In an era defined by fierce competitors, few could stare down a field like Raymond Floyd.
Floyd joined the PGA Tour in 1963, one year after Jack Nicklaus, and built a remarkable record by the time he moved to the Champions Tour in 1992. Playing against the likes of Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, Floyd won four major championships and 22 tournaments overall.
In 1992 Floyd became the first golfer to win on both the PGA Tour (Doral-Ryder Open) and Champions Tour (three victories) in the same year. He also joined Sam Snead as the only players to win PGA events in four different decades.
Floyd was known for the icy glare he wore in the heat of battle -- and for wielding one of golf's deadliest short games. His career chip-ins could fill a lengthy highlight reel, starting with his hole-out to beat Nicklaus in a sudden-death playoff at Doral in 1980.
So proficient was Floyd around the greens, he estimated that he chipped in an average of once every four rounds. He would often pull an iron for a shot from the tight fringe when nearly every other pro would putt from the same spot.
Floyd earned a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1989, and retired from competitive golf in 2010.
Let's look at what made Ray Floyd such a great chipper, and how you can emulate his style to improve your short game.
What it looked like: Floyd believed in getting the ball onto the green and rolling as quickly as possible, so his chips were very low and stayed airborne for only an instant. His great touch got the ball running softly toward the hole, which it found an inordinate percentage of the time.
How Floyd did it: By practicing incessantly, for starters. Floyd was a fine ballstriker but, knowing he'd miss at least four greens during an average round, he spent a great deal of time working on chipping, pitching and sand play.
Floyd followed a few simple chipping keys: Visualize the shot before playing it; extend the arms at address; keep the butt of the grip closest to the target throughout the swing; and get the ball rolling right away.
He also took the flagstick out any time he believed he could control the speed of the chip. For example, playing uphill or from a very short distance. If the chip was downhill on a very fast green, he would often leave the pin in, just in case the ball was motoring when it got there. Floyd believed removing the flag was a confidence booster and suggested amateurs do the same.
How you can do it: There's nothing complicated in Floyd's basic chipping method. After reading the lie and the green's speed and break, visualize the shot exactly as you want to play it. Choose the club that allows you to hit the ball just onto the green's surface, where it lands with enough speed to reach the hole without racing past. Then:
- Place your feet close together and stand fairly upright, fully extending the arms. This will prevent you from over-reaching and hitting behind the ball.
- Place the hands just ahead of the ball, played in the center of your stance.
- Focus on keeping the butt end of the grip closer to the target than the clubhead, on the backswing and follow-through. The back of the left wrist should remain firm through impact to prevent breaking down or “cupping.” The clubhead should not pass the end of the grip at any point.
A final piece of advice: Devote plenty of time to practicing your short game. Work on straightforward shots to boost your percentage on routine up-and-down opportunities, then move to trickier spots to improve your touch, feel and imagination.
Pretty soon, your opponents will hold their breath every time you stand over a chip – just like Floyd's did.
Raymond Floyd – The Deadly Chip Shot
A four-time major champion, Raymond Floyd was one of the very best players of his generation. His lengthy career garnered a total of 66 professional wins, 22 of which came on the PGA Tour. An active competitor for nearly 50 years, Floyd has left his name throughout the golf record books and will be remembered as one of the great all-time competitors. With a brilliant short game that could help him compete around nearly any course, Floyd was able to go toe-to-toe with some of the best players in history.
One of the best parts of Floyd's game overall was his incredible ability to chip the ball close to the hole on a regular basis. Any professional golfer needs to be able to chip the ball well, but Floyd did better than that – he was one of the best to ever do it. Chipping the ball close to the hole can turn bogeys into pars, which is essential when you are trying to keep a good score on track. Every golfer is going to miss greens from time to time, so it is up to the short game to prevent those missed greens from leading to dropped shots. You aren't going to get up and down every single time you miss the green, but you can certainly improve your percentage if you are willing to put in the time and effort required to improve your chipping.
As you will see in the content below, Floyd was a great chipper in part because he was able to keep things simple. Golf is naturally a complicated game, but you can take steps toward making it a bit simpler by focusing in only on the basic parts of each shot. If you are able to get the basic fundamentals right within your game, you will find that you hit good shots more often than not. In terms of chipping, there are only a few basic pieces of mechanical information that you need to understand – from there, it is simply about doing it over and over again until you have mastered the motion.
Once you are comfortable with the mechanics required to chip the ball properly, you can then move on to learning how you can employ your chipping technique to achieve the best possible results. The short game is as much physical as it is mental, so making smart decisions and picking the right club will go a long way toward helping you get up and down. Once we have addressed the physical side of hitting quality chip shots, we will then move on to the mental half of this equation. Hopefully, when you are finished with the content below, you will have an excellent overall picture of how to successfully chip the golf ball.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the content as necessary.
Three Key Fundamentals
You might be surprised to see that the heading for this section reads 'three key fundamentals'. After all, you probably think about far more than just three things when you are chipping. This, of course, is part of the problem. Chipping is one of the easier parts of the game, but most people overcomplicate it to the point where it becomes more difficult than it needs to be. By keeping it simple and limiting your focus to the three points on the list below, you should be able to quickly take a big step in the right direction.
- Hands in front of the club head. This is a point that Raymond Floyd was able to hit on successfully throughout his career, and it can take you a long way in your short game if you can do the same. The idea is simple enough – just keep your hands closer to the target than the club head throughout the shot. At address, set up with your hands slightly in front of the ball (meaning they are in front of the club head as well), and then keep them there throughout the stroke. Many amateur golfers allow their hands to hang back behind the club head while the attempt to 'scoop' the ball into the air. This is a mistake. The loft on your club is going to handle the work of moving the ball up into the air, so all you need to do is hit down through the shot cleanly. Even if you only were to pay attention to this one single point in your chipping game, you would still improve dramatically.
- Soft grip. Using a light grip pressure is something that you should be doing all around the course, from shots hit with a driver off the tee all the way down to short putts. Keeping your hands light around the club will help you improve your tempo, it will make it easier to make clean contact with the ball, and it will sharpen up your distance control as well. Since you aren't going to be swinging the club very hard while chipping, you don't need a very firm grip to maintain control through impact. Use a grip that is just tight enough to control the club and trust the swinging action created by your shoulders and arms to do the bulk of the work.
- Firm left wrist. The last point on our list is an extremely important one. When swinging through the ball at impact, you want to be sure to keep your left wrist firm and flat at impact and beyond. This point goes hand-in-hand with the first point on the list about keeping your hands in front of the club head. As long as you have a firm left wrist at impact, you can be confident that you are hitting down properly and you have not 'scooped' the ball in any way. To help understand the feeling that you are looking for in your left wrist, try hitting some practice chip shots with just your left hand on the club. When you are only holding on with your left hand, you will have no choice but to keep that wrist firm so that you can control the club head. Once you have hit a few one-handed chips, you can go back to chipping the ball with two hands while remembering the solid feeling that comes from a firm left wrist.
That's it – no really, that's it. If you watch a video of Raymond Floyd hitting chip shots, you should be able to see that he is hitting perfectly on all three of these points (you can't really see grip pressure, of course, but you can tell he has a light grip pressure by the way the club swings through impact). If you are currently using a long checklist of points to guide your chipping technique, you are doing it wrong. Boil your thought process down to these three basic fundamentals and you can look forward to a future of vastly improved chip and pitch shots.
A Chipping Philosophy
It would be easy to get sucked into thinking more and more about your chipping mechanics, but that is a road that you simply don't want to go down. Becoming too mechanical is a real danger in the short game, and players who worry more about their technique than anything else don't tend to be that good at actually scoring on the course. Rather than wrapping yourself up in technical thoughts, the better path to take would be to focus on the mental approach you are going to take to get the ball close to the hole.
With that in mind, it is a good idea to take note of Raymond Floyd's chipping philosophy. Unlike many of the players in the modern game, Floyd preferred to get the ball on the ground as fast as possible when chipping. Rather than flying the ball most of the way to the hole and stopping it with spin, Floyd would land the ball somewhere near the edge of the green and allow it to roll out the rest of the way. Even though this technique has become less popular in recent years, it is still a short game style that has considerable merit. Following is a list of a few of the advantages that can be enjoyed when you make it a goal to get the ball on the ground as quickly as possible with your chip shots.
- Bigger margin for error. When you attempt to fly the ball all the way to the hole with your chip shots, you are walking a thin line between success and failure. If the shot comes off correctly, it will work beautifully and you will be left with a tap in putt. However, if you catch the ball a bit heavy or a bit thin, you will likely miss the target by a wide margin. In fact, if you catch the ball thin when trying to fly it to the hole, you will very likely hit the ball clean over the green – meaning you will need to chip again. With a 'bump and run' style shot that keeps the ball low to the ground, you will have a greater margin for error. Sure, a thin or fat shot still isn't going to work out great, but your misses are likely to be much more playable than they would be if you opted for the aerial route.
- More predictable path. The outcome of a high, spinning chip shot depends on how much the spin actually grabs onto the putting surface when the ball lands. If you are able to get a lot of 'check' on the shot, the ball should stop rather quickly. However, if the green isn't receptive to the spin on the ball, it may bounce and roll several yards before coming to rest. It is a guessing game with this kind of shot, and you have to be dialed in to the condition of the course if you are going to guess right on a regular basis. With the lower, safer shot, you shouldn't have any of those worries. You aren't going to be using spin to stop the ball, you so don't have to guess how much spin is going to come into play. As long as you pitch the ball cleanly and land it somewhere near your intended spot, you should be satisfied with the outcome.
- Good in all conditions. It is hard to hit a spinning chip shot that stops quickly when the ground is wet, or when the turf is extremely firm and unforgiving. However, the low chip shot played onto the edge of the green doesn't change much from day to day. Of course, you will have to adjust how much roll out you are expecting based on the firmness of the ground and the speed of the greens, but the technique you use to hit the shot isn't going to change. With a more consistent approach to your short game day after day in all conditions, you should improve your performance over time.
Simply put, chipping in a way that keeps the ball low to the ground is just easier than sending the ball up into the air. You aren't always going to be able to keep the ball low – things like bunkers tend to get in the way from time to time – but you should take this path whenever possible. Practice hitting low chip shots during your next short game practice session and you will be ready to deploy this shot out on the course anytime the opportunity presents itself.
Give Yourself a Chance
Not all chip shots are created equal. Sometimes, you will be faced with a chip shot that is no problem at all – even if you aren't a player who has great confidence in your short game. On the other hand, you will periodically face a chip shot that is incredibly difficult, where just placing the ball on the green would be considered a success. So, in addition to improving on the physical technique of your chipping motion, you also need to think about how you can improve the shots that you face. By using a good course management strategy to plan out your shots, you can find your ball in good chipping positions more and more frequently. You are never going to be able to completely avoid those tough spots, but limiting the number of times you face them is sure to improve your scores.
Use the tips included in the list below to make smart decisions on the course and you will find yourself in good positions to chip more often than not.
- Find the low side. This is something of a 'golden rule' on the golf course. Generally speaking, you always want to be playing your short shots uphill. While it might be nice to hit full shots downhill so you can get a great view of the target, playing chip shots downhill presents a challenge. It is harder to stop the ball while going downhill, so you will need to have great control over your spin and trajectory to get the ball close. On the other hand, playing uphill provides you with plenty of margin for error. Even if you hit the ball a little too hard going uphill, you should still have a relatively short putt remaining. When planning your approach shot from the fairway, take note of which side of the green is the low side, and then error in that direction to leave yourself with an uphill putt or chip.
- Find the wide side. The other 'golden rule' as it relates to the short game is that you want to have as much space as possible while chipping. That means that you don't actually want to be close to the hole when you hit a chip shot – you would rather be across the green, leaving plenty of room to work with. Of course, putting your ball across the green from the hole means you have to miss the target by a wide margin, which is usually a bad thing. Therefore, you need to decide before even hitting your approach shot whether or not you are going to be able to go for the hole. For instance, if you have a good lie and a short iron in your hands, you will want to take dead aim. If you happen to miss the green, so be it. On the other hand, if you are facing a long approach on a windy day to a small green, it might be wise to simply miss the shot on the wide side and plan on getting up and down for your par. This kind of thinking requires great patience, but it can certainly pay off at the end of the day.
- Lay up. In some circumstances, the best thing you can do is simply lay up and plan on pitching the ball to the green. Most greens are guarded by some sort of protection, whether it be a bunker, some long rough, or even just a steep slope. If you don't think you can hit the green, consider laying back in the fairway to give yourself a good chance to hit the next one close. Sometimes the best shots during a round of golf are the ones you don't even try to hit, so know your limits and always be willing to lay the ball up.
If you can find good positions to chip from on a regular basis, your short game is sure to improve as a result. Golf is a game that has a strong mental component, so don't just head out onto the course and start swinging away. Think through your shots and strategize your way around the course in as few swings as possible.
Read the Green
The last tip on our list has to do with paying attention to the ground between yourself and the hole while chipping. When you get ready to hit a putt, you certainly take the time to 'read' the slope of the ground in order to pick out the line and speed you are going to use. So why don't you do the same thing while chipping? You should, and you can be sure that Raymond Floyd took the time to read his chips – which is why he was able to hole out so frequently from off the green.
Since you are going to be getting the ball down on the green as quickly as possible, the chip shots that you hit are going to have plenty of time to roll along the ground. With that in mind, make sure that you are planning for the shot to break in one direction or another, depending on what you have seen during your pre-shot preparation. Of course, in addition to side to side break, you should also be analyzing your chip shots for an uphill or downhill component. The more information you can take in regarding the lay of the land in front of you, the better chance you will have to place the ball close to the hole.
On chip shots that are going slightly uphill and have very little side to side break, you should strongly consider taking the flag out to avoid having it cost you a shot. This is a matter of personal preference to some degree, but most agree that the flag is only going to serve to keep your ball out of the cup if you have hit a good shot. However, if you are chipping downhill and you are concerned that the ball might be moving quickly around the hole, you will be better off leaving the flag in to use as a 'backstop' in case you actually hit it.
Raymond Floyd was one of the very best golfers of his generation, and he has a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame as a result. You will likely never reach his level of proficiency with your game around the greens, but you can certainly learn from the chipping example that he set.