I’ve been recouping from a hernia operation lately so have been practicing my chipping technique quite a bit. No heavy lifting or major twisting/turning involved there. I don’t know about you, but the simple chip from right off the green can drive me nuts at times. It’s either a great effort for a tap in par or a flub that challenges my commitment to mindful golf. So I was determined to use this downtime as an opportunity to sharpen my skills around a shot that can lower a score for amateurs arguably more than any other.
This basic chip looks simple enough but if all the fundamentals are not in sync it can be one of the most challenging. There’s not much room for error, and any doubt or lack of confidence causes tension in the finer nerve endings of the hands and arms which affects the precise timing needed to pull off this shot consistently. We’ve even see Tiger suffer the yips around this shot a few years back.
Address is simple enough. The feet are quite close together with the toes a bit open and pointed slightly to the left of target. Knees are flexed some and a grip down close to the metal. I like the reverse overlap grip I use with putting. Weight is 60-40, even 70-30, to the left side. Of course, before you assume that stance, you’ve got to read this shot as you would a putt. And you need to assess where you want the ball to land, given the roll out for the club you are using; which brings me to the issue of what club to use.
I used to think it best to change clubs according to the amount of roll out; so a low-lofted club like a 6 or 7 for more roll, and a high loft for more flight and less roll. But more and more, I like John Daly’s method of choosing one club and changing its loft accordingly (yes, John has a great touch around the green). Of course, if you have to clear a bunker or some other hazard, the shot becomes a pitch and a high-lofted wedge will be needed (that’s a whole other post). I like a 9-iron for this shot, as it gives you handy options. You can chip and run it by decreasing loft via more clubshaft lean and a ball position more off the toe of the back foot; or on a shorter shot to the pin, you can use the club’s assigned loft for a bit more flight and less roll. The lie too is quite important. With a tight lie, less loft and more run may be advisable; and a gnarly lie will require more loft and a longer swing to extract the ball (but that’s a particularly tough shot that the pros spend hours on). Some instructors advise a hybrid or 3-wood for this basic chip, but I’ve never been able to get the hang of it.
This shot requires very little wrist action, mostly left arm straight aligned with the shaft. I prefer a relatively short backswing that lengthens as the shot distance requires. The head is steady with very little body movement needed. Mostly shoulders and arms. Body movement with the knees slightly moving towards the target increases with the length of the shot. So if you’re running the ball through the fringe some 20-40 yards, which is conceivable for certain situations, lower body movement would increase while still, of course, keeping the head steady.
One of the key features of this shot occurs next, namely acceleration through impact. This is critical, and is the main reason, I believe, that people screw up this shot. I know that’s true for me. The trick is to get the right speed–something like the Goldilocks golf I mentioned in my previous post. Not too fast, not too slow, just right. The good thing is once you find the right speed, it stays the same for all chips of this type. Only the length of the backswing changes. But any doubt or anxiety about the shot, and hesitation can creep into your forward swing. I saw Tiger have doubt around a tough chip up a steep bank at the BMW this past weekend. I suspect he wasn’t sure whether to smack it hard into the bank and pop it on or lob it over the bank. He chose the former and never cleared the bank, dropping a shot.
At impact, the hands are slightly ahead of the clubhead as they were at address. That helps you hit the ball first and then the turf. After impact, the clubface stays square to the target, and the follow through is abbreviated. There’s no need to pronate the wrists.
So that’s it. I know it sounds like a lot of elements to attend to, but once you get the fundamentals down, and practice it, it’ll come to you. In troubleshooting, if you’re hitting it fat, move the ball back a bit in your stance. If you’re thinning or skulling it, make sure your weight is mostly forward and you’re hitting down on the ball as you would a full shot. BTW, the pros get backspin on this shot by hitting down on it with a lot of speed, but speaking of balls, that’s what that cool result takes–plus a ton of practice. I wouldn’t bother with the backspin if I were you. I don’t. Just a basic chip and run, and you’ll be making more up and down pars than you can shake a 9-iron with.
The putts at the conclusion of the BMW Championship, one a double breaking, 43 foot downhill thriller by Dustin Johnson to force a tie on the 72nd hole, and the other an equally twisting, near impossible 66 footer on the first playoff hole by Jon Rahm for the win were two of the more amazing clutch putts I’ve ever seen. I’ve made a couple of putts like that (but never under that kind of pressure), and I’ll bet some of you have too. What a game we play!
But the young Spaniard almost lost the tournament because of an unusual (for a PGA pro) brain freeze. On the 5th hole in the third round, he picked up his ball on the green without marking it first and was assessed a one stroke penalty. Rahm had the marker in hand, but said afterwards he must have been thinking of someone or something else. Before he knew it, he stood there, in a bit of a daze, with the ball and marker in his hand. Jon can be hot-headed at times, but, to his credit, he called over a rules official and took his medicine without a hint of upset. It was his only bogey that day in a round of 66. Given the final results, he could have easily lost the event because of the mishap, but the golf gods were ultimately kind to him in this game of ultra-honor. Congrats on the win, Jon!
And now onto the Tour Championship in Atlanta, with the top 30 on tour competing for glory and some huge pot of money along with the FedEx Cup. Who’s your pick? I’ll take DJ. His whole game these days is humming on all cylinders. He goes into the event with a two stroke lead on the field. Enjoy the action!
Tiger did not qualify for the event, but is, of course, entered in the final two majors coming up this fall.