You can save many strokes with good chipping. It makes up for less than adequate approach shots, and just about every recreational golfer I’ve come across knows about them. But I’ve rarely come across a consistently good chipper. And the ones I have met are legitimate single handicappers. So what does it take to chip consistently well?
First, let me define a chip as opposed to a pitch, for the two involve different techniques with usually different clubs. With a chip, you’re maybe 5-15 feet off the green, usually without a hazard like a bunker between you and the hole. You can be on tight-cut fringe or the rough, and usually with a decent lie so you don’t have to dig the ball out of some bloody hole, which would probably require a different strategy. So let’s take this in sequence.
- Club selection. There are differing opinions on this, from one particular club for all situations to different clubs depending on how much green you have to work with. But my view is the more green you have to run to the hole the lower the loft of the club out to a perhaps a five iron or hybrid. You have more margin of error with a lower lofted club. This, of course, is an old school chip and run. Leave the wedge chip, skip, and stop after one hop to the touring pros. They have time to practice that shot hours a day until they can do it without thinking. And even they, under pressure, mess it up at times. But you may have to pull a wedge if you’ve only very little green to work with. And that’s why that shot is one of the hardest in the game. There’s very little margin for error, since it often requires a longer backswing than any of us amateurs wants to deal with.
- Stance and ball position. I like a narrow stance, fairly upright, slight bend at the knees and hips, left arm and club shaft forming a straight line, putting hands ahead of the club head (that’s important because the relationship between hands and clubhead will stay that way through impact and beyond). The ball–ah, the ball–lot’s a varying opinions here, mainly because it can vary. It depends on where the bottom of your swing is, which requires some experimenting. Weight should be 60-40 favoring the forward leg, and no need for any weight shifting.
- The swing. So with a ball at the chipping green, with straight left arm and club shaft, take the club back without breaking your wrists. That’s right: keep the wrists quiet. Think Steve Stricker. This is not just an arm swing. Let the knees, hips and even chest turn slightly towards the target. Think (or YouTube) Seve Ballesteros. Swing repeatedly until you can determine where the clubhead consistently strikes the ball just before the ground, and possibly takes a small divot. That is the bottom of your chip swing, and that is where you place your feet in relation to the ball.
- Length of backswing. To determine this, you need to determine where on the green you need to land the ball and have it run out to the hole. And that amount of carry determines the length of your backswing, depending on the club you’re using. Different loft and run out for different clubs. The lower club number the lower the loft and the more run-out. So, again, some experimenting on the practice chipping green is needed.
- Transition. Arms, hips, chest pretty much starting moving at about the same time, head steady, left arm straight along with left wrist.
- Impact. Just keep everything in position, your proverbial eye on the proverbial ball, and, if you hit the bottom of your swing, you should have crisp, solid contact (you’ll hear it when you get it). Your hands should remain ahead of the ball. Your left arm/wrist should remain a straight unit through impact. Whether you’re close or in the hole depends on your distance control, your speed. Direction shouldn’t be as much a problem with that left arm/wrist unit.
- Follow-through. Mostly abbreviated. No need for anything extensive here. The clubhead should be facing the sky and not turned left as it would for a full tee to green shot.
- Mental game. Confidence is the key to success in most endeavors, and practice, with the right fundamentals, will get you there.
Of course, if you’re hitting these shots fat or thin (one of the worst feelings in golf), make adjustments. Trial and error, always learning as you experiment. You’ll need a practice green that allows chipping, which are often hard to find. But any available turf near the practice area will do (minus any signs of restriction), at least to practice your stroke.
Pro chippers to emulate? Tiger (of late), Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas. Rory, Graeme McDowell, Webb Simpson, among a number of others.
So good luck with the above. Hope this does save you some strokes. Let me know how it works out, or, if you have better technique, based on your experience.