Admit it. Chipping isn’t exactly exciting. Some might say it’s downright boring. It certainly isn’t as thrilling as busting a drive 300 yards down the middle. But as a golf instructor in Burbank, I have found that if you want to shoot the lights out (or save par), the only way to do it is to get the ball close to the hole, and it’s chipping that’ll do that.
Over the next six pages, I’ve culled together five of my favorite chipping tips (plus one bonus tip). Some are drills, while others are tips you can apply on the golf course. All, I guarantee, were designed to get the ball up and in as quickly as possible. Practice these and watch your scores drop!
I can’t tell you how often during my time as a Burbank golf instructor a student has come up to me and asked how to hit one of those chip or pitch shots that spins so much it takes a hop or two and just stops. Tour pros routinely hit these shots, making the ball “dance” to the amazement of TV audiences. How do they do it? A number of ways, actually, from their golf equipment to clubhead speed to setup. You need all three to pull it off, so read on and start making your short shots dance.
Before you even begin to think about how to hit the ball, you have to use the right golf equipment. Choose a highly lofted wedge (56° and up) and make sure its grooves are sharp. If you don’t have a new wedge, go to a clubfitter and ask them to sharpen your grooves. Next, you need a soft ball. (Look for one with a urethane cover. “Rock Flights” aren’t going to spin worth a darn, so leave them in the bag.) I use the Srixon Z-Star, which really stops on a dime.
Once you have the proper golf equipment, it’s time to set up correctly. Place the ball back in your stance, opposite your big right toe and lean your hands forward so they’re opposite the middle of your left thigh. The key to really getting spin is generating a lot of quick clubhead speed at just the right moment—basically as the club approaches your ball. Think about making a firm-wristed stroke that accelerates into a compact finish, much like striking a match. I can’t stress enough how important it is to make your impact quick and firm. This allows the grooves on the golf club to really engage the ball’s soft cover.
Before your shot, consider its trajectory. (Trajectory is determined by the lie, club selection and how hard you hit it.) Once you determine these factors, you should know the optimal spot on which to land your golf ball. If you have little green to work with, you want to hit a higher shot that hits and rolls very little. If you have plenty of green to work with, hit a lower shot so it rolls like a putt. Once you determine that, chipping is less frustrating, because all you’re doing is landing the ball on your imaginary spot.
3. Look At Your Target!
A great drill to help take your focus off the ball and put it on your target, is to actually hit balls while looking at the target, for the entire swing. This drill will allow you to swing through the ball, not at it, into a smooth finish. Your first couple of shots might feel a bit strange, but keep on trying—it’s a great way to practice.
To have a good short game, you have to hit both high and low shots. For low shots, grip the golf club in your left hand, lean the shaft and your weight forward, square your clubface at setup and put the ball back in your stance. Swing the club back and through with the back of your left hand leading the way. Impact will feel firm, trapping the golf ball against the ground. To hit high shots, hold the club in your right hand, place the ball in the middle of your stance, open the face and keep the shaft vertical. The right arm should freely swing the clubhead back and through.
5. No Chicken Wings
One of the biggest problems i’ve found, during my time giving golf lessons in Burbank, with short shots is the loss of acceleration into the hitting zone. This is usually the result of a large backswing that has a lot of arm swing and wrist action. I think we’ve all seen what happens when someone makes a long backswing for a short shot: You have no choice but to slow down and decelerate into impact, causing chunks, skulls, duffs and anything else that’s just plain old cringeworthy.
Rather than making a long backswing and hitting the brakes soon after (or before) you hit the ball, I tell my students to do the opposite: Keep your backswing shorter and accelerate through the shot.
A great drill or image is to keep your right arm relatively straight and firm in your backswing, with no bend at the elbow. In the pictures above, I’m using the Tac-Tic training aid (even though it was made for people to wear on their leading elbows, I’m using it for an alternative use).
By keeping my elbow relatively “stiff,” I can limit how much it bends and therefore limit the length of my backswing. My backswing should feel minimal, allowing it to accelerate smoothly through the ball.
Remember, don’t keep your dominant arm stiff; just minimize how far back you swing, and you’ll make a swift stroke that accelerates into the ball.
When you chip, one of the biggest misconceptions is that your lower body and head should remain frozen, just like when you putt. But that’s not the case. In fact, one of the signs of a poor chipper is that he freezes over the ball and gets extremely ball bound. Good chipping involves letting your center (or navel) flow, so it synchronizes with the swinging of the club.
A good drill to ingrain that feeling is to place the club in your navel, and choke down so your hands grip the shaft. Once you have that, practice pivoting so your body flows back and through. This should include your lower body, and your head in the follow-through. Then grip the club normally and practice with that same sensation.