Continuing the recent series of practice advice I decided to look at the short game today. I talk extensively about why chipping and other shots around the green are seemingly more difficult than other shots in my article: How to Chip Away Strokes Around the Green. To summarize, it all boils down to practice, or at least it did for me. The reason I was successful around the green was because I spent hours and hours practicing the shots I would be required to hit. Now in the same article I also briefly discussed how I used to practice but, looking back at it, I realize that it’s not only impractical for a lot of different golfers but also somewhat unorthodox. It worked for me but it might not for you, and that’s why we’re here today. There are other, just as effective, methods of practicing chipping that require a lot less time and space than my unique method (although I thought it was awesome as a kid).
Let’s look at our first one. This actually comes from a story I heard about Tiger Woods when he was traveling from tournament to tournament in his younger days on tour. He used to keep a wedge and six or so whiffle balls in his suitcase which he would use to hit flop shots at the black out drapes in his hotel room. This idea can be replicated easily, and I’ve heard anything from people putting out a small bucket in their living room and trying to chip into them to people setting up small little “hoops” in their cubicles to take chips at during little breaks at work. All of these are fun ideas that I’m sure won’t hurt your chipping, but they won’t make you significantly better either. We need some “real” drills to help.
But do we even need a drill?
I’ve found that there really is not substitute for doing the action you’re going to be required to do during the round. I rarely get as much out of a drill as I do when I “just practice”. But the place where golfers get into trouble is when they practice without a purpose, or without focus. Anybody can go to the rough by the green and chip 200 balls at a pin. Sure you might get better, but you could get so much more out of your time if you expend a little effort on the front end.
Don’t just chip at a hole. Pick three or four different holes with different angles of approach and then place piles of 20-30 balls in different lies and at different distances around the area. This lets you practice more different situations around the green which will prevent you from excelling at one area, while flattering in all the others.
Not only should you focus on where you hit your shot from, you should focus on where it lands. Elaborating off of this, you should hit a variety of different shot types. Set up some of the piles with the purpose of hitting bump and run chips at that spot; maybe you set up one behind a sand trap so you have to hit a flop shot, or another another for a down slope chip, the opportunities are almost endless for the types of shots to practice. And…
Sully’s Rules #3: “If you hit a wide variety of shots during practice, you will be a better, more confident player during a round.”
Glad that’s covered. So when we practice we want to focus on being able to predict where the ball will land and how far it will roll for each shot type. If you’re able to control these two factors in your chipping, I guarantee you will improve.
There’s an easy way to help visualize this while you’re practice. Just like the putting drills, you can use wooden tees to create a circle where you want the ball to land and then another circle where you want the ball to come to rest. As you hit more chips you’ll get better at creating the shot you are visualizing in your mind and as you improve at this you’ll be well on your way to successful chipping.
So that’s really it? No actual drills? Just practice? Well, honestly, yes. When golfers approach me and ask for chipping help this is what I do with them. I come out 15 minutes before they arrive and set out ten or so different piles of balls in strategic places around the green and then, once they arrive, we go through them all. Along the way I get the chance to talk about the challenges of each spot (you have to be cautious on a downhill chip, attack the ball on short grass, be firm with your hands going through the rough) but if you hit 20-30 balls in a row from the same place you’ll start to recognize the challenges that come with each different chip. And that’s the goal of practice, muscle memory and development of your golfing IQ.
So in all honestly, you don’t need repetitive, mindless, drills when it comes to chipping because this area of the game is all about imagination and confidence in your ability to hit the ball how you want to. If you spend some time practicing the areas of your short game that are giving you problems, and you think about the shots in an intelligent way, you’re going to improve and you’re going to be a successful chipper. So until next time golfers, grab your thinking cap and go to work around the green.
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