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The Art of Chipping

So, you crushed your drive. You're sitting just a short chip away from a birdie or possibly an eagle putt. So, you set up, read the wind, pull the wedge back, and flub the chip! Swearing ensues, and you scream, "I hate this game!"

Well, guess what? This is the part of golf that many golfers have the most trouble with. Because chipping requires a bit of finesse, and as we know, it's much easier to flub a shot or overshoot the hole. But have no fear! I have put together some good techniques you can use when chipping the ball up onto the green.

There are two parts to a successful short game: The first is the plan, and the second is the actual execution. The plan is simple. You need to know your shot before you play it. You should determine where you plan to land the ball and how far it will roll. The plan should include landing the ball on the green whenever possible and playing the best percentage shot. The best percentage shot is usually the one that is simplest to execute. Excellent plan, right?

Since you are hitting the ball a shorter distance than with a full swing, you should choke up on the club, narrow your stance, and stand closer to the ball. Picture the shot you're about to play and make a practice swing to approximate the swing you'll need. Don't just take practice swings for the sake of taking a practice swing. Make sure you are actually setting up the shot.

Visual hitting the ball, and take a practice swing as if you are actually hitting it. The club should be swung with arms and shoulders, with some wrist break. The key to shots around the green is to "keep the arms moving."

As with other golf shots, picking the right club is essential to an effective chip. So, let's get this out of the way right now. Don't use your driver. I can't believe I had to say that, but I've actually seen someone do that! First of all, chip shots are essentially those played from right off the green. Most are otherwise known as "bump and runs." Don't confuse them with pitches, which are lofted shots with a sand wedge.

I was taught over the years to get the ball on the green as soon as possible and then let it roll to the hole. There is nothing wrong with this. This is fine, but as we discussed before, that might not make sense depending on where the pin is placed.

However, the issue of concern is when golfers go about playing different lengths of chips with an assortment of clubs. They hit a 9-iron if the flag is 20 feet away, 8-iron thirty feet, 7-iron forty feet, etc. You should really just choose ONE club to hit all of your "bump and runs" with and adjust for the distance with the force of your swing.

It can be a 5, 6, 7, 8 , 9, wedge, or sand wedge. It doesn't matter that much. Phil Mickelson likes to use his sand wedge in just about every case. He will play it far back in his stance, with his hands way ahead to bump it. I know he is a master, but you can learn a lot by watching how a pro approaches their chips consistently. On the other hand, I've seen old school guys like Corey Pavin often use a 5-iron around the green. He just "taps" it, and the ball scurries across the green with a lot of topspin.

These are extremes, however. You should pick a 7, 8, or 9-iron. I, personally, like to use a 9-iron for chipping. I know how the ball will come off of the club because that's the one I practice with all the time, and I have an extreme amount of comfort with it. I have tried using a 7-iron on longer chips, but the ball seems to explode off the clubface because I am unsure of the proper force I need to use.

The art of chipping is hard enough without having to master four or five clubs. Practice with a couple at first. You should hit short "bump and runs" from the fringe and then longer "bump and runs" from in front of the green.

From there, decide which one you like better, which one you can control the spin better with, and ultimately which one you can control the distance better. Then, put the other one in the bag, and practice with the one you chose. Master this one-club approach, and your chipping will improve dramatically.

You will want most of your weight to be focused on your lead foot. For right-handers, that would be the left foot. Your swing should be in a pendulum motion with no wrist action. If you break your wrists on a chip shot, your ball will shoot to one side, or you may overshoot the hole altogether. I'm pretty sure I do that at least once around.

As we've said, you often won't want to take a full swing when chipping. So instead, gauge the distance you are away from the hole and then estimate how hard you'll have to hit the ball to get it to the hole – or at least close to the hole!

Here are some general tips on chipping that can really help:

  • Keep your hands ahead of, or even with, the clubhead on the follow-through.

  • Grip the club firmly so that the rough doesn't twist the club on the swing.

  • Get the ball rolling on the green as soon as possible; this will make it easier to control the shot.

  • In deep rough, angle the club, so the toe is the only part touching the ground.

  • In windy or downhill conditions or on fast greens, always chip the ball instead of pitching it.

  • Repair all divots taken.

  • Be careful not to hit the ball too hard; otherwise, it might roll off the other side of the green.

Chipping should not be confused with pitching. When you chip a ball, you will be just off the green, and you want the ball to easily roll across the green and toward your target. On the other hand, a pitch shot is a lofted shot that flies more than it rolls.

A pitch is usually used when you are a little further off the green, but you still are close enough that you won't want to take a full golf swing.

A pitch shot is usually from 30-70 yards away from the green. You can also use a pitch shot if you need to hit above trees, hazards, or sand traps. Use a lofted wedge club like a sand wedge, a pitching wedge, or a lob wedge. These clubs have faces that allow you to get underneath the ball and put it in the air. You will want an open stance with your feet closer together. The ball should be positioned in the center of the stance. Your body turn will be determined by the size of the swing. Focus about 70 percent of your weight on your lead foot. You will have to modify your backswing according to the distance you have to go to the hole. It can be waist-high, shoulder-high, or a full swing. Just don't put too much power into it, or you will overshoot the green. Instead, let your legs and body turn slightly through the shot.

As with any shot, your aim should be to present the clubface perfectly square to the target. This is important with a pitch, as any minor deviations will be magnified by such an intense shot. Aim for a ball, then turf contact. If you are regularly thinning the ball when attempting this shot, you are probably not accelerating into it.

Once on the green, you'll want to putt effectively.

There's nothing more frustrating than taking more putts than what you need to, so master chipping and get that little bugger as close to the hole as possible.


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