One of the toughest “easy” shots in golf is the mid-range pitch or long chip, when you've got 10-15 yards to cover between your ball and the green.
Few golfers practice shots from this range, and when they face one on the course, there's a natural tendency to baby the shot and decelerate before impact.
Golfers feel they must swing softly to execute this shot – and therein lies the problem. By attempting to swing more slowly, you fail to accelerate and hit the ball with a crisp, descending blow. The left shoulder comes up early, the arms lag and you hit the ball fat. Some players feel they must help the ball into the air, so they use a flipping or scooping action of the wrists. The result is almost always ugly.
The key to successfully hitting these tricky, in-between shots it to keep your swing short but firm and hit down through the ball. Follow this simple sequence to iron out your issues:
1. Pick a gap wedge or pitching wedge, provided you've got ample room between the fringe and the hole.
2. Take a narrow stance with the ball centered between your feet.
3. Grip down a couple inches on the club and push the hands toward the target, leaning the shaft slightly forward.
4. Make a short backswing with minimal wrist action.
5. On the downswing, keep your hands ahead of the ball and focus on brushing the grass beneath it; you may even take a small divot.
6. Match the length of your follow-through to your backswing.
To prepare for the shot, make several practice swings while looking not at the ball, but at the spot where you want the ball to land. This will give you a better feel for the length of swing needed.
Stop Decelerating on Long Chip Shots
Long chip shots are one of the most-challenging aspects of the game for amateur golfers. When you face a long chip shot, you have to be able to get the distance just right in order to leave yourself with a makeable putt. Of course, that is far easier said than done – dialing up the right distance on these kinds of shots takes skill and plenty of practice. Professional golfers routinely make this shot look easy, but it is actually one of the toughest shots you will face in an average round. Learn how to handle the long chip shot comfortably and you should save a stroke or two each time you tee it up.
Decelerating is by far the biggest problem that is seen on in the long chip shot. When you face this kind of shot, you need to be sure to accelerate the club properly through the hitting area in order to make clean contact and cover the correct distance. Sadly, many amateur golfers fail to accelerate through the shot, as they lack the confidence to swing through the ball aggressively. As a result, the club decelerates through impact, the quality of contact with the ball is poor, and the shot usually comes up short of the target. This pattern will repeat time after time when a player lacks the confidence necessary to execute the #long chip shot correctly.
So how can you get out of this rut in order to successfully improve your performance in this area of the game? First, you need to understand the proper technique that should be used when chipping from long distance. This article will go into detail on the fundamental points that you should for this type of shot. Good fundamentals alone aren't going to be enough to allow you to pitch the ball close to the hole time after time, but they certainly are a great place to start. The game of golf is always made easier by the presence of solid fundamentals, no matter what kind of shot you are trying to hit.
Of course, in order to install the right fundamentals into your short game, you are going to need to practice. This is the big point that many golfers miss, and it is why so many players struggle to chip the ball properly. Your short game needs just as much attention during practice as your long game, if not more. You shouldn't look at short game practice as an optional part of your routine as a golfer – you should see it as essential to your improvement. If you don't spend time practicing your short game, you simply aren't going to be able to significantly lower your scores. Every part of the short game plays a major role in your ability to score, and that certainly includes the category of long chip shots.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Keys to a Long Chip Shot
Before moving in to the specifics of the technique you want to use to hit a #long chip shot, it will be helpful to first cover some of the keys to keep in mind when you face this situation on the course. Think of this section as an overview of the shot as a whole – with an understanding of the big picture of the shot, you will then be able to focus in on the details of execution.
Each of the following points is going to be key to your success on a long chip shot.
- Selecting a target. Most amateur golfers go wrong right off the bat by missing on this point. When you stand over the ball to hit a chip shot, you are probably thinking of the hole itself as your target – but that would be a mistake. Yes, you want the ball to end up near the hole, but your target for the shot should actually be where you want the ball to land. The only part of the shot you control is the part where the ball is in the air. After it lands, the bounce and roll are out of your hands. So, with that in mind, you need to do a good job of selecting a specific landing point for your shot prior to starting the swing. The landing point that you pick is going to be based on a number of factors, including the condition of the course, the club you are using, the slope of the green, and even the kind of ball you have chosen to play. Only when you fold in all of assorted variables into your decision making process will you be able to succeed on a regular basis.
- Reading the lie. A big part of controlling the speed of a long chip shot comes down to getting an accurate read on the lie. When you are getting ready to hit a chip shot of any length, one of the first things you should do is take a close look at the kind of lie you have in the grass. Is the ball sitting down in longer rough, or do you have a clean lie on the fairway or fringe? When the ball is sitting down, you should expect to get less spin and more roll out. Of course, when you have a clean lie, the opposite is true – you will get more spin, and the overall roll out of the shot should be reduced. Experience is one of the key factors that determines how well you will be able to read your lies on the course, so practice this skill as much as possible to improve your performance.
- Holding your nerve. Perhaps more than any other shot in the game of golf – with the possible exception of a short putt – you are going to need to hold your nerve if you wish to hit a solid long chip shot. Nerves play a big role in the short game, and they are especially prevalent when chipping, as making even a slight mistake can lead to a big problem. If you hit the ball just a touch heavy or a touch thin at impact, the difference in the outcome of your shot can be dramatic. It is essential to catch the ball cleanly time after time while chipping, and to do so, you are going to have to be in control of your nerves during the swing. It is generally players who are confident in their abilities who are able to hold their nerve, and it is usually the players who practice the most that have the highest level of confidence. In other words, the equation is simple – practice time can help you to overcome nerves in the short game.
Hitting on the three points above isn't going to automatically guarantee that you will hit solid shots when chipping from long range – but it certainly is a good place to start. By picking out a specific landing spot for your target, getting a good read on your lie, and keeping your nerves to a minimum, you will give your technique a chance to shine through.
Building Great Technique
Speaking of your technique, this section is going to focus on what it is you can do to create a reliable and predictable motion to use when facing a long chip shot. There aren't going to be dramatic changes to your technique between a short chip shot and a long one, but you will need to make a few adjustments in order to accommodate for the longer swing that is required. If you can include all of the following points in your technique when hitting a long chip shot, you should see a positive outcome more times than not.
- Slight lean to the left. You may be aware that you should be leaning to the left (toward the target) when addressing a standard chip shot. That is still true when playing a longer chip shot, although you don't want to lean as dramatically onto your left side. The idea behind the left lean is to make it easier to hit down through the ball, but you don't want to hit down too steeply when you need to cover a longer distance to the hole. Overall, you want to have just barely more weight on your left foot than your right foot when playing this shot. If you feel as though you are set significantly into your left side at address, work on evening out your stance until your swing plane takes a shallower path into impact.
- Forward ball position. This is another point that is all about optimizing your swing plane. Too many golfers play the ball way back in their stance when hitting a long chip shot, and the result is usually a steep swing and a shot that comes up short of the target. Don't make this mistake. Play the ball at least in the middle of your stance, if not slightly forward of that point. The only exception to this rule is when you are pitching out of the long rough – if you have a poor lie in the long grass, go ahead and move the ball back in your stance. You want to hit down steeply when you have a poor lie in order to avoid as much of the grass behind the ball as possible.
- Squared up stance. The biggest difference in your technique between a short chip shot and a longer one is going to be the positioning of your feet. When chipping from a longer distance, you will want to square up your stance instead of having your feet open to the target line. Most players like to chip from an open stance when playing from near the hole, and that is a good idea because it allows you to easily get the ball up into the air. However, when playing from farther away, it is a good idea to square up your stance in order to swing directly down the line toward the hole. You don't need to worry about lofting the ball up softly on this shot since you are farther away, so the open stance really isn't going to pay any dividends.
- Soft hands. You should always use a relatively soft grip when playing any kind of shot around the course, but using soft hands takes on particular importance when hitting a #long chip shot. As was mentioned earlier, you need to make clean contact with the ball in order to control your distance on a long chip, and the best way to make clean contact is to keep your hands as relaxed as possible. When your hands get tight on the club, they will tend to manipulate the club unnecessarily during the swing, which will often cause poor contact. So, prior to starting your swing on any short game shot, make sure to relax your hands on the grip. By starting with your hands relaxed – and keeping them that way throughout the swing – you will stand a great chance of making clean contact.
You don't want to overcomplicate the process of hitting a long chip shot, because the overall mechanics of the swing should be very simple. By sticking with the simple fundamentals listed above during your practice sessions, you should find that you make progress on this tough shot rather quickly.
If you do a good job of following the tips included above, you should be on the right track with your long chipping game. However, being on the right track and consistently succeeding when faced with this shot are two different things. You may still be struggling with deceleration even if you have your fundamentals in order, and eliminating that mistake is going to be necessary if you are going to reach your potential in the short game. Not only is deceleration harmful with regard to long chip shots, but it can hurt your game in numerous other areas as well. Getting rid of the tendency to decelerate when hitting a long chip can help you to eradicate this error from all portions of your game.
The first key to getting rid of your deceleration problem is committing yourself fully to the target you have picked out for a given shot. Most players decelerate the club when they are afraid of hitting the ball too hard, but that shouldn't be an issue when you have a clear picture of where you want the ball to land. By seeing your landing spot clearly before your swing begins, you can then go about simply executing the shot without holding anything back. It is when you doubt your target that you will be prone to decelerating, so keep that doubt as far away from your game as possible.
Of course, there is a lot to be said for practice in this discussion as well. Practice is when you can effectively take all of the doubt out of your game – but only if you are willing to invest the focused practice time required to sharpen your short game touch. Players who regularly practice the short game will feel great about their skills when on the course, meaning doubt is going to play no role in any long chip shots. You don't have to practice your short game for hours on end in order to make progress, but you do need to include it in each of your practice sessions for at least a portion of your available time. The practice time that you put in on the short game is going to be more beneficial than time spent on your full swing, so the short game practice area is where you will be if you truly value lower scores.
In addition to having plenty of confidence in yourself over the ball, another thing you can do to get rid of deceleration is focus on the finish of your chipping motion. Make it a goal to reach a balanced, controlled finish position after each chip shot you hit. Of course, you aren't going to swing up into the same kind of full finish that you would use when hitting a tee shot, but you need to get to a finish position that is at least a short distance past the point of impact. If the club is stopping almost immediately after making contact with the ball, you can be sure that there is some deceleration present in your technique. Work on moving the club head through impact and beyond to ensure that you are accelerating nicely.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
There is no doubt that having the ability to hit quality long distance chip shots is going to help you be a better player. However, this discussion would not be complete without touching on the topics of course management and strategy. One of the things that high-level golfers manage to do significantly better than their amateur counterparts is manage their way around the course. What does that mean? It means that accomplished golfers know how to position the ball in a way that gives them the easiest possible path for their next shot.
This is important to keep in mind when dealing with long chip shots. If you are consistently putting yourself in tough positions around the green where you have to execute a long chip shot perfectly in order to save par, you are bound to fail from time to time. No one is perfect at these kinds of shots, so one of the best things you can do is stay out of this position in the first place. By positioning your approach shots in places where you have a relatively easy path to the hole, you will give your short game a chance to be successful.
The first thing you want to do is to make sure you are chipping uphill as much as possible. If you feel like you are going to miss the green with a given approach shot – maybe because it is a long shot, or maybe because you have a poor lie – you need to analyze the area around the green and figure out where you would like to be chipping from with your next shot. By finding the low side and making your mistake in that direction, you will have a much better chance to get up and down. It is difficult to hit accurate long pitch shots while playing downhill, so do your best to stay out of that scenario altogether.
Another way you can use course management to positively impact your short game is by remembering that you need to take the worst-possible outcome out of play whenever possible. On a chip shot, the worst possible outcome is usually missing the green with your chip, requiring you to chip again before you are able to reach for your putter. So, with that in mind, plan your long chip shots with the overall goal of at least putting the ball on the green. Even if you can't chip the ball particularly close to the hole, pitching somewhere on the putting surface will help you to get off of the hole with as little damage as possible. A chip and a two putt should leave you with a bogey (assuming you didn't make any other big mistakes previously), and a bogey rarely will do too much damage to your round.
The long chip shot probably won't ever become one of your favorite shots in the game of golf. However, just because it is difficult does not mean you have to run away from it in fear. Rather, you should take the challenge head on, learning how to play the shot properly – and without any deceleration in your swing. By practicing this difficult shot on a regular basis, you should be able to refine your technique and gradually improve your results.