Whenever a golfer tops the ball or hits it thin, one of his playing partners will inevitably proclaim, “You lifted your head.”
Well-intentioned or not, this diagnosis is simply wrong. Rather than the head lifting, it's actually the player's entire upper body or his arms that are pulling up and away.
The topic of spine angle is tackled elsewhere in this series. Here we'll focus on the arms.
The vast majority of golfers set up to the ball with both arms straight, or relatively straight – as they're supposed to be. However, many players bend the arms in the impact zone in an effort to lift the ball into the air. This pulls the club away from the ball and causes topped or thin shots.
Never forget: To make the ball go up when it lies on the ground, you must strike it with a downward blow. The club's loft does the work of sending it airborne. Hitting down requires extending your arms to the ball and through the shot.
This drill will teach you the correct arm positions:
- Using a wedge, make a series of short, slow practice swings. Your hands should go no higher than the waist on the backswing or follow through as you keep both arms straight (but not rigid) for the entire mini-swing.
- Now, hit several short shots with the same swing. Remember to keep it slow and short.
- Once you're hitting the ball solidly shot after shot, lengthen the swing a bit.
As your swing becomes longer, the right arm will naturally bend on the backswing, while the left arm bends on the follow-through. Nothing wrong with that. Just get those arms straight out at impact and you'll eliminate the tops and thins.
Thin Shot Golf Drill – Chip with Straight Arms?
Every golfer knows the feeling of hitting a chip shot thin and watching it shoot across the green into the rough on the other side. A thin chip shot will almost never result in a good outcome, so this is certainly a shot that you want to take out of your game as quickly as possible. If you are going to be able to regularly get the ball up and down from a variety of spots around the green, you need to be able to make clean contact with your chip shots nearly every time you stand over the ball.
Of course, for most amateur golfers, the task of hitting a solid chip shot is a challenging one. Chipping is unique from the rest of the shots you will hit around the course, as it requires a delicate blend of technique and touch that many golfers are not able to achieve. It is certainly possible to improve your chipping over time, but that won't happen by accident – you need to be focused on making this part of your game as strong as it can be through regular practice. The players who are willing to regularly practice the short game are those who will rise to the top in the end.
In this article, we are going to look at the possibility of using straight arms in your chipping technique in order to achieve a better quality of contact on a consistent basis. While chipping styles vary greatly from player to player, there are some players who rely on this kind of method in order to send the ball up toward the hole nicely. If you are currently struggling with your chipping and you need to take your technique in a new direction in order to save strokes, consider trying to chip and pitch the ball with straight arms. After just a short period of time spent in the practice area, you might find that this becomes a reliable and trustworthy method for you to employ.
As is the case with every change that you try to make to your golf technique, you are going to need to be patient with this adjustment early on. It is likely going to take you some time to get used to chipping with straight arms, so don't give up after just a few shots if this technique feels uncomfortable. Stick with it through at least a few practice sessions to see if you can find the improvement you desire. If so, you will have found a new way to chip the ball close to the hole. If not, you will have only used up a little bit of your practice time, and you will at least know that this method does not need to be pursued any longer.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Any time you decide to make a change in your golf technique, there needs to be some underlying problem that you are trying to fix. After all, if you don't have any problem in the first place, it would be a mistake to make any changes. In this case, the underlying problem is that of hitting chip shots thin from around the green. Thin chip shots travel too low and too far to be effective, and they rarely lead to successful up and downs. To get rid of your thin chip shots, you only have to move the club head just an inch or so lower to the ground at impact – but that is a challenge that is far more difficult than it may seem at first.
There a number of potential reasons for you to be hitting the ball thin on your chip shots. Among those reasons includes the following –
- Breakdown in your wrists. This is perhaps the most-common reason for a thin chip shot. As the club head approaches the ball in the forward swing, your wrists break down – meaning the left wrist moves into a cupped position – and the level of the club head is raised too high off the ground. The leading edge of the club then makes contact with the back of the ball, and the shot is hit low and hard. Often this mistake is made because golfers are trying to 'help' the ball up into the air at impact. Remember, the club you are using has loft for a reason – trust that loft to get the ball up in the air and keep your wrists quiet and solid as you approach impact.
- Moving your head early. If the previous point is the most common reason for hitting thin chip shots, this point comes in at number two on the list. It is tempting to look up early to see where the ball is going to go, but that head movement can cost you clean contact at the bottom. As your head moves up and to the left to look for the ball, you are likely to pull your left shoulder and the rest of your upper body out of the shot as well. Even if this movement is only slight, it can easily cause you to hit the shot thin. The solution, of course, is simple – keep your head down and still throughout the shot. If you can force yourself to keep your head down until the ball has left the club face, you will no longer need to worry about this problem.
- Rushing through the shot. The final point on our list of causes is related to your tempo. A smooth, even tempo is required for quality chipping, but that is not what most golfers use when playing short shots from around the green. Instead, it is common to see golfers rushing through their chip shots in an effort to 'get it over with'. Since confidence tends to run rather low in this part of the game, many players will chip as quickly as they can just so they can move on to the next shot. Naturally, this is a mistake. You need to take your time in order to allow the chipping motion to develop properly and result in a clean strike. Take a deep breath right before starting your swing and give yourself as much time as you need to chip the ball properly.
There is a chance that you are hitting the ball thin with your chip shots for another reason, but most likely, the underlying cause of the problem is found within one of these three points. While each of these points has fixes associated with them that you can use during practice to work toward improvement, you might find those fixes to be harder than expected to implement. For that reason, some golfers will want to work on an entirely new technique, such as chipping with straight arms. It might not be conventional, but you shouldn't care about that. In fact, you should only care about one thing on this topic – will your new technique allow you to chip the ball close to the hole on a regular basis? If so, it doesn't matter what the technique might look like, because it will be a winner.
Setting Up for the Shot
A big part of chipping successfully with straight arms is learning how to set up over the ball properly. The setup for this kind of shot is very similar to the set up you would use for any other chipping technique, but there are a couple of adjustments that are going to be made. Take your time while learning how to set up over this shot, as your success or failure will largely be determined at address. Many golfers overlook or take for granted the importance of the address position, which is always a mistake. Take the preparation for your shots seriously and the results will quickly improve.
Following are the key points to hit within your chipping address position when you plan on using straight arms to hit the shot.
- Open stance. You always want to chip the ball from an open stance in order to give yourself a good look at the target. Since you aren't going to be making a big shoulder turn or hip rotation during this shot as you would do in a full swing, you don't need to worry about having a square stance at address. Instead, stand in a casual, comfortable manner with your feet open to the target line. Using an open stance will promote a slightly outside-in swing path on this shot, which will make it easier to hit shots that get up in the air quickly and land softly when they come back down.
- Lean toward the target. This is another essential when it comes to chipping the golf ball. You should always be leaning slightly toward the target as you chip, as this type of setup will help you to hit down on the ball properly at impact. Roughly speaking, you should have about 60% of your weight on your left foot at address, with the other 40% on the right foot. Of course, you have to be able to keep your body stable while hitting the shot, so don't lean so far as to pull yourself out of the shot before it has been struck.
- Hands in front of the ball. Another important part of being able to hit down on the ball at impact is setting up with your hands in front of the ball in the first place. That is where they are going to need to be at impact if you want to hit down, so you might as well make sure that's where they are when the swing gets started. The whole operation will work much more efficiently when your hands are set just in front of the ball at address, so add this simple point to your pre-shot checklist.
Straight arms – of course! As a last step before you hit this kind of shot, you naturally need to make sure that your arms are actually straight out in front of you. You should be allowing your arms to hang down naturally from your shoulders, but there should not be any bend in your elbows while getting ready to put the club in motion. This is likely to feel a bit awkward at first, but stick with it and you may find that it is able to help you create some nice chip shots from even tough spots around the green.
All good golf shots are built on top of a solid setup position. If you fail to setup correctly over the ball at address, you are going to be making the game harder than it needs to be – and it is hard enough to begin with. Take the time during your next short game practice session to work on the points listed above and make sure that your address position is as solid and stable as possible. Even if the only thing you do for your short game is work on improving your stance, you will still make big strides toward improved performance.
Hitting the Shot
With the pre-shot work out of the way, it is time to actually send the ball on its way toward the hole. Of course, this is where things can quickly go wrong if you aren't prepared properly for the swing. However, by keeping your arms straight while hitting this shot, you will be taking one big variable out of play. After some time has been spent practicing, there is a good chance that the straight arm technique will have you hitting some of the most-consistent shots of your golfing life.
The idea behind a straight-armed chip shot is to make your technique as much like a putt as possible. When putting, you simply rock your shoulders back and through in order to move the ball toward the target. The plan is going to be the same when chipping with straight arms. You will rock your shoulders while keeping your arms straight, and you will trust the club to do the rest. It doesn't take much effort to chip the ball a short distance onto the green, so you shouldn't need to worry about power – as long as the club makes clean contact at impact, the ball should head directly for its target.
When you get started with hitting your first few chip shots using this method, one of the best things to do is to give yourself a clean lie in the short grass. Don't drop the ball into the rough at this point, because you are just getting started and you want to make the shot as easy as possible. Also, try to avoid any severe slopes – look for a flat section of fairway-length grass to get your practice kicked off on the right foot. From there, you can choose to look for more difficult shots as you continue to practice and your performance improves.
Another key to practicing this shot successfully is varying the clubs that you use depending on the shot at hand. Since your swing is going to be largely the same from shot to shot, the best way to vary your combination of carry and roll is to change clubs. For instance, if you would like to hit a shot that barely carries onto the edge of the green before rolling the rest of the way, reach for an eight or nine iron to do the job. On the other hand, if it is important that you get the ball high into the air for a soft landing, turn to your sand wedge or lob wedge.
You will probably notice early in your practice sessions that you need to give your swing a little more time to develop when using this technique. By using a straight-armed swing, you aren't going to be able to build quite as much speed right at the final moment before impact (because your wrists are going to be staying out of the equation), so you will need to make a slightly longer backswing to compensate. Work on taking your time throughout the chipping swing in order to let the club accelerate naturally. There is never any room for rushing in the short game, and that is certainly true in this case.
As is the case with nearly every new skill that is learned in the game of golf, you are likely to have some ups and downs early in this process. You will probably hit at least a few good shots, and you will probably hit a few poor ones as well. Don't get too frustrated when those poor ones come off of your club face – they are a natural part of the learning process, and they are essential to your improvement. The bad shots will always teach you more about the game than the good ones, so take them in stride and continue to work toward a better short game each day.
Following is a list of a few likely problems that you may run into as you are trying to learn how to chip with straight arms. Use the advice below to work on reaching a solution to each problem that may be affecting your performance.
- Hitting the ball thin. This is probably the most-annoying problem to face, since it is the very issue that you have been trying to fix. However, you don't need to despair if you are still hitting the ball thin, as the underlying problem is likely a simple one. Most likely, players who are hitting the ball thin when chipping with straight arms are rushing through the swing. If you rush the swing and cut your backswing off short, you are going to have to 'force the action' on the way down toward the ball in order to create enough speed. Doing this will cause you to come up and out of the shot, and you will almost certainly hit the ball thin. To make the correction, simply allow your backswing to take up a little bit more time and distance, and you will be in good shape.
- Hitting the ball fat. Just as you don't want to hit your chip shots thin, you also don't want to hit them fat. Hitting the ball fat means you have hit the turf behind the ball before hitting the ball itself, and the result is a shot that comes up well short of the target (in most cases). To avoid hitting the ball fat, move the ball back in your stance slightly and make sure you are leaning left sufficiently at address. As long as you check off those two points before starting your swing, you should be able to avoid the dreaded fat contact on your chip shots.
- Lacking backspin. For shots that need backspin in order to stop in time, you might have to slightly adjust your technique. Specifically, you may need to add in a bit of additional wrist action in order to impart spin on the ball. The straight-armed technique is great for solid contact, but it isn't going to do much for spinning your chip shots, so feel free to include more wrist action when spin is required. Obviously, you should practice this adjustment before ever putting it to use on the course.
Chipping with your arms straight is a nice way to take some of the guesswork out of the short game. Simplicity is your friend all around the golf course, and you can add some simplicity to your short game by straightening your arms and making a basic, repeatable motion. Give yourself some time in the practice area to get comfortable with this technique before taking it onto the course, and you should find that your chipping performance improves nicely in upcoming rounds. Thank you for reading and good luck!