In theory, chipping should be the easiest task in golf. The swing is much shorter and slower than hitting a full shot, and you're usually using a high-lofted club.
Yet amateur golfers struggle to make consistently solid contact on these miniature iron shots. The most common mistakes are hitting the ball fat (catching the ground first) or thin (striking too high on the ball). Causes of mishit chips include:
- Poor address position: The chipping stance should be a scaled-down version of the setup for iron shots – feet close together, hands ahead of the ball and shaft tilted slightly toward the target. Some golfers overdo it by pressing the hands too far forward; others tilt the shaft back thinking they need to lift the ball off the ground.
- Trying to scoop the ball into the air: Because the swing is so soft, golfers mistakenly sense the clubhead speed won't be enough to get the ball airborne. So they flip the right hand under the left at impact, often hitting behind the ball or catching it on the upswing with the club's sole. Ouch.
- Using too much body action: This goes back to the impulse to help the ball up. Rather than flipping the wrists, the golfer lifts his upper body through the shot – a counter-productive move.
- Chopping instead of chipping: Still others understand the basic concept of hitting down on the ball, but they go about it the wrong way. Rather than a fluid, arms-and-shoulders motion, they break the wrists quickly and bring the club sharply down on the ball – sometimes behind it, sometimes directly on top.
The cures for all of these causes is to adopt a proper stance and swing for chipping. Once you get the hang of it, it really is a pretty easy shot.
Causes and Cures – Fat or Thin Chip Shots
Chipping the golf ball is a skill that many amateur golfers never seem to quite develop. While most players understand the importance of being able to chip the ball close to the hole on a regular basis, many people are simply too worried about spending time on their full swings to invest effort in mastering the short game. In reality, your short game should always take priority over your long game in terms of practice time. While it might be fun to practice your full swing during your driving range sessions, time spent either chipping or putting will always be of more benefit when it comes to lowering your scores.
While practicing your chipping, two things become extremely clear – chipping is simple, and it is also very difficult. How can something be simple and difficult at the same time? The techniques involved are simple, meaning that you can learn how to chip the ball correctly in a single practice session. However, the execution of that technique over and over again is incredibly hard, especially when you start to deal with different lies, slopes, etc. The chipping skills that you see demonstrated by the best golfers in the world on the PGA Tour don't simply show up over night – they are developed through years and years of experience and practice. It is possible for any golfer to turn themselves into a good chipper, but reaching that goal requires plenty of patience and persistence.
One of the inherent challenges when it comes to chipping is hitting the ball solidly. Your mind will want to focus on things like the trajectory and distance of your shot, but you should first be thinking about the basic idea of hitting the ball solid at impact. If you can avoid thin or fat contact when the club meets the ball, you should be fairly successful at getting the ball to stop close to the hole. Obviously there are other factors that you will need to consider eventually, but none of those factors matter if you can't hit the ball cleanly when you chip. Learn how to put the ball on the center of the clubface with each shot before moving on to more advanced chipping topics.
If you are currently hitting many of your chip shots either thin or fat, there are a number of potential causes that you will need to investigate in order to get to the bottom of the issue. The problems with your chipping could be physical, such as a flaw in your basic technique, or they could be mental. Either way, reaching the ultimate goal of lowering your golf scores is going to require that you solve your chipping issues as soon as possible.
All of the instruction that is 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.
The Causes of Fat Chip Shots
Miss-hitting a chip shot basically means one of two things – you either hit the shot fat, or you hit it thin. This section will deal with the problem of hitting the ball fat, and the following section will cover thin chip shots. Most likely, if you are struggling with your chipping, you have made each of these mistakes at least a few times throughout your golfing career.
Hitting the ball fat on a chip shot is frustrating because that mistake will often leave you facing another chip. Fat contact generally means the ball will come up short of your intended target – maybe even only a few feet in front of you. If you hit a chip shot fat, you will basically have wasted a stroke while still facing the same shot yet again. Obviously, in order to lower your average score, you need to be able to mostly eliminate this mistake from your short game.
Following are three common causes of fat chip shots –
- Hesitation. This is by far the most common cause of hitting a chip shot fat, and it actually has nothing to do with the actual mechanics of your chipping motion. When you stand over to the ball to hit a chip shot, you need to be completely confident and fully focused on what it is you are trying to do with the ball. If that confidence is lacking, or you don't have a clear vision of the shot in front of you, you will likely hesitate prior to impact. When you hesitate, your hands stop moving (or at least slow down), and the club head sticks into the ground behind the ball. This kind of mistake is very similar to having the yips while putting. Chipping requires total commitment to the shot at hand, meaning you have to accelerate the club head through impact each and every time.
- Ball too far back in the stance. On this point, you are looking at a mistake that is made at address which can't be corrected during the swing. Putting the ball too far back in your stance will cause you to make an extremely steep swing down into the ball – making it very likely that you will hit the shot fat. While it is true that you want to hit down on your chip shots, you do not want to hit down at such a sharp angle that it becomes difficult to catch the ball cleanly. To get the right angle of attack, place the ball roughly in the center of your stance at address, with your weight leaning slightly to the left (toward the target). This is a basic chipping setup position, and it will encourage the angle of attack that you are looking to achieve.
- Overactive right hand. While your chipping motion should involve more hand action than your putting stroke, you still want to keep your hands relatively quiet through impact. That applies specifically to your right hand, as too much right hand movement coming down toward the ball could stick the club head right into the turf. Think of your chipping motion as a modified putting stroke – you want to control the club mainly with your shoulders, but you can add in a little more hand action than you would use when standing on the green. If you find that you need to engage your right hand at impact simply to hit the ball hard enough to reach the target, you should focus your attention on making a longer backswing. The motion of the club through the hitting area should be smooth and steady, and there should be no sudden change in speed to speak of. If you can feel like you are chipping the ball with the back of your left wrist firm and pointing toward the target, you shouldn't have to worry about an overactive right hand causing any trouble.
It is common for amateur golfers to hit fat chip shots from time to time, so you don't need to feel like you are the only one making this mistake. However, these poor shots can quickly damage your score, so it is in the best interest of your game to get to work right away on a correction. Most likely, the underlying cause of your fat chip shots is contained in one of the three points above.
The Causes of Thin Chip Shots
The other option for poor contact with the ball at impact is making thin contact. Sometimes making thin contact will work out better than fat contact – but other times it will actually be far worse. If you hit a chip shot thin and the ball goes running across the green and into a bunker or even a water hazard, you will quickly realize how costly this mistake can be. Chipping is all about distance control, and you will never control your distance successfully if you are hitting your chip shots thin on a consistent basis.
Just as in the section above on fat chip shots, there are a few specific causes of thin chip shots that apply to many golfers. Following are three of the typical mistakes made my amateur golfers which will lead to hitting thin chip shots –
- Eyes looking up. The leading cause of thin chip shots is simply looking up toward the hole before making contact with the ball. When you pull your head and eye up away from the ball to look at the target, you will move your shoulders and arms at the same time. That movement raises the level of the club head, and you make thin contact with the ball. Remember, there is less than an inch between the sweet spot of your wedge and the leading edge of the club, so it doesn't take much to go from a perfect shot to a thin one. The correction that needs to be made on this point is obvious – simply keep your head down on the ball throughout the swing. It is tempting to look up to see where the ball is headed, but you are never going to like the results if you keep looking up early out of habit. Focus your practice sessions on keeping your head and eyes down so you can do so naturally out on the course.
- Quick tempo. It is easy to rush through a chip shot simply because the swing is so short and compact. However, in order to chip the ball successfully, you need to bring the same tempo and rhythm to your chip shots that you bring to your full swing. Take your time in the backswing and allow the club to gather speed naturally as it comes down into the ball. If you rush the transition from backswing to forward swing, you will likely allow your hands to get too involved in the swing, making it very possible that you will hit the shot thin. As a practice exercise, try to hit chip shots while swinging as slowly as possible. This technique isn't one that you should use on the course, but it is a great way to teach your body that there is no need to rush in order to hit good short game shots.
- Overactive right hand – again. Yes, this point appeared in the section above on fat chip shots, but it actually applies to this section as well. When you use too much right hand coming forward on your chip shots, there are two possible outcomes, and neither is a good one – you will either stick the club in the ground and hit the ball fat, or you will lift up on the shot and hit it thin. If your right hand action is combined with a little bit of head and shoulder movement (which it often is), you will tend to hit the ball thin. It is okay to use your right hand in the backswing to set the club in position, but the forward swing should be dominated by the back of your left hand taking the club cleanly into the ball.
From time to time, you will get away with a thin chip shot. Despite the thin contact, the ball will bounce and roll up near the target and you will be able to escape with an up and down. However, most of the time you will not be so lucky. Getting up and down consistently from around the greens means hitting your chip shots solidly as often as possible. Use the tips in this section to correct any tendency you may have to hit the ball thin and you will be a big step closer to a well-rounded short game.
Proper Chipping Practice
In order to get better at chipping the golf ball, you need to understand how to practice the right way. Of course, just getting to the short game area of your local course to do some practicing is a good first step. Many golfers never even get this far, so it is no surprise when they chip poorly. You should integrate chipping into your usual practice routine, giving it just as much attention as you do your putting stroke or your full swing.
It is important to remember when practicing your chipping that distance control is the name of the game. Unlike when you are hitting full shots, it is easy to get the ball on line when you are chipping – after all, you are only 10 or 20 yards from the hole in most cases. That means that you don't need to worry much about directional control, since even a poor chipper should be able to move the ball in the right direction. Instead, you are trying to master the ability to hit the ball the correct distance. By learning how to manage your distance while chipping the ball, you will quickly gain the ability to get up and down from a variety of situations.
Another key element in chipping practice is to use a number of different clubs in order to give yourself more options on the course. It is okay to have a 'favorite' chipping club, such as your sand wedge, but make sure you are comfortable chipping with three or four other clubs as well. Depending on where you find your ball around the green, the shot at hand may call for something other than your favorite club to be used. When that happens, you want to be prepared and ready to handle the situation successfully. As a general rule of thumb, you should be comfortable chipping with a long club like a hybrid or fairway way, as well as a mid-iron and a couple of lofted clubs. With that assortment at your disposal, there won't be many chipping scenarios that you can't handle.
Speaking of chipping scenarios, you need to make sure that you don't hit all of your practice chip shots from a perfect fairway lie. Most of the chip shots you face on the course will take place from some sort of difficult lie, whether the ball is sitting down in deep grass or on the side of a slope (or both). Look for challenging lies around the practice chipping area and put yourself in the most difficult spots you can find. After you have spent practice time dealing with these tough shots, the chip shots you encounter on the course will seem easy by comparison.
The last point that needs to be made about chipping practice is that you need to give each chip shot you full effort and attention. Simply 'going through the motions' while practicing your chipping isn't going to do you any good – it will just be a waste of your time. Prior to each chip that you hit, pick out a specific target and visualize the shot that you are going to execute. A good practice session isn't measured by the sheer number of shots that you hit, but rather by the quality of those shots.
Chipping is a Mental Challenge
Avoiding thin or fat contact with your chip shots is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. The content above has already touched on some of the mental mistakes that can damage your chipping game, such as hesitating in your downswing or looking up early to see the flight of the ball, but there are even more mental game issues to deal with. When you make a mental game mistake, it will often be manifested into a physical mistake such as making thin or fat contact with the ball. To sharpen up your overall chipping performance, take a moment to review the mental game notes below.
- Pick smart targets. Just like when you are hitting a full shot, you also need to pick smart targets when you are chipping the ball. Picking a target that is too risky or too challenging will put pressure on your swing, and the nerves that you feel as a result of that pressure may lead you into a bad chip shot. For example, imagine that you are facing a chip shot over a bunker to a hole location that is only a few steps beyond the bunker. If you attempt to land the ball just inches beyond the bunker in order to get the ball close to the hole, you run the risk of putting in it the bunker and making a big number. Instead, the smart target would be a spot that is comfortably beyond the edge of the bunker. While you might not be able to get up and down by chipping safely to the middle of the green, you will take the big mistake out of play.
- Stay confident. This might be the most difficult thing for an amateur golfer to do. Chipping is an area of the game that seems to get inside the head of many average golfers, so much so that a single poor chip shot can send them off track for the rest of the day. Don't let that happen to you. If you have spent the necessary time practicing your chipping, you should have plenty of confidence when you head to the course. If you do happen to hit a poor chip early in the round, be sure to keep your confidence up and write it off as a fluke. Everyone hits the ball thin or fat from time to time, so don't allow a single mistake to ruin your confidence around the greens.
Chipping isn't the easiest part of the game, but it isn't the most difficult, either. In order to improve your chipping performance, you first need to limit the number of fat and thin shots you hit during the average round. It is unrealistic to think that you will never hit another fat or thin chip – but you can do wonders for your average score simply by reducing the number of mistakes you make while chipping. Use the instruction contained in the content above to get to work on improving both the mental and physical side of your chipping game and positive results are sure to follow.