Chipping the ball is one area in which a golf beginner can become proficient fairly quickly. The swing is very short, so it's easy to make solid contact and earn a nice result.
There are two primary components required to become a good chipper: correct technique , and understanding which club to use for different situations.
As a beginner, your main focus should be on technique. Without it, your club choice is irrelevant. While you're still learning how to chip, it's wise to stick with one club for every shot – and the pitching wedge is your best option. Its short shaft makes it easy to control, while its loft makes helps you get the ball into the air.
Once you've gotten a decent handle on chipping fundamentals, you can play a variety of different shots with the pitching wedge. For example, a high shot that stops quickly on the green, or a low chip that rolls after landing. Most experienced golfers use a variety of clubs for chipping, with choices based on their lie, the length of the shot and the slope of the green.
But in the early stages of beginner-hood, stay focused on the basic chipping setup, stance, ball position and swing, and save the more advanced stuff for later. In the short term, the pitching wedge is the only club you really need.
Which Club Should You Use to Chip?
Chipping is an overlooked, but crucial, part of the game of golf. If you are going to be a player who consistently shoots good scores, you are going to need to develop your skills in this area. Chipping is called upon during each and every round that you play, unless you manage to hit all 18 greens in regulation (a rare feat). When you do miss a green, you will need to have a good game plan for your chip shot in order to place the ball close to the hole and set up a short putt. Chipping is an area that gives many amateur golfers fits, but that is mostly because they fail to practice this part of their game. If you are willing to spend some time practicing and learning basic techniques, you can quickly improve your chipping – and your scores.
One part of the chipping equation that you need to know how to handle is picking the right club for the shot. On any given chip shot, there are a number of different clubs in your bag that you could select. Some players like to chip with less loft, while other players prefer to use as much loft as possible. Depending on your style, and the shot in front of you, it is possible to chip with anything from a three wood all the way up to your lob wedge. You can certainly create your own unique approach to deciding which clubs you will use to chip on which shots, but it is important that you are committed to your decisions. Once you pick a club, you need to have total confidence that you have made a good choice. Doubt is the enemy of good golf, so pick a club and trust it completely to get the job done.
To become proficient at picking the right club for the shot, you need to first understand your strengths and weaknesses around the green. Even after you put in plenty of practice time, there are likely to be certain types of shots that you are more comfortable with than others. That is okay – in fact, most professionals feel the same way. Pros can usually hit a variety of shots around the green depending on the circumstances, but they typically with have one or two methods that they prefer to use for the majority of their shots. Work hard to develop a well-rounded short game, but don't be afraid to rely on your strengths as often as possible.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions accordingly.
The Basics of Club Selection
There are some simple 'rules' that you should understand before you start establishing a game plan for how you are going to choose a club when chipping. Some of these points you will likely already know, while others may be new to you. The more you understand about how chipping works and what each club can bring to a chip shot, the easier it will be for you to make a good decision.
Following are a few basic points on the chipping the golf ball that will aid in the club selection process –
- Less loft = more roll. This should be obvious, but it is worth mentioning anyway. As you reduce the loft that you are using when hitting a chip, you will be adding roll to the end of the shot. So, a chip shot hit with a pitching wedge should roll out more than a similar shot hit with a sand wedge. This additional roll can be a good or bad thing, depending on the type of shot that you are facing. Understanding how much your ball is going to roll after it lands on the green is one of the keys to getting up and down more often.
- More loft = better from long grass. When your ball is sitting down in the deep rough, you need a strong leading edge to cut through the grass and allow your club face to contact the ball properly. Playing a bump and run type of shot with a less-lofted club is rarely going to work from a deep lie. Using a sand wedge or lob wedge from the deep rough will almost always be your best bet for getting the ball up and onto the green.
- Spin is less predictable. You can use spin to stop the golf ball when chipping, especially from a good fairway lie. However, that method is never going to be as consistent as allowing the ball to roll to the hole while using very little backspin. When you rely on backspin to stop your ball, you have to hope that the ball has as much spin as you are expecting, and that the green will be receptive to that spin. Simply put, there are more variables in play when you lean on spin to stop your chip shots. There are certain occasions that call for a spinning chip, but try hitting a more traditional shot whenever possible.
- Landing on a flat spot is idea. When picking a club, one of the elements you need to consider is the topography of the green near your intended landing area. Whenever possible, you want to land the ball on a flat spot on the green to receive a more predictable bounce. Obviously, this will not always be possible, but look around for flat spots between you and the hole before selecting the club you will use for the shot. If you can bounce the ball on a flat spot on its way toward the target you should be able to improve your distance control considerably.
- Always leave a putt. While you would love to chip the ball close to the hole every time, your basic goal for a chip shot should simply to ensure that your next shot is a putt. If you try to hit a perfect chip shot but don't quite pull it off, you could miss the green and be left with another chip. Above all else, make sure your first chip finishes on the green so you can have a putt at the hole – even if you aren't quite as close as you would like to be.
There is a lot to learn when it comes to chipping, and much of it can only be learned through experience. Reading the five points above will help you start to get a better idea of how to pick clubs for your chip shots, but you also need to get out to the practice area and start learning for yourself. Experiment with different clubs from different lies until you begin to learn what works and what doesn't. If you want to get the best possible improvement in your game from the time you have available to practice, spend that time chipping. The strides you make in your skills from around the green can quickly and significantly improve your scores.
Put Yourself to the Test
Before you can start making great decisions on the course regarding club selection, you first need to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to chipping. Each player will have their own specific shots that they feel comfortable with, so it is important that you know which shots those are for you. It doesn't particularly matter what kind of shots you happen to be good at, as long as you can identify them and then use them as frequently as possible on the course.
To go through the process of learning which kind of chip shots you hit best, you will need to head to the practice chipping green at your local golf course. Work through the following steps and you will leave with a great idea of which shots chip shots you should favor during an actual round of golf.
- For this drill, you will need 15 golf balls and three different clubs. For the clubs, try using your 9-iron, your gap or sand wedge, and your lob wedge. While you can use any golf balls for the drill, try to find 15 that you don't mind marking up. Once you locate 15 golf balls, use three different colored markers to divide them into three groups of five. Each color will signify the club that was used to hit the ball. For example, you could use a black marker for your 9-iron shots, a red marker for the gap/sand wedge, and a blue marker for the lob wedge. It doesn't matter what colors you use, just make sure you know which balls were hit by which club.
- With the 15 balls marked, find a place to chip from that offers you a flat, clean lie. You should be on fairway-length grass, and there shouldn't be any severe slopes or deep grass between you and the green.
- Next, pick a target hole for this drill. Again, try to find a hole that is on relatively flat ground. Basically, you are trying to set up what would be considered an easy chip shot if you were on the course.
- Once preparations are finished, hit all 15 balls toward the target. You are going to hit each of the five balls within each color group using the club that was selected for that color. Rotate through the groups so you are only hitting one shot at a time with each club. Give each shot your best effort, and only walk up to review the results once all 15 balls have been chipped toward the target.
- As you retrieve the balls, take notice of which club chipped the ball closest the hole on a consistent basis. Is one color clearly outperforming all of the others? For most golfers, an obvious pattern will emerge right from the start. If necessary, go through the drill a few times until you determine which club is your most consistent performer.
It should go without saying that the club which performs best in this drill is the one you will want to use most often on the course. You aren't going to be able to hit all of your chip shots with that single club, but it should be designated as your starting point. For each chip shot you face on the course, you should go in with the plan of using your best option, and only change clubs if the lie or the ground in front of you require a different method.
This drill shouldn't take very long to complete, but it can be immensely valuable in teaching you about your own game. Now that you have evidence from a practice session to tell you which club provides you with the best chipping results, you can reach for that club with a newfound confidence on the course. Much of the doubt about your short game will be taken away after spending a few minutes on this helpful drill.
The Influence of the Lie
No matter where you are on the golf course, the lie of your ball plays a major role in the kind of shot you are able to hit. Unless your ball is on the tee, you will always need to pay careful attention to the ground under your ball – and the grass around it. If you don't match up the kind of shot you are going to hit to the kind of lie that you have, poor results are likely to follow.
The story is no different when you are chipping. As you get ready to pick a club to use for your chip shot, you need to carefully inspect the grass around the ball. Specifically, you want to look at the area directly behind the ball. If there is no grass in your way, such as when you are in the fairway, you can pick just about any kind of shot with any of your chipping clubs. However, if there is tall, thick grass behind the ball, your options will be limited to a high lofted club like a sand wedge or lob wedge.
Following are a few different lies you may encounter on the course, along with some basic instruction on which club would be the best choice.
- Fairway. Obviously this is the easiest situation that you will face around the green, and you can play nearly any shot when your ball is resting on the short grass. Most likely you will want to use the club that was most successful during the drill outlined above.
- Short rough. Most golf courses maintain their rough at a reasonable height to allow for a good pace of play among all levels of golfers. With that in mind, you are likely to encounter lies in the short rough around the green more often than not. As long as the grass doesn't come up over the height of the ball, you should be able to play a variety of shots from this lie. The bump and run with a 9-iron is an option, as is a higher shot with a lob wedge. The only major difference between the short rough and the fairway is you shouldn't expect to get much backspin on your chips from the short rough.
- Deep rough. If you do encounter a course with deep rough, you are in for a challenge when chipping. Typically, the ball will come out of the deep rough with no spin and plenty of speed. Your best bet in this case is to use your highest lofted club and make the same kind of swing you use from a greenside bunker. Try to 'splash' the ball out of the rough and expect plenty of roll when it lands on the green.
- Downslope. When you find your ball resting on a slope that is angled down toward the hole, you will want to use a higher lofted club than normal in order to get the ball up into the air. The slope will cause your chip shots to come out lower than they normally would, so go up in loft to get back to your regular trajectory.
- Upslope. As you probably would guess, playing shots from an upslope will have the opposite effect as playing from a downslope. In this case, you may want to use a lower lofted club in order to avoid hitting the ball too high in the air.
- Bare ground. From time to time, you may find your ball resting in a worn out spot of the course that has no grass at all. If you need to play a chip from bare ground, understand that the club will move very quickly under the ball. That means that you will impart plenty of side spin (assuming you make good contact), and you will need to swing harder than expected to cover the full distance to the hole.
While it helps to read about different lies and how they will affect your shots, the best way to learn is to simply get out there and find as many different lies as you can around the practice area. Many amateur golfers make the mistake of practicing only from perfect lies when they work on their chipping. In reality, you aren't going to have a perfect lie very often, so challenge yourself by placing the ball in some tough spots. Your practice will be far more beneficial if you vary your lies and force yourself to adapt. The more you practice, the better you will get at picking the perfect club based on the lie of the ball.
Other Club Selection Considerations
There are a few other points that need to be made in reference to picking a club for your chip shots.
- Nerves play a factor. If you are feeling nervous before a particular chip shot, consider playing it with a lower lofted club to increase your margin for error. A shot that is played low and allowed to run along the green will be easier to execute when you are nervous than a shot you play up into the air. Be smart enough to acknowledge when you are nervous and use something like a 9-iron that will provide you with a pretty easy chip and run to the hole.
- Less loft on wet turf. Another situation where you should opt for a lower lofted club is when you are faced with a shot being played from wet turf. When the ground gets soft, your high lofted clubs will have a tendency to stick into the turf at impact. The risk of that mistake is lower when playing a bump and run, so again reach for your 9-iron (or something in that range) when you encounter soft conditions.
- Trust your gut feeling. For all of the information and practice that you can use to hone your club picking skills on chip shots, sometimes you just have to leave it up to a gut feeling. When you walk up to your ball next to the green, you might feel like a particular club is perfect for the shot – even if the situation would normally suggest otherwise. Don't run away from this gut feeling. Confidence is crucial when chipping the ball, so consider going with your gut even if that club isn't the logical choice.
Picking the right club for a chip shot is part science, and part art. You want to consider all of the important factors like the lie of the ball, the path to the hole, and your personal skill with each chipping club. However, you also want to consider your natural instincts as you prepare to play the shot. Don't force yourself to hit a lob wedge just because the circumstances would normally call for that club. If you aren't committed to the shot for any reason, pick a different club and make it work. In the end, the only thing that is important when chipping is getting the ball as close to the hole as possible – it doesn't matter what club was used as long as the end result is a short putt to complete the up and down.