The towering drives draw oohs and ahhs, the laser-like iron shots elicit head-shaking awe, and the cross-country putts earn thunderous roars. It's those hole-tracking chips, however, that really set the pros apart.
On average, PGA Tour players hit about 12 greens in regulation (GIR) per round. That leaves them scrambling for pars a third of the time. They convert about two-thirds of these attempts, meaning they get up-and-down on 4 of 6 missed greens.
While the pros pull off plenty of miraculous escapes, their ability to execute the straightforward chips is more crucial to scoring. When they're less than 30 feet from the hole, pros get down in two shots better than 85 percent of the time.
Considering the slope and speed of Tour-conditioned greens – much firmer and faster than the average golfer faces – that's pretty impressive.
Why It's Important
Low-handicap amateurs generally hit about 50 percent of greens in regulation; mid-handicappers are in the 20-30 percent range; those with handicaps above 20 might hit one or two greens per round.
In other words, the short game goes a long way in determining your scores.
No matter how good you are, there are certain spots on the course from which you're not going to get up-and-down. Buried in a bunker, for example, or stuck in a thick tangle of rough. But during every round, you'll face a few simple chips that could be called “routine” – the ones you expect to knock close for a tap-in putt. In baseball terms, these are like a ground ball hit directly at the shortstop, who should catch it and throw out the runner nearly every time.
If you can consistently chip to gimme range, your scores will plummet.
Who You Should Watch
Two things you'll notice when watching the pros play simple chips. 1. They sometimes chip them in, and always come close, and 2. They rarely leave the ball more than two feet from the cup.
The best of the best include Luke Donald, who ascended to the No. 1 world ranking in 2011 on the strength of his short game. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson rank among the best chippers of all-time, while Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Aaron Baddeley are ruthlessly efficient.
All pros read their chips just like putts, making careful note of the break and speed. They also assess the ball's lie when it's in the rough to determine which club to use and how hard to hit it.
While many amateurs chip with wedges and hit the ball high in the air, professionals prefer to get the ball on the green and rolling as quickly as possible. That way, they can better control where the ball lands and concentrate on the speed and break. By hitting high chips that fly farther, you risk coming up well short or long unless you swing perfectly.
On longer chips with lots of green to work with, many pros will choose a less lofted club (like a 6-iron) to keep the ball low and get it running. Practice this technique to get a feel for the ball's carry and roll.
One more thing to note: All pros address chip shots with their hands ahead of the ball and the shaft tilted toward the target – just like a full iron shot. This creates a slight downward blow and adds control. Pros never “scoop” the ball to get it into the air, a problem that plagues many ordinary golfers.
Apply It to Your Game
Follow the pros' lead by focusing on these chipping fundamentals:
- Read the line and speed of each chip as you would a putt (just make sure to do it quickly so as not to slow your group's pace).
- At address, make sure your hands are ahead of the ball; at impact, the arms and hands should return to this position.
- Get the ball on the green and rolling as quickly as possible, rather than covering lots of distance through the air.
- Don't automatically reach for a wedge on every chip. Consider using less loft when there's plenty of green between you and the hole.
Top Tips Watching the Pros Chipping
Are you in awe when you watch professional golfers chip the ball on TV? It can seem like magic from time to time, as they are able to maneuver the ball around the greens with incredible ease. It certainly isn't as easy as they make it seem, as chipping is one of the areas of golf that the average player struggles with the most. Improving on your chipping is one of the best ways to lower your scores, yet it can be hard to take steps in the right direction in this area of the game. To make progress on your chipping and elevate your game to a new level, it only makes sense to closely watch the pros and learn from both the technique and strategy that they use.
Why is chipping so important? It is one of the few areas of the game (putting is another) where you can directly save a shot on your scorecard. If you chip up to within inches of the cup for an easy tap in, you will know that you saved a shot which would have been lost if you didn't get up and down. While it might be fun to work on hitting your driver 10 or 15 yards longer off the tee, that work won't necessarily save you strokes right away. Simply hitting a slightly longer drive is unlikely to change the outcome of a hole, as you still need to hit an approach shot and some short game shots to finish up. With that in mind, it should be clear that your top priority when practicing golf should always be the short game. Work on your short game first and your long game later, and you will see your scores start to move in the right direction.
Learning from the pros in the short game is actually more effective than trying to learn from their swings, as it is more realistic to imitate some of their short game habits rather than trying to copy an entire golf swing. Generally speaking, professional golfers use extremely simple techniques when chipping and putting - which is exactly what you should be trying to do as well. The average player tends to overcomplicate the techniques they need to use to get the ball close to the hole, when the short game is actually relatively simple overall. Making clean contact should always be the main goal, and you can do that without any fancy techniques or complicated moves. Watch carefully when you see a professional golfer chipping the ball and you will see that there are very few moving parts overall. If you can do a good job of replicating that kind of simplicity in your own game, you will be far better off in both the short and long run.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, you will need to reverse the directions as necessary.
Observe the Basics
To watch professional golfers chip the ball, you could tune in to a tournament on the weekends and wait for them to miss greens - or you could turn to the web. There are tons of videos of professional golfers all over the web, and those videos will give you a great look at how these players are able to chip so nicely. Watch videos of some of your favorite players and you will quickly come away with some important observations.
As you are watching, the first thing you should do is isolate the basics that you can benefit from adding into your own game. Most likely, you will notice the following basic points in the chipping motion of your favorite player.
- Solid wrists at impact. This is probably the biggest difference between the techniques of professional and amateur golfers. Most amateurs 'flip' at the ball when they come into impact, while pros stay stable with their hands and wrists in order to create solid contact. Specifically, it is the back of your left wrist that you want to watch when making contact with the ball. If you can keep the back of that leading wrist flat on the way through the ball, it will become quite easy to hit the ball solidly. Breaking down and cupping that wrist is what leads to fat and thin shots around the green, so make this point a priority in your practice sessions. In fact, you can practice by hitting chip shots with only your left hand on the club in order to drill this point into your brain. After a few one handed chips, go back to hitting the ball two handed and you should find that you are quickly improved.
- Eyes on the ball. One of the first tips you ever received as a golfer is one of the most important when it comes to good chipping. You need to see what you are trying to hit if you are going to make good contact, so start off with your eyes down on the ball and keep them there throughout the swing. Many golfers think of the hole as the target of the swing, but really, it is the ball that is your target when swinging. If you can do a good job of putting the sweet spot of the club onto the back of the ball, you should be able to send the ball directly toward the hole time after time. Keeping your eyes on the ball will not only benefit your chipping, but the rest of your game as well, so working on this point could carry over into other parts of the game.
- Acceleration. Another key point that is emphasized by the pros when they are chipping from around the green is the importance of accelerating through the shot. If your club is slowing down as you are swinging through impact, the grass is going to grab on to your club and the club head will be twisted - or even stopped completely. To prevent this kind of problem, you should be focused on accelerating aggressively through the ball and on toward the target. In order to avoid hitting the ball too far while accelerating through impact, you need to control the length of your backswing properly. By taking the correct length backswing and then accelerating through the shot, you will be able to give each chip just the right amount of energy to reach the hole.
- Downward angle of attack. The last key fundamental that you should watch for when observing the way professional golfers chip is the downward angle of attack that they use to get to the ball. This is another point where many amateurs go wrong. Thinking that they need to lift the ball up into the air, many amateur golfers try to 'scoop' the ball up off the turf - but that is a bad idea. Instead, you should be hitting down and allowing the loft of the club to move the ball up out of the grass. Not only will you make better contact when you hit down, but you will also place some backspin on the ball, which is great for controlling your shots and stopping them on firm surfaces.
That might seem like a long list of fundamentals to watch for, but it is only four key points - hit down on the ball, accelerate through impact, keep your eyes on the ball, and keep your wrists firm at impact. Hitting on all of those points will make you into a quality chipper, but it is going to take some work to get to that point. If you are currently coming up short on one or more of those points, make sure to work on improvements one step at a time in the practise area before trying your new and improved chipping technique out on the course.
Keeping the Ball Low to the Ground
Many amateurs are tempted to toss their chip shots way up into the air when around the green, as they have seen their favorite pro execute a similar shot from time to time. While it is true that the pros will throw the ball way up into the air occasionally, the fact of the matter is that they would much rather keep the ball close to the ground whenever possible. Low chip shots are much easier to control than high ones, so hitting the ball up into the air with a chip shot is only an option that should be used when absolutely necessary. Look at each shot by thinking about the best low options, and only resort to going high when no other good path is available.
The biggest obstacle in the way of hitting low chip shots is often just some long grass. When you get ready for any chip shot, stand behind the ball and picture how it is going to travel toward the hole. If you play the shot low, is there long grass that is going to stop the ball in its tracks? If not, your best bet is likely to keep the ball low and let it run. However, if you do see some rough in your path to the hole, it may be necessary to think about higher options for the shot. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to hit a flop shot sky-high just because of some rough - you can still pick a shot that just has enough height to carry the rough before getting back down and rolling out.
When you are able to play a low, running shot to the hole, you will want to do so with a low-lofted club that is going to keep the ball down right off the face. Trying to play a low chip with a lofted club is an advanced skill that can be difficult to pull off, so you probably shouldn't even try - at least not right now. For the time being, hit your low chip shots with clubs in the seven to nine iron range, and you can consider learning how to produce these shots with higher lofted clubs later on.
If you are going to keep the ball on the ground for the majority of the length of a chip shot, you are going to need to get a good read before hitting the shot. A low chip shot will act much like a putt once it is on the green, so you should have read the putt carefully in order to pick a line that will allow the ball to break toward the hole. Failing to read the ground before a chip shot is a huge mistake as your ball could turn dramatically offline even if you hit a good shot. Take a quick moment to walk up to the green and read the ground between your ball and the hole in exactly the same manner that you would when putting. With this task complete, you will feel confident in the shot and you can then focus solely on executing your technique perfectly.
One other point to keep in mind when thinking about hitting low chip shots is the fact that they can be played from any kind of lie. If you are trying to hit the ball high, you will need an appropriate lie in order to do so successfully. That isn't the case when chipping the ball low to the ground. You can play a low shot from virtually any lie, so this is an option that can always be turned to when you are unsure about the lie of your ball in the grass.
Strategy Plays a Factor
You might think that you can take a break from strategic thinking when playing chip shots, but you would be wrong on that point. It is just as important to think about strategy when chipping as it is during any other point in your round. The strategy points while chipping might not be as obvious as they are when hitting a drive or an iron shot, but that doesn't mean they can be ignore. You can be confident that your favorite professional golfers are thinking carefully about the strategy of their shots before they chip, and you should follow suit.
The following strategy points all play a role when you chip. Keep this concepts in mind and you will wind up with better results on a regular basis.
- The ball must finish on the green. The number one goal that you should have in mind when chipping is placing the ball on the green for your next shot. Having to chip twice on the same hole is never a good thing, as this kind of mistake can add to your score quickly. When picking out the type of shot that you are going to play, and the line you are going to take, be sure to keep in mind the fact that you need to be putting for your next shot. Always error on the side of caution, as it is better to have a bit of a longer par putt than to make a mistake and have to chip all over again.
- You want to putt uphill. Assuming you aren't going to have any trouble chipping the ball onto the green, the next strategy point to keep in mind is the positioning of your ball relative to the slope of the course. You would like to be putting uphill if at all possible, so the goal with your chip shot should be to place the ball on the low side of the cup. This point isn't going to be very important on a greens that are mostly flat, but it is crucial on sloped greens as you want to avoid having to putt down a quick slope. Take a look at the ground around the cup and do your best to favor your chip shot on the low side to give yourself the best possible chance to complete the up and down with a good putt.
- Leave the pin in or take it out? One of the overlooked bits of strategy involved with chipping is whether you are going to leave the pin in the hole or take it out while hitting the shot. This is a matter of personal preference to a certain degree, but there is also some strategy that you can use to make the right call. Generally speaking, if you are confident in your ability to control the speed of a chip shot, you are going to want to take the pin out. So, on a flat chip from a good lie, or on a chip where you are playing uphill, you should go ahead and take it out. Leaving the pin in is only going to stop your ball from falling in if you have hit the shot with good pace. However, if you are pitching down a fast slope on quick greens, you will want to leave the pin in as it has the potential to stop the ball if it is scooting across the green. In this case, hitting the pin would be better than having the ball go right over the hole. Evaluate your situation and make this strategy decision on a case by case basis.
Thinking through your chip shots is important. You need to take the same amount of time to prepare for this shot as you would to prepare for any other around the course. If you take your time to think about all of the various factors in play, and you then execute a great shot, you can feel good that you have saved yourself a stroke that would have otherwise been lost.
The Phycology of Chipping
One thing you won't see when you are watching video of your favorite pros hitting chip shots is what is going on inside of their heads. Of course they are thinking about a variety of strategy and even technical points (such as those outlined above), but they are also dealing with emotions and other things that play a factor in the shot. Getting your mind in the 'right place' to hit a good chip shot might be just as important as the technique that you use, so make sure you are focused and locked in on the task at hand each time you chip.
A big problem that is faced by many amateurs when they chip is the fact that they are mad about the previous shot they hit when they get up to the chip shot. Since you missed the green with your previous shot - which is why you need to chip - you probably didn't make your best swing. As a result, you might still be thinking about what went wrong on that previous swing rather than focusing your mind in on hitting a great chip. Countless amateurs are guilty of playing lazy chip shots due to frustration from shortcomings in other parts of the game.
Don't let yourself fall into this category. Once you have missed the green, there is nothing you can do to change that fact. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, or getting mad at yourself, the best thing you can do is respond by hitting a brilliant chip. This is something that professional golfers - especially the good ones - do extremely well. They hit bad shots just like everybody else, but they respond to those bad shots by hitting outstanding recovery shots that save strokes and keep the round on track.
You can learn a lot from how professional golfers go about getting the ball from the tee to the green, and that includes watching them chip. While you might not be able to replicate their results simply by watching a few chip shots, you can definitely take some points away that you can use during your own practice sessions. Use the advice contained above to guide your practice and your short game should be dramatically improved in short order.