As a child chipping was always my favorite part of golf. I would take a bucket of old range balls I received from a family friend and chip at a makeshift green my dad made in our back yard. Eventually after I took hundreds of chips from each spot around our backyard green I ended up “designing” my very own golf course. A nice par 3 course where I got a chance to hit a variety of different shots. One around a tree, one over a bonfire pit, one up a hill, 50 yard pitches, 10 yard flop shots, I actually covered a lot of basic chips a golfer would have to hit. Eventually, after playing this course almost daily, my chipping got so good that I would never miss the green on my “tee shot” and I could even start to place the ball where I wanted it to land around the green. And now that I was really starting to golf frequently in my life, this improvement around the green slashed my scores in a way I had never seen before. What good chipping gave me was a safety net. Good chipping let me miss a green in regulation and still save par on a hole. Good chipping started to drastically decrease the number of putts I took in a round and good chipping keep me from throwing away needless strokes around the green. Chipping was my favorite part of golf at the time, and I would spend hours hitting all sorts of different chip shots just dreaming of new ways to have fun in my back yard.
The unfortunate thing about chipping and why I think it’s so hard for golfers to master is because there is no easy way to gauge how different variables will change each shot. Let me elaborate. If you use a 7 iron for a bump and run chip the ball will spend a very short amount of time in the air. That’s fine if you have room for the ball to roll out, or if you’re on the fairway. But what if you’re in the rough instead and you don’t have enough room on the green? Do you hit a flop shot? Well what if there are trees in the way or gusty winds? Which wedge will you use for this shot? All of these variables; wind, green speed, obstacles, your lie, all effect your chip in a specific way each time, and that is what makes chipping so difficult to master.
For a lot of golfers chipping is one of the hardest things to do because it requires a variety of different shot types and swings. And while only practice can really make you exceptional at each type of short game shot, some of my tips can help you improve your consistency with a few different types of common chips.
In my experience over 90% of your chips or pitches will fall into these two different forms.
- Basic bump and run chip
- Mini flop shot
Now, this is a reasonably short list and while I agree that there are endless ways to get the ball from the rough onto the green, there are very few circumstances where one of these shots will not give you a chance to score well if you perform them correctly.
So lets look at these!
The bump and run chip is what many people would consider “chipping”. It’s the first type of chip most people learn and its simple to understand the concept; fly the ball over the yucky stuff (rough, sand, etc.) and then have it act like a putt would once it lands on the green. Or a “bump” over your obstacles and a “run” across the green. Clever stuff I know… So now that you’re thoroughly enlightened about golf’s advanced naming system, lets look at how it’s executed.
In the picture to the left, the ball is chipped and clears the fairway before making contact with the ground and then rolls out on the green the way a putt would.
To perform the bump and run chip, take a high iron from your bag (6,7,8,9 irons). Once you have your club selected there are a few minor changes to your setup that you need to make. For this chip we want to:
- Put the ball back in our stance
- Put our hands forward (this will close the club face)
For the swing we are looking to almost replicate a putting motion by creating a pendulum with your arms, driving the club head firmly through the ball on a shallow arc without decelerating. It’s important to aim for a spot on the green where you will have cleared all of the obstacles but where you still have room for the ball to carry out the “run” part. For me, I think of this using a 50/50 ratio. Basically, for every yard the ball travels in the air, it will roll a yard on the green. And while this isn’t a full proof plan for every chip it is certainly a starting spot while you figure out a more accurate ratio for yourself (taking 10 balls before a round and heading to the practice green will give you a good idea).
Now while this is one of the easier chips to hit, there are some things you want to focus on avoiding. Two very common problems that will ruin your consistency on this chip are breaking your wrists during the swing and decelerating your club through contact. When you break your wrist you are shortening the amount of time where the club head is in the correct plane to hit the ball. This is because breaking your wrist will increase the angle that the club comes into the ball and also the angle that it leaves along. In the picture below the two different arrows represent the path that your club head could take. Looking at the arrow represented by a broken wrist swing you’ll see that you only have a small opportunity for good contact while the shallower plane that is created by a pendulum will give you a much wider margin for error.
Decelerating will also ruin the consistency of your chipping but it is an especially dangerous pattern to fall into. When you decelerate, most often golfers are worried that the ball is going to travel to far, and so to compensate, they slow down their swing speed. Logical right? But it is one of the worst things you can do on a chip. Decelerating is the most common cause for “skulling” the ball and rocketing it across the green, which is ironically why you’re decelerating in the first place… weird… this is because (excuse the excessive use of physics) when you apply a force to slow the club, it is rarely in an exactly opposite direction as your swing path. Since the forces aren’t only cancelling each other out, your club head shifts to a position that is not on the correct plane to make good contact. (and i thought I’d never use vector addition…) Basically, you decelerating your club is increasing your chances of catching it thin or hitting behind the ball and leaving it 3 inches from where it started. Both of which will add an extra stroke onto your scorecard, something we all want to avoid.
Moving away from the bump and run we have the next shot on our list of two, the mini flop shot. This is a useful shot if you don’t have enough room on the green to satisfy that 50/50 rule for letting the ball roll. Due to the lack of space, this shot focuses on getting the ball up higher with more back spin which will help keep it closer to the area it lands on the green. Now we don’t need three stories worth of height here. We’re looking for a medium. We want less roll from the ball, but we don’t want to spend hours perfecting a difficult flop shot.
As we just said, we want a higher shot this time and because of this we want to select a club with more loft from our bag (SW, 60 degree, etc). For the mini flop, we can think of it as a more 75/25 ratio. Most of the distance to the hole in the air, and just a tiny bit of roll to get us snug. Different goals from the bump and run and so, different set up. Let’s look at that first. For the set up we want:
- open stance and open club face
- straight up and down body position (no leaning like before)
- ball centered in our stance or a little forward
- our hands also centered (club face will be nice and square)
Just like this:
Since the stance most of the work to give us more height and less roll our swing isn’t too different than a normal pitch or chip you would take. However, we are going to move away from the ridged pendulum motion for a more natural, normal swing which is going to help give more height and a little more “touch” on these shots. Two things for focus on though are thinking of trying to slid the club face under the ball (this will loft it up instead of out) and trying to shallow out your swing a little (this will make it easier to do the last part). Other than that you can think of it was an almost normal quarter to half swing and just to clear up any confusion, check out the whole thing put together below. (1:00-1:10~)
Think of these two shots as a starter kit around the green. Both of them are used frequently and if you master them you’ll almost never be stuck without a shot. But as you play more and more around the green don’t be afraid to add new types of shots onto this arsenal. Once you put these few simple tips into practice you’ll never underestimate how big of a factor chipping is to scoring well ever again. But before you can be a master and embarrass your boss at company outings it’s time for a little practice. So grab a bucket of balls, a few select irons and spend some quality time around the green enjoying just how hard it is to move a 1.6 oz ball around a patch of grass. Until next time!
“We talking about practice?” -Allen Iverson