Even experienced players can have trouble with these shots around the green from time to time. Here are some key chipping fundamentals to focus on and experiment with.
- For right handed golfers, make sure that your weight is on your left foot and keep it there throughout the chipping stroke.
- When chipping from closely mown grass like the fairway, your club head should follow a pretty shallow path as pictured. However, if you're in the rough, you will need to be a bit steeper with your chipping stroke. If you tend to hit chips fat more than thin then it could be that your chipping stroke is too steep and you're digging into the ground too much. Taking a divot is ideal for a full iron shot but when chipping from short grass, you want to simply brush the grass past impact.
- If you're chipping from rough, remember that the thicker grass and roots will try to slow the club down. For these shots, it can help to hold the club a bit firmer through the chip shot.
- A good rule of thumb I learned from the great golfing scientist Dave Pelz is that, in chipping, it's better to play the ball too far back in your stance rather than too far forward. This is because a chip shot hit slightly thin will likely take a similar shot trajectory as a solid strike while a chip shot hit even slightly fat will definitely reduce the distance.
- The handle should be ahead of the club head at impact and I like to address the ball in the same position I will return to for impact. Notice in the picture that the club and left arm form a straight line. I want to keep this line throughout the chipping stroke, back and through. For short chip shots, some find it helpful to swing the club head like a putter in a pendulum motion.
- If you have trouble chipping with traditional irons then try out one of Thomas Golf's chippers. They are shaped like a hybrid and are specifically designed for shots around the green. Available in many loft selections, this option has helped many players struggling with their chipping game.
Problem and Fix – Chip Shots Fat or Thin
The ability to consistently chip the ball close to the hole is something that you should work hard to acquire in your golf game. Everyone misses greens – even the best players in the world – so chipping the ball close to set up an easy par putt is vital if you would like to post good scores. Taking three shots instead of two to get down from the side of the green will add up quickly on your card, and it is no exaggeration to say that a quality chipping game could save you five strokes or more in every single round.
Unfortunately for many golfers, chipping the golf ball is something that causes a great deal of trouble. Even making solid contact with chip shots can be quite the tall task for many players, and controlling the length of the shot and the spin on the ball gets even more complicated. The first step toward good chipping performance is simply having the ability to put the club on the back of the ball accurately time after time. Without making solid contact it is going to be nearly impossible to get the ball to finish anywhere near the cup. The mechanics used to hit a good chip shot are rather different from the technique you use in your full swing, so you will have to dedicate practice time specifically to this area of the game.
When it comes to miss-hitting chip shots, there are really two issues that you need to worry about – fat shots, and thin shots. Each is harmful to your game, and neither is likely to lead to a positive outcome when you look up to see where the ball is going. Just like with your full swing, hitting the ball fat or thin is going to lead to problems – and those problems will almost certainly be represented on your scorecard in the way of a bogey (or worse). To get over this problem, you need to break your chipping mechanics down to the absolute basics and then put everything back together until you are able to produce consistent performance around the greens from the first hole to the last.
There is a mental side to the chipping equation that must be addressed as well. It is great to have solid mechanics that you can take with you onto the course, but those mechanics will break down quickly if you have doubts in your mind when you stand over the ball. Chip shots are delicate, and they require plenty of confidence and a steady nerve to execute under pressure. Once you have the technical aspect of the chipping game under control, it would be wise to then turn your attention toward building the confidence necessary to hit great chips no matter what is on the line.
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.
Some Quick Definitions
While it might be obvious to some readers, others might not have a clear picture of what is meant by 'fat' and 'thin' shots. There is a lot of terminology to be learned in the game of golf, and some terms aren't as easy to understand as others. Before you can successfully eliminate both fat and thin shots from your chipping game, you need to know exactly what is taking place at impact to create these outcomes.
First up is the fat chip shots. A 'fat' chip shot (or full shot, for that matter) takes place when the leading edge of the club enters the turf before the club face has made contact with the ball. Basically, the club head is too low as it approaches the ball, and your club digs in to the turf before you have reached impact, meaning the club will start to slow down prior to actually hitting the shot. As you might guess, a shot that is hit fat will almost always come up short of the target. In fact, if you hit a chip shot fat, you might not even send the ball far enough to get onto the green at all. It is easy to catch your chip shots fat when your technique breaks down, so getting everything in order from a technical perspective should be your first goal in order to take the fat shots out of your chipping game.
On the other side of the equation is thin shots, which are shots where the leading edge of the club makes direct contact with the ball, sending it shooting quickly over the green with almost no loft on the shot at all. This is basically the opposite of a fat shot, as the club is too high above the ground when impact takes place. Since the sweet spot of the club face is too high off of the ground, it misses the ball and it is only the leading edge which strikes the back of the ball. This mistake can be just as damaging as a fat shot, as you will hit the ball way too low and way too hard for your intended target. A thin chip shot almost always runs across to the other side of the green, and you may have to chip back from the opposite side before you will be able to putt.
Obviously, neither a fat shot nor a thin shot is going to be a good thing for your chipping game. You need to find the sweet spot of your wedge as often as possible if you want to chip the ball close to the hole, so you need to fix these problems as soon as they arise. To complicate matters, there are a number of different potential causes for both fat and thin chip shots, so it will be necessary to take a close look at your own technique to figure out exactly where things are going wrong.
Potential Causes and Fixes for Fat Chip Shots
It is hard to imagine anything more frustrating on the golf course than consistently hitting the ball fat when trying to chip up onto the green. What seems like a relatively easy shot can quickly turn into an adventure if you are hitting the ball fat, and you could quickly spend two or three extra shots on a single hole if you are having a hard time making clean contact. It isn't an exaggeration to say that hitting fat chip shots on a regular basis could take most of the fun out of playing golf.
With that in mind, the following list includes three potential causes of fat chip shots, along with their cures. If you are hitting the ball fat on a consistent basis from around the green, look to this list to get your short game back on track.
- Slowing down prior to impact. This is the leading cause of the fat chip shot, and there is a good chance that this is the real reason for your struggles on these short shots. If you slow the club down on the way into the ball, you will likely dig into the ground prior to making contact with the ball itself. Many golfers slow down out of fear, afraid that they are going to send the ball too far past the target if they swing through the shot with confidence. If you are slowing down prior to impact, the most important thing you can do is tighten up your backswing in order to allow for freedom on the way through. By making a shorter backswing, you won't have to worry about hitting the ball too far, so you will feel free to accelerate through the shot. You don't want to rush your backswing; you just want to make it a bit shorter while maintaining a nice rhythm. With a tight backswing and a confident forward motion, there is a good chance that you will be able to catch your chip shots cleanly time after time.
- Poor balance. The proper balance to find when hitting chip shots is having a majority of your weight on your left foot. Leaning left will establish a downward angle for the forward swing, meaning it will be easy to hit down on the ball without catching the turf first. Unfortunately, many golfers lean to the right and away from the target, which makes things far more difficult. When you lean back, you will tend to bottom out of the arc of your swing prior to reaching the ball, meaning you will hit the shot fat. Stay on top of your left foot from address all the way through to the finish of your shot and you should find that clean contact quickly becomes much easier.
- Too much right hand. There is nothing wrong with using a bit of right hand action through the hitting area in order to clip the ball nicely off of the turf, but too much right hand can ruin your chipping action. Specifically, if your right hand gets involved prematurely before you can get your hands over top of the ball, you will likely hit the ball fat by firing your right hand. Try to feel the back of your left hand pulling the club through the hitting area – by focusing on the movement of your left hand instead of the right, you should take away that 'hit' impulse and your quality of contact will improve.
Golfers who are hitting chip shots fat on a regular basis are almost certainly making one of the three mistakes above. If you aren't sure which one of these mistakes is getting you into trouble, consider recording your chipping motion on video so you can take a look for yourself. The camera doesn't lie, and it probably won't take more than a few moments for you to figure out exactly why the fat chip shot as become a problem.
Once the root cause of the problem has been discovered, the only thing that will fix the error is plenty of practice. Dedicate yourself to practicing the specific mechanics involved in fixing your chipping motion, and you should start to see progress after just a few sessions.
Potential Causes and Fixes for Thin Chip Shots
Believe it or not, it might actually be more frustrating to hit your chip shots thin than it is to hit them fat. Sure, it is embarrassing to leave a chip shot just a few feet in front of you, but it is even worse to send the ball scurrying across the green only to watch it dive into the deep rough or into a bunker. A thin chip shot comes off of your club wildly out of control, and it is really only up to luck as to where the ball will finally come to rest. As you can guess, hitting thin chip shots will damage your overall score in a hurry. Take this mistake out of your game as quickly as possible if you want to move in the right direction with your game as a whole.
Just as with the previous section, the following list contains three causes of thin chip shots along with the cures that can correct your mistake.
- Lifting your head. The most-common way to create a thin chip shot is to lift your head up out of the shot prematurely. It is easy to be tempted to look up early to see where the ball is going to go – but that habit is only going to lead you to hitting the ball thin on a regular basis. Not only do your eyes need to remain focused on the back of the ball throughout the swing, but you also need to keep your head still as you swing through the shot. There is no reason to look up, either – looking at the target while hitting the shot isn't going to help that shot be any more successful. Discipline yourself through consistent practice to keep your head down and your eyes on the ball on every chip shot that you hit. While this might seem like a basic fundamental, it is one of the most important things you can do to avoid hitting the ball thin.
- Rushing the forward swing. Just as fat shots can be caused by slowing down prior to impact, thin shots can be caused by speeding up the club dramatically right before you hit the shot. You might be tempted to make this sudden rush if you don't feel like you swing was long enough to get the ball all the way to the target. The best way to correct this problem is to work on ironing out your tempo, focusing on a smooth rhythm from the start of the chipping motion all the way through to the end. By taking your time to build speed naturally, your hands won't be tempted to force the club head through impact and you should be able to avoid the dreaded thin chip.
- Too much right hand. That's right, this point is actually present on both lists. If you use your right hand too much prior to making contact with the ball, you run the risk of either hitting the ball fat or thin. Both negative outcomes can derive from the same mistake, making this point one of the trickier ones in the short game. Again, just as above, you want to make sure you are pulling the club through with the back of your left hand in order to avoid thin (or fat) contact. As a practice drill, try chipping a few balls with only your left hand on the club. Once you have hit a few one-handed chip shots, you should feel how you don't actually need your right hand to play an active role in order to chip successfully. Use the right hand to steady and guide the club, but use your shoulders and left hand to actually hit the shot.
There is nothing good to say about hitting your chip shots thin. By missing the sweet spot of the club face, you are putting the result of your shot largely up to chance – and most of the time, you won't like what you see. Work hard on the fixes contained in the list above and you should be able to kick this frustrating habit once and for all.
Mastering the Mental Side
With anything you do on the golf course, there is always a mental piece of the puzzle that has to come together with the actual physical execution of the shot. If your mental game isn't in order, it really doesn't matter how beautiful your mechanics might be – you will never live up to your potential. Playing great golf requires both halves of this equation to be balanced perfectly – you have to have a great physical technique in place, and you also have to have the mental strength to execute your swing time after time.
Chipping is particularly difficult from a mental perspective, mostly because it feels like it should be so easy. After all, you are usually only standing a few yards away from the target, and there probably isn't anything very scary between you and the hole. Shouldn't you just be able to knock the ball up onto the green and have it roll up right next to the cup? Of course, it isn't that easy. Getting your mind to understand the challenge is the first step toward a strong mental game around the greens. There are no easy shots in golf, and every single shot that you hit requires your full and undivided attention.
Once you learn to appreciate the challenge of chip shots and give them your full effort, the following three tips will help you round out a solid mental approach to this part of golf.
- Pick a specific target. This is one of the best things that you can do for your mental game with regard to chipping. Before stepping up to the ball to hit the shot, pick out a very specific target for the chip. You are going to be trying to land the ball on the spot that you have selected. With a clear target in mind, you can focus solely on executing the shot to the best of your ability. Not only will this tip help you aim your shots, but it will also help to take your mind away from the negative outcomes that could occur. Your mind will be zeroed in on the target and you won't have any time to think about how things could go wrong.
- Try to make it. Have you ever stood over a chip shot and thought about making the shot? Most golfers are so worried about just getting close to the hole that they never even entertain the possibility of knocking it in to the bottom of the cup. By shifting your focus from just 'getting close' to holing out, you will put yourself in a confident and aggressive frame of mind. Try thinking about making all of your chip shots during your next round and you might be surprised at how fast the outcomes improve.
- Visualize success. Before you actually hit your chip shots, stand behind the ball and picture the ball popping up onto the green and rolling right up next to (or in) the hole. Visualization is a powerful tool in golf, yet most amateurs ignore what it can do for their game. Take a moment to visualize every chip shot that you hit and you will find yourself with short putts more often than not.
In order to take your game to a new level, you will have to learn how to stop hitting your chip shots thin or fat. Getting up and down is essential for posting good scores, yet you will struggle to even chip the ball onto the green if you aren't making clean contact. Use the information contained above to straighten out your technique and your chipping should be making progress in the right direction as soon as your next round.