Category Archives: chipping

My Chipping Stroke

In the summer of 2012, following two back surgeries earlier that year, all I could do was chip and putt. So I decided to start over with that and learn how to do them both the right way, not the way I had fallen into on my own.

I had a chipping lesson that June. I told the pro, pretend I’ve never hit a chip shot before and tell me how to do it from the ground up. That’s exactly what he did.

Whenever I have a golf lesson, I take notes afterward. I wrote down the points he made on chipping, practiced them a lot, because, remember that’s all I could do at the time, and I became a very good chipper.

I looked through the blog and found out that I had never posted the points he taught me. They don’t really substitute for a lesson, but here they are anyway. I hope you can make something of them. There are six.

1. Setup: The ball is in the center of your stance, weight is slightly left, the clubshaft leans slightly left. Light grip pressure, grip down to the metal for control.

2. The wrists break back slightly when the club goes back. Do not overdo this.

3. The shaft and the right knee feel like they are moving forward together.

4. The right knee continues breaking through the shot. The right heel comes off the ground.

5. The hips turn. There is no slide. The left hip moves straight back, not around.

6. The wrists are straight again at impact and do not break further (the right hand does not pass the left). The clubface ends up facing the sky.

As I have said earlier, think of sliding the sole of the club underneath the ball, not so much on hitting down on the ball. There is a bit of that, but do not emphasize it.

If you perfect this stroke, and calibrate a number of chipping clubs, getting up and down from greenside will become your expectation.

Chipping Out of Greenside Rough

When the ball is 6-10 feet off the green and on a good lie, the chip is pretty easy. If the ball is at that distance but in rough, it’s still an easy shot, but you have to know what you’re doing.

The first thing is to find out how much grass is beneath the ball. Stick your forefinger into the grass near the ball, being careful not to disturb it.

By touching the tip of your finger on the ground, you should be able estimate how far the bottom of the ball is off the ground; that is, by how much the ball is suspended in the grass. There are three possibilities.

1. The ball is resting on top of the grass. This happens if the grass is thick or has strong blades. For this shot, use your 8-iron and hit the ball with your putting stroke. This makes sure you lift the ball off the grass and get it running when it hits the green.

2. The ball is suspended in the middle of the grass. Here, use a sand wedge of 55 or 56 degrees. Hit the shot with your standard chipping stroke. Make sure you follow through. The thickness of the grass will grab the club, so your follow-through will be short, but don’t let the grass win a complete victory. The finger test tells you how deeply into the grass you must swing the club.

3. The ball is all the way down on the ground. Take out your 60-degree wedge. Play the ball back a bit in your stance. The object here is use a steep swing and thump the ground underneath the ball with the sole of the club. Forget about hitting the ball. Just thump the ground in that spot and the ball will pop out. There’s a lot of wrist action in this stroke, not much arm action. The grass will limit the follow-through.

Practice these shots before you try them on the course.

Stop Chunking Chip Shots

I don’t think anyone will disagree that the most maddening mistake in golf is to chunk a simple greenside chip shot. Just a little swing with a 9-iron, the hole is about 40 feet away, couldn’t be easier, and you lay up sod three inches behind the ball. #@9!!

Even the pros do this (Hunter Mahan in the 2010 Ryder Cup) though they do it much less often than we do. Here’s how to reduce chunking to a once-in-a-blue-moon mistake — instead of something you worry about every time you chip.

Put your mind on the sole of the club, from the moment of takeaway and through contact. Just think of where the sole is and slide it across the top of the grass when it gets to where the ball is. That’s how you get the club to brush the grass the same way every time, practice stroke or stroke at the ball.

Forget about the ball, forget about where you want the ball to go. Think only of sliding the sole across the grass.

I figured this out at the range a few weeks ago. Whenever I go to the range I am always looking for ways to make 2 and 2 equal four. The hard part is in realizing that 2 and 2 are right there in front of you so you can put them together.

My practice strokes throughout the session had all been identical. I mean identical. I practice this shot a lot, so I know what I’m doing. Each time, the sole of the club brushed top of the grass in the same place and at the same depth. What more needs to be right?

But sometimes whenever I moved on to hit the actual chip, I started thinking, “Hit the ball,” and my stroke would change, and sometimes I would hit a little behind the ball. It took me a while to figure out how to correct that.

I thought that if I stayed with my practice stroke and played “Brush the grass” instead of “Hit the ball,” I would hit these beautiful chips, one after the other, and chunking was never an issue. And that’s exactly how it worked out.

You can use this thought any time you’re hitting a short game shot, from the fairway, greenside, or even from a bunker.

It’s the sole that matters.

Long Chip Shots

Chips from twenty yards or so can be the most troublesome shots in golf. They come in four varieties, based on the ratio of distance to the green and distance from there to the pin. I’m going to tell you how to hit each one.

1. Ten yards to the green, ten yards to the pin. Here, the distances are equal, but they are long distances. You need a moderately-lofted club, like a pitching wedge, to get the ball to the edge of the green but not run out way past the hole.

2. Ten yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a gap wedge to get the ball to the edge of the green and sitting quickly. The stroke is specialized: hit the shot by sliding the club underneath the ball, keeping the clubhead low at all times, especially on the follow-through, to get maximum spin.

3. Five yards to the green, ten (or more) yards to the pin. Use a 7- or 8-iron to get the ball on the green and running up to the hole.

4. Fifteen yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a sand wedge. This another specialized stroke. Power the downswing only with gravity, using your hands to guide the club into the ball. Emphasize hitting the ground directly underneath the ball with the sole of your club. When struck properly, the ball floats up, floats down, and dies right away. This shot takes practice.

If you have a tight lie for any of these shots, odds are you have good ground all the way up to the green. If so, and there are no obstacles to hit over, use a straighter-faced club and run the ball all the way to the pin.

With a tight lie and something you have to hit over, like a bunker or thick grass, play the ball back in your stance. Pinch the ball off the turf with a lofted wedge. Think only of getting the ball on the green so you can start putting.

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.

[October 2018: The club and distance table was calibrate using a stroke that hits somewhat down and through the ball. If you use a sweeping stroke, adjust the chart by substituting in each case two more (less-lofted) clubs. For example, in place of a lob wedge (LW) use a gap wedge (GW).]

Practice Chipping and Putting Together

I’ve been doing a lot of chipping and putting this year. Considering my recent history (two spine surgeries earlier this year), that’s about all I’ve been able to do. I have learned a good bit about each stroke, and have gotten much better at each than I ever have been. What’s important, I’ve found, is how you practice.

Of course, you have to learn the shots. That takes hitting lots of putts and lots of chips. Go ahead and do that. Remember, though, that applied chipping and putting comes as a package deal. The chip and the putt work together in a partnership. When you play, you hit the chip, then you go putt it out. That part needs to be practiced, too.

So after you’ve practiced putting for about fifteen minutes, and after you’ve practiced chipping for fifteen minutes, practice them together. Get four balls and chip them to the same hole, but from different locations around the practice green. Then go putt out the four balls. When you get up and down on all four, reverse the drill. Chip to four different holes from the same location.

After you have done that, narrow down the drill. With one ball, chip it and putt out. Pick a different location and a different hole. Chip and putt out. Keep doing this for dozen times or so, giving yourself a different shot every time.

Never hit a do-over chip. Learn to deal with the putts you leave yourself.

It’s one thing to have good technique. It’s another to know how to get the ball in the hole. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend around the practice green, then do only that.

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Ten Rules For Better Chipping

[Comment added January 2018.]

No one hits every green. Getting your ball one-putt close from just off the green is not that hard to do if you know how. Here are ten rules that will help you get your ball tight to the hole and prevent a missed green from costing you an extra shot.

1. Read the green. The ball will roll for a considerable ways across the green, and behave just as if you had hit an approach putt. Plan a chip with all the care you give to a putt, because the objectives of each shot are the same–leaving the ball close or even sinking it.

2. Chip with the least-lofted club you can. Your bread-and-butter club would be something like a 6-iron. Use more lofted clubs only under special circumstances. Chipping with a lob wedge is a professional technique.

[I have changed my mind on this. See My Chipping Formula.]

3. Relax your mind. This is a simple shot. You are trying to save yourself a stroke, but don’t get so careful that you get too delicate and muff the shot.

4. Do not break your left wrist at any time. Maintain the angle you have in it at address at all times during the shot, especially during the follow-through. This leads to consistent contact and predictable distance control. A breaking left wrist is the leading cause of poor chipping by recreational golfers.

5. Hit the ball with a descending strike. The bane of golfers everywhere, from beginner to winner, is hitting the ground behind the ball on one of these simple shots. When the club comes into the ball from above, you ensure that clean, ball first-ground second contact.

[I have changed my mind on this, too. See Stop Chunking Chip Shots.]

6. Keep a light grip pressure. You want no hit in the stroke. It is hard to have a hit when you are holding the club very lightly.

7. Hit the ball off the toe of the club. This deadens the strike, leading to minimum backspin and pure roll. When the ball is hit on the sweet spot of the clubface, it can come off hot and roll too far.

[Please ignore that.]

8. Keep the club low to the ground in the follow-through. A chip is a running shot.  Keeping the club low after it is struck is a sign of a stroke that drove the ball forward, rather than lifted it up.

9. Land the ball on the green. Regardless of how far away from the green the ball is, its first bounce must be on the green so it can start rolling. A ball that lands short can get grabbed by high grass or soft ground and stop dead, or take an odd bounce.

10. Practice from every kind of lie, from and into every kind of slope, and to every combination of ball-to-green-to-pin distances. You will never hit the same chip twice on a golf course. The more scenarios you practice, the more you will be able to handle the real scenarios the course hands you.

If there is one shot to get real good at, this is it. Being able to get up and down from anywhere builds confidence into every other part of your game, because you know you can erase your mistakes. It drives your opponents nuts, too, because a good chipper is never out of the hole.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.

Three Wedge Shots That Will Save You Strokes

In golf, a swing is a swing, but once you get a wedge in your hands, that’s where artistry comes in. When you know what you’re doing with that wedge, you will get the ball closer to the the hole than your partners thought you could, and you will never be out of the match. Here are three shots that I think you will use at least once per round, and they turn three shots into two, just like the pros say to do.

1. Say your ball is on an upslope of some kind. You have to hit over the crest of the slope with spin on the ball so it will bite when it lands and not roll all the way across the green.

Right now, you probably hit this shot with the club sweeping along the ground, which in this case is in an upward direction. That is not what to do. The slope adds loft to your club. Your 54-degree wedge is effectively a 75-degree wedge, and the ball goes almost straight up in the air. You’re lucky if it even reaches the green.

Instead, pick the wedge you want to use without regard to the degree of the slope, but to the distance the ball has to travel horizontally to get to the hole. Now, instead of sweeping the club upward along the slope, bring the club underneath the ball and gently thud it straight into the slope. There will be only a small follow-through. The ball will pop up and forward, and run softly to the hole.

This is the shot that Fred Couples hit on the 12th hole on Sunday at Augusta when he won the Masters in 1992.

2. If the ball lies instead on a downslope, the fear is that you won’t get the leading edge of the club underneath the ball, and blade it across the green. That’s an honest fear, and the next shot is to make sure that never happens.

Take a wedge that is more lofted than you would normally use for the distance the ball has to travel. Put the ball back in your stance, so far back that it is outside your trailing foot. Keep your hands centered in front of you. You hit the ball by raising the clubhead up and chopping gently down on the back of the ball, driving the wedge into the ground. The ball will pop forward with lots of spin.

Practice this shot to learn how far it flies and how much it runs. Your friends have never seen this shot before, and they will be amazed at what comes out of your funny setup.

3. The third shot is for when you’re seriously short-sided and you can’t run the ball along the ground–it has to get in the air, stop in a hurry, and you have about twenty feet to work with. This is a mini-flop.

Use a sand wedge, setting up with the ball in the center of your stance and the club straight up and down, that is, not leaning toward the hole. Take the club back low and bring it through the ball low. What you are trying to do is slide the club underneath the ball without disturbing it.

You can’t do that, of course, but you will get a very soft hit that makes the ball run up the face of the club and leave with lots of spin and little forward momentum. It will hit and stop. Swing slowly. Think of sliding the club along the ground at impact, not hitting something with it. A cushion of grass underneath the ball is desirable.

A big part of being a short game master is never having a problem you can’t solve. Here are three common problems, solved. Now go get those up and downs amaze your friends.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.