Short-game strategy: Chipping it close starts with having a plan
Students often ask me how to play particular shots, but golf isn’t cookie cutter. I give guidance, but I want them to own the process. They should experiment and determine what works best for their game. A prime example is chipping. To be a great chipper, you must first commit to a system. Do you prefer to use one club and make different swings depending on the situation, or are you more comfortable making one swing but using different clubs to produce a variety of shots?
Both have advantages. The one-club approach improves your feel and makes your game more adaptable. The one-swing system makes it easier to be consistent.
To determine which is best for you, hit five balls from one yard, five yards and 10 yards off the green toward a hole using the one-club method. Then repeat the exercise using one swing, but different clubs. You’ll likely find one strategy yields better results.
Once you choose, read on to learn more about each system, as well as a grip change that could give you the specialty shot needed to get the tough ones close.
Using the one-swing method
When using the one-swing system, position the ball in the middle of your stance, feet slightly narrower than your hips, and grip down an inch or two on the handle. You can set up in line with the target, or stand a little open to it like I do. Just be sure to set up the same way every time, because the goal is to make the setup and swing consistent. Before you swing, push down into the turf with your front foot, lean your chest toward the target, and set your hands a little ahead of the ball (above).
Swing knee height to knee height
A good chipping swing doesn’t have a lot of moving parts. Simply take the club back to knee height on the backswing, and do the same on the follow-through without consciously hinging your wrists. The motion is controlled mainly by a rotation of your torso (photos, above). When you do this correctly, the hands stay higher than the clubhead at all times. The head will travel on a downward angle into the ball and then brush the grass without taking a divot. To help make sure you don’t decelerate, swing through to knee height and hold your finish.
Using the one-club method
Although ball position and hand placement will change depending on the type of chip you want to play, your stance should be the same for every shot. Set your feet slightly more narrow than your hips, weight on your front foot and the shaft leaning toward the target. Grip down on the shaft for shorter chips, but hold it nearly full length for longer ones. The farther back in your stance you play the ball, the lower it will fly. One important note if you choose the one-club approach: I recommend using a club with plenty of loft, such as a sand or lob wedge. If you don’t, you might struggle to execute higher chip shots. It’s much easier to hit the ball lower with a higher-lofted club than it is to hit the ball higher with a lower-lofted club.
Master the follow-through
As I mentioned, ball position plays a key role in creating different types of chips. With the ball played toward the back of your stance (above, first photo), you’ll hit low shots that roll out farther. Playing the ball in the middle of your stance should produce a stock chip, one with a medium trajectory and rollout. If you want to get the ball up and stop it quickly once it lands, play it toward your front foot (below, first photo). For these higher shots, it’s also OK if you want a wider stance (heels outside the shoulders). It will help keep you in balance, so you can make ball-first contact.
When you swing, these three ball positions require different follow-throughs. The farther back you play it, the lower you’ll follow through. Also take note in these photos of how much my wrists release after I strike the ball. The higher I want the ball to fly, the more I re-hinge the club. Now turn the page so I can show you how to hit my specialty chip.
Alter your grip for softer chips
Now that you’ve got the basics down for either the one-club or one-swing method, here’s a bonus tip to help you out of those tough situations when you’re short-sided and there’s hardly any green between your ball and the hole. It involves a grip change so don’t cringe. I know most golfers are very reluctant to change it. When I look down at my grip, I want to see the middle knuckle of my glove hand and the index finger knuckle of my trail hand. But there are times when I set my hands in a weaker position, especially to add some softness to a chip when it lands. It can really get you out of a short-sided jam. To weaken your grip, rotate the glove hand toward the target until you can’t really see any knuckles. The club should feel like it’s resting in the palm. Adjust the trail hand, too. You want the thumb shifted toward the target so you can see a couple of knuckles.
When you swing, you’ll find that the weaker grip prevents the clubface from de-lofting. The club should glide along the ground and pop the ball up. As you swing past impact, the grip will keep the club pointing skyward (below). To get a feel for this softer shot, make a few good practice swings where you brush the ground on the way through. A weaker grip also can replace the need to move the ball way forward to hit a higher chip. That’s key, because a forward ball position requires precise contact, or you risk hitting it thin or fat. This shot is a really useful addition to your arsenal of chips.