. Once a year you should go through the calibration procedure to make sure you haven’t made a subtle change in what you’re doing.

Believe me this works. It takes all the guesswork out of chipping. The key is being able to reproduce the same stroke every time. It took me several months of constant practice to get that down. That’s a lot of effort, but good things don’t come easily.

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A Winter Improvement Program – Setup

The rain has come and it won’t let up until March, if that. Time for the Winter Tune-up.

What I want to do in the next few weeks is go over a things you could do to improve your golf for the 2013 season. We all say we want to do that. We play around with a few things we read in the golf magazines, and before we know it, it’s time for the new season and we haven’t made the progress we intended.

So, I’m going to lay it all out for you. What to do, and in this order. Every Thursday, you’ll get something new to do and a week to practice it. Hopefully, by the time the series ends, you have built a number of improvements into your game. Let’s get started with the setup.

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If you were going to hang a door, you would ensure that the frame is square, the door is the right size, the hinges are on straight, and that the latch lines up with the strike plate. Any one thing that isn’t quite right and you’ll have a door you have to wrestle with every time you open or close it.

Your golf swing is the same way. When your setup is right, your swing naturally falls out of it. When something is wrong, your body gets carried off in directions that make hitting the ball harder to do well or in the same way consistently.

One of the things I will be doing from time to time in this series is suggesting you get a lesson. There are times you can’t learn from reading what it is you’re supposed to do, and get it right. Now is one of those times.

Sign up for a lesson in the setup: grip, stance, posture, aim. I’m not kidding. Get a lesson for just this. It can take a full half hour, and it is a lot of stuff. You might want to bring a notebook to write down the important points.

When you get home, practice your grip, stance, and posture in a full-length mirror, looking at yourself face-on and down the line. You can buy a mirror on a stand for less than a round of golf.

Take your grip and set up to a ball, step by step, 30 times a day, starting over completely every time — let go of the club, walk away from the ball and start over. If you’re learning new habits, you have to repeat them. Knowing what to do isn’t enough.

Practice your aim on the practice tee, since you really need to have a distant target to aim at. This bit is more important than you know. Any pro will tell you the number one cause of bad shots is poor aim.

None of this is very sexy, and practicing it can get kind of boring. There are, however, so many ways you can ruin a shot before you’ve even moved the club. Eliminate those ways and then you can worry about your swing. Accomplished musicians practice their scales. Golfers practice their setup. Enough said.

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When Do You Need a Golf Lesson?

Long-time readers of this column know that I am not shy about taking golf lessons or about suggesting that you get them, too. You can learn things in a half hour that would take months to learn on your own, and find out things you never dreamed of.

What you shouldn’t do is take a lesson just to have one. There needs to be a purpose, a well-defined problem that needs solving. Here are a few good reasons for taking a lesson.

1. You’re just taking up the game. After you’ve played a few rounds and decided that golf is something you want to pursue, get lessons to learn how to play it the right way. Learn the right way from the beginning. The habits you acquire at the start will follow you through your golfing career. Make sure they’re the right ones.

2. Three bad rounds in a row. Harvey Penick said to forget about one bad round, go practice if you follow it with another one, and see a pro if you follow those two with a third. It’s likely you’ve fallen into a bad habit that will be simple to correct, but it’s likely, too, that you’ll never find it without help.

3. To learn a new shot. Odds are that once a round, at least, you will be in a situation that calls for a shot you don’t know how to hit. So, do the best you can and remember what that situation was. When you get a collection of three or four of those, go to a pro and find out how to hit them.

4. To learn an old shot the right way. You can probably hit the ball onto the green from 75 yards, for example, just fine. Get a lesson on this shot like you’ve never hit it before. Learn it from scratch. You’ll be amazed at how much better you hit it. Really.

5. Periodic maintenance. You take your car in for periodic maintenance every so often, you have a dental check-up twice a year. Why not do the same for your golf swing? Once your pro learns your golf swing, he can spot little things that show you’re drifting away from what works and correct them before you start leaking oil (or getting cavities). Don’t neglect your putting, either.

6. To get to the next level. In a recent post, I mentioned that the first step to playing better is not to improve your swing, but to use your best swing more often. That swing, however, will take you only so far. To improve beyond that point, the second step is to get a new conception of the golf swing. The pro will show you. Plan on doing a year of hard work and putting up with a lot of bad shots until the changes take hold. Then go out and enjoy the brand new game you’re playing.

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Golf in the Rain

Last week I wrote about the joys of autumn golf in the warm late afternoon sun. Autumn golf also features the cold afternoon rain.

Now if it’s raining and cold, I don’t go out. Someone once said to me that because I don’t like to play when I’m cold or wet that I’m not a True Golfer . . . whatever that means.

But sometimes you just have to go out and it isn’t raining, but it might rain. So here’s what we do in the Pacific Northwest, the rain capital of the western world.

Bring along your rain jacket and rain pants. If you use a golf glove, bring extras. They get soaked quickly and won’t dry out.

Bring four towels. One is to clean your clubs with. The other three are to dry your hands before you take your grip. Bring three because one will be wet before you make the turn. The second one will be wet halfway through the back nine.

Make sure you have the club cover that came with your bag. When it starts raining, we cover our clubs first and put on our rain suit second.

Did you pack an umbrella, by the way?

Bring along an extra pair of socks and shoes to change into when the round is over. There’s nothing like having dry feet on the way home.

Now for playing in the rain.

The ball will sit quickly when it hits the green, so you can be more aggressive that usual. Your approach might plug or make a deep mark when it lands. Please repair!

Be sure swing easily from the fairway and hit the ball easily. You might need to take one more club accordingly.

Concentrate on hitting the ball first. A strike that is the least bit fat will throw up mud and the ball will go only a very short distance. If your habit is to take a divot, try to play for picking the ball off the ground.

Near the green, put away the bump and run because the wet ground can grab the ball before it has a chance to run. When chipping from greenside, try to minimize spin, which can again stop the ball before it starts to run.

A wet green will be a slower green, so you can hits putts more boldly. Play less break because of the added speed.

Read Rule 25-1, which tells you what to do if there is a build-up of casual water.

Do all this, and by golly, maybe you can become a True Golfer.

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Are Golf Swing Changes Worth It?

Many, not all, but many golfers are always on the lookout for a way to hit the ball better and more consistently. All to the good. But is it the search itself that prevents them from attaining their goal?

Vivien Saunders, the legendary British teacher, said, “To improve your golf, the first stage is not necessarily to change your swing, but to learn to do your best swing more often.”

This is the best golf swing advice you will ever get. If you can hit a straight ball half the time, even a third of the time, then you have a good swing. You task is to find out what you’re doing that works and learn to do that good swing more often.

There is no reason to depart from success. Just work on being more successful.

Saunders follows up her comment with one that might surprise you. She says, “The key is found in improving your follow-through and balance.”

Here’s Percy Boomer, another LBT, on the follow-through: “When I go up to address the ball, I do not think of pivoting (as you do); I think of following through. I think of the end, not the means.”

In other words, Boomer’s mind does not stop at the hit. He has an entirely different conception of what he is doing: “My feel is based upon what constitutes a good shot, while yours is based upon what prepares the way for the creation of a good shot.”

For Boomer, the swing does not lead up to hitting the ball. It leads up to the finish.

Let George Knudson tie the knot on the argument with his thoughts on balance: “Balance is the bedrock fundamental. We do nothing in the natural swing that is at the expense of balance, since disturbing balance leads to a loss of control and power.”

Your mishits are not caused by faulty technique. Rather, they are caused by being just enough off balance that you are unable to meet the ball with the precision the golfing hit requires. Just a little deviation will do, and your balance can be so close to being right that you don’t think it is the problem. But it is.

Improve your ball-striking by swinging without ball in front of you. Swing to a finish that is in PERFECT balance, upright, facing the target, your weight on your left foot, in an tension-free stance. If your finish is correct, most of what happened along the way will be correct, too.

Stop chasing rainbows with the latest tip you read in a magazine or heard on TV. By working on balance throughout the swing and a good finish, the things you do correctly will happen more often. That is how good golfers play good golf.

Autumn Golf

The weather has changed. We’re winding down the golf season, at least in the temperate Pacific Northwest. The greens have recovered from their fall sanding, and we can play a few more rounds before the rain settles in for the duration.

Summer is about scoring — taking advantage of the gains we made over the winter. But that comes with its own pressure and we can get so caught up in what we’re doing that we forget why we’re doing it.

We play golf for our athletic recreation, to have fun with friends, maybe to have a bit of friendly competition from time to time.

We also seek golf’s beautiful, manicured surroundings. The plainest golf course is a finer place to be than the most beautiful bowling alley, and autumn is the time when any golf course is at its best.

If you play a parkland course, the trees are turning color and it’s worth the green fees just to the stroll around the grounds. The soft autumn light makes the colors of the summer course more intense as well. It’s a thrill just to be out here.

The cooler temperatures are a plus, too, at least for me. Golf in 70° weather is ideal.

The easy autumn atmosphere puts my mind at ease. Out for a stroll, hit the ball occasionally, that’s about it. With my mind more on the enjoyment of my surroundings than on playing the game, all the good things seem easier to do.

I play most at this time of year when I pick up my grandson after school. We tee off at about 3:30 and finish a few hours later when the sun is low and the day is winding down. There aren’t many people on the course so we get lots of do-overs. Between shots we just have fun talking about whatever comes up.

So here’s to Autumn Golf. We say goodbye to a lovely summer, and get in touch again with why we love this game so much.

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The Driver and Parallax

I have a new golf tip idea, but since I’m not swinging a golf club these days, I need your help in seeing if it works. It concerns addressing the ball with a driver. Here is what I would like you to try.

1. Tee up the ball like you normally do for a drive.

2. Hover the clubhead directly behind the ball so the ball appears centered on the clubface.

3. Drop the club to the ground using your shoulders as the hinge. Do not make any changes to your posture, or the length of your arms, or adjust the position of the clubface on the ground. Just lower the club. It should look like you’re addressing the ball off the toe.

4. Swing away. If this works, you should hit the ball on the center of the clubface.

The reason I came up with this is that there is a parallax effect when you address a teed ball. If you address the ball in a centered way with the club on the ground, the clubface will actually be aligned in the air to hit the ball on the heel.

Because the ball is raised, you must add a second dimension to the address. Addressing the teed ball in this new way should correct for that. At least that’s my thinking.

It’s important when you try this not to make a compensation because it looks like you’re now addressing the ball off the toe of the club. Just swing, see what happens, and let me know. Ten shots should make a good trial.

Also, Make sure you just make a golf swing. Don’t try to bash the ball or steer the clubhead. Just swing.

Thank you for your help. Let me know how/if it works.

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The Sound of Impact in Golf

You can tell a lot about your swing by watching ball flight. One famous teacher, John Jacobs, doesn’t watch anything else. That’s all he needs to see to make his corrections.

You can also tell a lot about your swing by the way impact sounds. Here is where hitting off a mat is truly an advantage. When you’re hitting the ball first and the ground second, you hear a click mushed up against a thunk — like a sharp thunk — and the ball shoots into the sky.

If you hit a little fat, you hear the thunk but no click. Too thin, and you hear the click, but no thunk.

In fact, when you hit off a mat, you should be using the sound of impact as a reality check. You can hit a little bit behind the ball on a mat and still get a decent result because the club will slide along the mat for a ways. Off turf, the ball wouldn’t go anywhere.

Putting is the same way. There’s a sound that only comes when you hit the ball on the sweet spot. That sound accompanies a strike that doesn’t resonate into your hands and you see the ball jump off the face of the club. Paul Runyan used to practice putting by ear.

Chipping? Same thing as swinging. There’s a click right on top of a thunk and the ball leaps off the clubface.

It’s easiest to get this sound with your wedges, harder as you got to longer clubs, but practice with one club until you can make this sound consistently with it before moving on to the next one.

Play by ear. The ball can still go right or left, but if you’re hearing the right contact, you won’t see those stray shots very often. You’ll get the extra distance you’ve been wanting, too.

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The Golf Swing and the Baseball Swing

Two features of the golf swing that recreational golfers have a hard time with are weight shift, and lag. Pick up a baseball bat.* We’re going to fix both problems.

Grip the bat right down at the knob. Hold the bat straight out in front of you at arm’s length, with the bat parallel to the floor. Now, slowly, shift your weight to your right side and turn your torso. Notice how your arms start to follow?

The weight of the bat will carry the swing right around to the point where you can’t swing in that direction anymore. At that point, shift your weight to the left and turn your torso to the left. Let you your arms and hands follow when they will. Do not ‘do’ anything with them.

Notice how the tip of the bat is lagging behind until the momentum of the swing and the weight of the bat fling the bat through, quite on its own? And carries the bat around your left side?

Now shift your weight to the right and turn your torso to the right. The bat comes around on its own, lagging behind your arms and hands, which are lagging behind your torso.

Go back and forth, slowly, rhythmically, feeling how the momentum of shifting weight and turning makes all the right things happen.

Now this isn’t really a baseball swing, but it really is a golf swing. Do the same exercise with your driver, swing back and forth gently, in a horizontal plane, five or six times. Feel the rhythm of the swing and how, while lots of things are lagging, they end up where they’re supposed to, when they’re supposed to.

Now just tilt your swing so the clubhead goes through the ball and swing away. Not hit away, swing away. Too easy, isn’t it? And you got the weight shift right, and you’re not throwing the clubhead at the ball any more.

* Note to overseas readers: You probably can’t put your hands on a baseball bat. Try picking up two or three golf clubs at the same time. What you need for this exercise is enough weight so that the swing is driven by momentum.

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