Alan Shepard has admitted to “chili-dipping” his famous lunar golf shot in 1971, and it's a familiar flub for many of us here on earth, too.
The chili-dip is simply a fat chip shot, where the club hits the turf before the ball, and it can turn a likely par into bogey or worse in a hurry.
Let's look at the causes and cures for the common chili-dip:
- Causes: Hands behind the ball at address, with the shaft leaning away from the target; attempting to scoop the ball into the air with the hands, with the left wrist breaking down as the right hand overtakes it; decelerating the club as you approach impact.
- Cures: Address the ball with your hands slightly ahead of the ball and the shaft leaning toward the target; maintain the triangle formed by your arms, wrists and hands throughout the swing; accelerate through the ball, returning the hands and shaft to their address position as you make contact; keep the left wrist firm and don't flip the right hand through the shot.
Remember, a chip is essentially a miniature iron shot. Strike the back of the ball with a slight downward blow – it's even okay to take a small divot – and there's no need to try to lift the ball into the air. The club's loft will do that for you.
Tips to Avoid the Dreaded Chili-Dip
Chipping is one area of the game of golf that is neglected by the average player, whether they will admit it or not. Most players are able to dedicate at least a little bit of practice time to their putting, and almost every golfer is happy to stand on the range while swinging away at the driver. However, it is the player who is willing to dedicate focused practice time to their chipping that will usually win out in the end. Chipping is incredibly important when it comes to determining your score at the end of a round, so overlooking this area of the game is a major mistake.
One of the reasons that you need to practice your chipping is to avoid the dreaded chili-dip. A 'chili-dip' chip shot is one that you hit fat. The club contacts the ground before it makes contact with the ball, and the shot winds up well short of your intended target. This is a problem for obvious reasons – you aren't going to get up and down very often after hitting a chili-dipped chip shot, meaning your score can quickly add up after this kind of error. Taking the chili-dip out of your short game once and for all will save you strokes, and it will give you more confidence as you go about your round.
As you prepare to hit any chip shot, one goal should come to mind immediately – getting the ball on the green. While you would obviously like to be close to the hole in order to set up a short putt, you should at least be playing your next shot with a putter. By making sure you get the ball onto the green with your first chip, you can take away the possibility of making a big number on this particular hole. Even if you miss your first putt, you can hopefully two putt and walk away with your scorecard intact. However, if you happen to take two or three chips just to get on the green, and then you two putt, your entire round could go up in smoke. Therefore, with the goal of placing the ball on the green in mind, it is imperative that you learn how to keep the chili-dip as far away from your short game as possible.
The chili-dip can be caused by physical flaws in your technique, but it can also be caused by a mental lapse. If your confidence dips while you are playing a chip or pitch, you may give up on the swing and hit the ball fat as a result. Confidence is crucial in golf, and that goes double when talking about the short game. Not only are you going to need to make sure that your physical mechanics are in place, you also want to confirm that you have the right mindset prior to each and every chip or pitch that you play.
All of the instruction contained 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.
Creating a Chili-Dip
In order to avoid the chili-dip, you first need to understand what it is that causes this shot to occur. This section is going to deal with the physical side of the equation – we will get into the mental half of the picture later in the article. While chipping technique will vary wildly from player to player, there are a few mistakes that are common among golfers who hit the ball fat around the greens. If you are making any of the errors listed below, you can expect to continue to struggle with your short game until you are able to correct these technical flaws.
- Leaning back. One of the leading causes of the chili-dip is simply leaning to the right, away from the target. Proper chipping technique includes a slight lean to the left, which gives the club a good chance to come down into the ball cleanly, missing the grass behind the ball that is waiting to cause trouble. If you lean to the right instead of to the left, the club is likely to bottom-out too early, leaving you with a fat chip shot. At address, make sure you are set up with a majority of your weight onto your left side – a 60/40 split will work well for most players. By setting up with a left side lean, you will already be a big step closer to avoiding the chili-dip.
- Overactive right hand. Your right hand can turn even a good chipping motion into a chili-dip if you aren't careful. The right hand should play a mostly-passive role during the chipping motion, only getting involved at the very last moment to 'pop' the ball up into the air. If your right hand does too much early in the downswing while chipping or pitching, it could stick the club head into the ground prematurely. You should feel like you are leading the club into impact with the back of your left hand, using a flat left wrist to create solid and clean contact with the ball time after time.
- Lack of speed. Even though a chip shot is a short shot that is played typically within a few yards of the green, you still need to supply some speed in order to cut through the grass and strike the ball cleanly. Without that speed, the club may get stuck on the way toward impact – especially if you are playing from a lie in the deep rough. To give your forward swing the aggressive motion that it needs to get to the ball, try using a slightly shorter backswing so that you can accelerate confidently without hitting the ball too far.
- Head movement. You have probably heard countless times that you should keep your head still while hitting a golf shot. While that advice is a little bit over exaggerated in the full swing, it is certainly true in the short game. While chipping, you want to keep your head very still with your eyes locked on the ball until after impact has been made. If you look up early to see where the ball is going, your forward swing could lose speed and a chili-dip could be the result. During practice, work hard on disciplining your eyes to stay on the ball all the way through the swing and you will perform better on the course.
- Tight grip pressure. It is important to have a relaxed grip while hitting chip shots so that you can swing the club freely back and through. A tight grip might feel like it gives you more control over the club, but it will actually only serve to make it more difficult to find solid contact at impact. Work on hitting chip shots with a relaxed grip in the practice area and then remind yourself on that point prior to hitting any chip shots on the course. Even if this feels uncomfortable at first, stick with it and you will soon find out how much easier it is to chip well when using a light grip.
Unfortunately, there is a lot that can go wrong from a mechanical perspective while chipping – and many of those mistakes can lead to a chili-dip. By working hard in practice to correct any of the five mistakes listed above, you will be doing your game a great favor and the results of your effort will soon show on the course.
As mentioned above, getting your mind in a good place to hit chip shots is just as important as the physical element of the shot. If you aren't thinking clearly about the shot that you need to hit, it won't matter how much physical practice you put in – the results will never be to your liking. By getting your mind in a good place, you can combine your physical and mental capability to chip the ball close to the hole time after time.
One of the main mental game issues that is faced by most golfers when chipping is a lack of clarity about the shot at hand. Many players just wander up to the ball, take a wedge from the bag, and hope for the best. It shouldn't be a surprise to you that this method isn't very successful. You need to have a specific plan in place for every shot that you hit during a round, including all of your chip shots. Without a good plan, you will basically be hoping to get lucky – and luck is never a good game plan on the golf course.
So what specific details do you need to have in mind prior to hitting each shot? Well, first you need to decide on a landing point for the chip or pitch. Everything that you do is going to work from this landing point. Standing behind your ball, look up to the green and pick out a spot that will allow your ball to bounce and roll up to the hole. Once you have that spot in mind, choose the wedge (or other iron) that will enable you to hit that spot with the right combination of loft and backspin. This will be a challenge at first, but it will get easier and easier with experience. As long as you pick a specific spot and you pick a club that makes sense for the shot you need to produce, good results should follow.
This line of clear thinking will help you avoid a chili-dip because your mind will be too focused on executing the shot to worry about the worst case scenario. Your mind can lead you to a chili-dip when you get nervous and slow the club down prior to impact. To avoid those nerves, think positively about the target and club that you have selected. With your mind focused completely on sending the ball perfectly onto your landing spot, there will be no time for the nervous thoughts that can derail your shot.
The other mental game point that you need to focus on is making smart decisions based on the situation in front of you. This goes back to the earlier point regarding getting the ball onto the green at all costs. You should always pick targets and clubs that are going to maximize your chances of getting the ball on the putting surface, while minimizing the risk of a big mistake. It only takes one major mistake with a chip shot to spend at least a couple of strokes, so thinking clearly and being patient is an important part of the equation.
Following are two examples of chipping situations where you would want to base your decision on the circumstances that you are facing.
- In this first scenario, you have a great lie in the fairway just short of the green. There is nothing in between you and the hole except a few feet of fairway and then the green itself. The hold is cut somewhere near the middle of the green, and there are no severe slopes to deal with. In this case, the choice is obvious – pick your favorite chipping club and try to knock the ball within a few inches of the hole. In fact, if you are a talented chipper with enough experience, you may be focused on actually making the shot.
- For the second scenario, things are a little bit different. To start, you are still in the fairway short of the green, but this time you have to chip over a deep bunker to get to the hole. Also, the hole is cut only a few feet beyond the edge of the bunker, and the green in that section is sloped away from you toward the back of the green. Therefore, in order to put the ball close to the hole, you would have to hit a high flop shot that barely clears the bunker and lands softly. Obviously, this is an incredibly difficult shot to execute. Instead, consider playing away from the bunker to set up a long par putt. You will almost certainly take away the possibility of getting up and down, but you will also take away the risk of hitting into the bunker and making a total mess of the hole.
This discussion is relevant to the chili-dip because it is often when you are trying to hit a 'miracle' shot that you will find your way into trouble. If you decide to try the shot over the bunker, you may be tempted to look up early to see where the ball is going – only to hit it fat and right into the sand. By picking smart targets that you know you can hit, it will be easier to stick to your fundamentals throughout the swing. Even with the best technique your mind can still get you in trouble – be smart and pick shots that will steer you clear of a big mistake.
Build a Pre-Shot Routine
Using a good pre-shot routine is a reliable way to keep both your physical and mental game working nicely around the greens. It will only take a few moments to go through your pre-shot routine, but it can pay big dividends when it comes to your on-course performance. Not only should you consider using a pre-shot routine when chipping and pitching, you should also think about putting one to use for the rest of your shots.
While there is plenty of room for personal preference and style within a pre-shot routine, the following outline is a good structure for a routine that you can use prior to a chip shot.
- Assess the situation. The first step you take when you arrive at the ball should be to take a general overview of the situation that you are facing. This is really when the pre-shot routine begins. Read your lie, the slope of the ground, the area around the hole, and more.
- Pick a spot and a club. With your assessment complete, pick out a specific landing spot and the club you are going to use to land the ball on that part of the green. Your club selection will depend on both the shot you are trying to hit and the type of lie that you have drawn.
- Make a practice swing. Standing behind the ball, make a practice swing to get your body ready to perform the necessary motion for the shot. You can make two practice swings if you would like, but you really shouldn't go much beyond that for pace of play purposes.
- Visualize the shot. With your practice swing finished, visualize the shot you are going to hit while still standing behind the ball. Once you have clearly visualized the shot, walk up and take your stance.
- One last look. Now that you are standing over the ball, take one last look at the hole before you start the swing. Look up to the hole, stopping your eyes along the way to confirm your landing spot, and then bring your eyes back down to the ball. As soon as your eyes get back to the ball, start the club in motion and chip the ball with confidence.
This simple five-step process will work for most golfers, although you may wish to customize it in order to suit your personal playing style. Once you do settle on a pre-shot routine, be sure to stick with it shot after shot regardless of the circumstances. Eventually, this routine will just become a natural part of what you do on the course, and you won't even need to think about it consciously.
The last point to be touched on in this discussion has to do with the equipment that you use to hit your chip shots. When picking out wedges that you are going to add to your bag, pay particular attention to the bounce measurement on any club you consider. Bounce angle has a lot to do with how a wedge performs in different conditions, so matching up your club selection to the normal conditions in your area is a smart move.
As a general rule of thumb, players who golf on soft turf conditions are going to want more bounce than players who play on firm, dry ground. Extra bounce offers a form of forgiveness on soft fairways, meaning the club won't dig into the turf as easy when you have plenty of bounce on the bottom of the club. It is easy to chili-dip your chip and pitch shots when playing on a soft course, even if you have good technique. With a high bounce wedge, you will reduce the chances of hitting a chili-dip thanks to the rounded sole that can 'bounce' off the top of the turf.
Of course, if you normally play golf in places that are dry and firm, a high bounce wedge isn't going to help you at all. In fact, it will actually make the game more difficult, as you will have trouble getting under the ball from a tight lie. Think about your normal playing conditions and pick the right wedge for your needs. If you like to travel to play golf in various locations, it may be worth your investment to have two sets of wedges – one with plenty of bounce for soft courses, and one with minimal bounce for dry conditions. This might seem like a minor point, but it is a major consideration when trying to avoid the chili-dip.
There is nothing fun about hitting a chili-dipped chip or pitch shot. It is embarrassing when you hit this kind of shot in front of your playing partners, and you will be quickly adding strokes to your score by making this mistake. To get your game on track and avoid this frustrating mistake, use the content above to sharpen up your physical and mental performance.