Whether you play a chip shot or pitch when you are out on the golf course really depends on the distance for the shot that you are faced with.
A chip is a shot played over a shorter area whereas a pitch shot is a shot played over a longer distance. When you are chipping, you would tend to use a straighter faced, or less lofted club as a chip flies lower than a pitch and also runs, or rolls along the ground much more. If you were playing a chip with a 7 iron you would tend to see that it flies 25% in the air and then rolls 75% along the green. A pitch, however, would be played with a higher lofted club such as a pitching wedge and you would see this shot in the air for much longer. A pitch will fly 95% in the air and then only roll about 5% along the green.
The main difference between a chip and a pitch is the use of your wrists when playing the shot. If you take an alignment pole and hold it with your golf club handle so that the pole extends upwards behind your left arm, you will see the difference between a chip and pitch quite clearly.
For both shots, set up with your feet just under shoulder width apart. You are not going to be swinging the club head at maximum club head speed for either of these shots so you do not need a wide stance. Aim the club face at your target and then take your stance up playing the ball from the centre of your stance whether you are chipping or pitching.
Pull your left foot directly back about four inches (for right handed golfers) as this will encourage your body to rotate towards the target as you hit the shot and allow you to extend your arms and the club head along the target line towards the target, whether you are playing a chip or a pitch.
Place more weight on your left side than usual and hold the golf club handle lower down than usual, no matter whether you are playing a chip or pitch. Holding lower down on the handle reduces the distance between your hands and the club head and this will result in you having more control over the club head as you play the golf shot.
Both shots are played with your hands set ahead of the club head. That simply means that your hands are more to the left of the club head as you look at the ball and if you are holding the alignment pole behind your left arm, this will set your hands ahead of the club head. You want to create a straight line from your left shoulder, down your left arm to your hands and then down the shaft of the golf club to the club head.
The set up position for playing a chip or playing a pitch is exactly the same. The difference between the two shots is in how you make your backswing. If you are chipping, you do not use your wrists. You swing the straight line of your left arm and the club away from the golf ball and then you swing the straight line back towards and then through the ball. Your backswing and follow through should be of equal distance and you should not use your wrists during the movement, the straight line should be maintained throughout the shot and the pole should remain in contact with your left rib cage throughout the movement.
However, when you play a pitch you swing away from the ball with the straight line between your left arm and the club until your hands are across your right thigh. At this point, you hinge your wrist so that the alignment pole moves away from being in contact with your left rib cage and points down at the target line. The use of your wrist in this way launches the golf ball at a higher angle into the air to produce a higher flighted golf shot than a chip. Swing the club head back down towards the golf ball and create the straight line between your left arm and the golf club as you strike the ball. The alignment pole should re-connect with your left rib cage as you hit the golf ball. Rotate your body towards the target as you play the shot and keep the pole in contact with your left side, so that you maintain the straight line of your left arm and the golf club.
A chip and pitch both have an identical address position but a very different backswing action as a chip does not involve your wrists but a pitch requires you to hinge your wrist and this produces a different trajectory for both golf shots.
Chip vs Pitch – How and Why
A chip and a pitch are two types of short game shots that come from the same family. There is very little that separates the two, and there is certainly some overlap in the kinds of shots that can be placed in one category or the other. For instance, a shot that some golfers would consider to be a chip shot might be seen by others as a short pitch. In the end, it doesn't really matter what you call these shots, as long as you know how to play them correctly. The short game is where your score for each round is largely going to be decided, so make sure you spend plenty of time working on your chipping and pitching during practice (along with your putting, bunker play, etc.).
Generally speaking, a chip shot is one that is played from a close distance to the edge of the green. There is no formal definition, but most players would say they are chipping when they are within a few yards of the putting surface. Once you start to get more than a few yards away, that chip shot is quickly going to turn into a pitch. Although the definition for a chip and a pitch can vary slightly from golfer to golfer, it is important that you decide which kind of shot you are going to play before you take your stance over the ball. Chip shots and pitch shots use slightly different techniques, meaning you don't want to get caught 'in-between' by blending the two techniques together. Decide to hit either a chip or a pitch when you are near the green and then focus completely on executing the right technique to leave the ball close to the hole.
In this article, we are going to look at what it is that separates a chip from a pitch, and how you can improve on your technique with regard to both of these shots. The key to building a great short game is to have variety and flexibility, as you never quite know what type of shot you will be asked to play from around the greens. When you are able to both chip and pitch the ball with confidence, your flexibility will be improved and you should find that you get up and down with a greater frequency. It might be fun to stand on the driving range while hitting the ball as far as you can during practice, but it is really the time you spend working on your short game that will pay dividends in the end.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play golf left handed, please take a moment to reverse the instruction as necessary.
Characteristics of Each Shot
Before we get into the details on how you are going to hit these shots, we should first step back and figure out how you can tell one from the other. As mentioned above, it is important to make this distinction in your game so you can decide what kind of shot you are going to hit in a given scenario. Knowing whether you are chipping or pitching the ball will allow you to have the best possible chance at success.
To start, let's take a look at some of the basic characteristics of a chip shot.
- Short distance traveled in the air. Perhaps the leading characteristic of a chip shot is the fact that the ball is going to spend very little time in the air on its way to the target. When you chip, you are really only trying to carry the ball just onto the edge of the green – it will roll from there on out to the hole. There is no exact definition for how far a chip shot can fly, but if the shot you are hitting needs to fly more than a few yards, you are probably looking at a pitch rather than a chip.
- Plenty of roll out. Rather than trying to stop the ball with spin, you are usually going to let a chip shot run out toward the hole, simply allowing the ball to come to rest as it loses forward momentum. For this reason, people often use the term 'chip-and-run' when playing a standard chip shot from around the green. You may have to attempt to put some extra spin on your chip shots when there is only a short distance between you and the hole itself, but you shouldn't need to play that kind of shot too often. Most of the time, you will pop the ball onto the edge of the green and allow it to bounce and roll from there to the cup.
- A very simple motion. Other than your putting stroke, the motion that you make when chipping is going to be the simplest in the game. There should be very few moving parts when you chip – just a rock of the shoulders, a little 'pop' with the hands and impact, and a short follow through. As long as you set up to the ball properly, with your stance open and your weight leaning toward the target, you should be able to use this kind of simple chipping action to great effect.
Moving on, let's take a look now at some of the characteristics that are going to define a standard pitch shot.
- Longer flight time. It only stands to reason that if a chip shot stays in the air for a very short period of time, a pitch shot will fly for a bit longer. After all, your pitch shots take place from farther away from the green, so the ball will need to stay in the air longer in order to land on the putting surface. Rarely will you want to bounce the ball up onto the green (unless you are playing a links-style course), so learning how to pitch the ball all the way onto the green is an important skill to develop.
- The use of spin. You aren't going to be able to stop your pitch shots in time without the use of backspin. In order to produce a spin rate that is high enough to give your ball some stopping power, you will have to make clean contact, and you will need to be using the right ball as well. You can't spin all of your pitch shots – shots from the deep rough, for example, will have very little spin – but you do need to know how to use spin to slow the ball down when pitching from short grass. Many amateurs assume that a spinning pitch shot is outside of their capabilities when they see pros play this kind of shot, but it is actually possible for most players to learn this trick. With the right technique and sufficient practice, you can start to spin your pitch shots to a halt in relatively short order.
- A bigger swing. Of course, if you are pitching the ball from a fair distance off of the green, you are going to need a bigger swing to hit the shot. The swing you will use for a pitch shot, unlike your chipping motion, is basically just a miniature version of your full swing. You are going to set up in much the same way you do for a full swing when pitching, with just a few minor adjustments needed (more on that later). Most amateur golfers never take the time to refine their pitching action, and it shows in the kinds of shots that they hit. Work on learning to pitch the ball consistently and your short game will take a big step forward.
At this point, you should have a clear picture of how the line is drawn between chip shots and pitch shots. During your next round, think about these points as you play short game shots and decide whether you are playing a chip or a pitch before you hit any shot around the greens. As you get more and more comfortable with this distinction, you will be able to make smart decisions as to the technique you are going to use to knock the ball onto the green – and hopefully close to the hole.
Building a Solid Chipping Action
You aren't going to get far in this game without the ability to hit quality chip shots time after time. Chipping is a fundamental skill in golf, as you are sure to miss at least a couple greens during each round that you play. Pro golfers often miss a few greens during the course of a round, meaning you should expect to miss even more. If you can't reliably chip the ball up onto the green and near the hole, you are going to struggle to get up and down – and the bogeys on your card are quickly going to add up. If you have not previously worked on creating a solid chipping action within your game, now is the time. The sooner you get down to work on this critical skill, the sooner you can see your scores move in the right direction.
The step-by-step instructions below will walk you through a solid chipping action from start to finish. Use these instructions during practice to teach yourself the correct technique and you will begin to chip better in your very next round.
- Before you walk up to the ball, you are going to need to do a couple of things to prepare for the shot. First, you are going to need to pick a club. When chipping, you don't necessarily have to use a high-lofted wedge – you could choose to reach for one of your irons instead, such as an eight or nine iron. As a general rule of thumb, you want to use as little loft as possible while still carrying the ball onto the green. So, if you are right next to the edge of the green, a nine iron might be a good choice. However, if you are farther back, you will probably need more loft to pop the ball up higher into the air. Once your club is selected, you are then going to pick out a landing spot for the shot. This is exactly as it sounds – the spot on the green where you want the ball to land before it bounces and rolls toward the hole. Only when you have your club and landing spot both picked out can you proceed with actually hitting the shot.
- As you walk up to the ball, keep your landing spot in focus and set your stance in a position that will allow you to chip to that spot with ease. You are going to want to set your feet open to the target line slightly, so try aiming your feet about 10 or 15 degrees to the left of the target spot you have selected. With your feet positioned, lean your weight into your left side. As you stand over the ball, roughly 60% of your weight should be gathered on your left foot.
- Now that your stance is set, it is time to hit the shot. To start your chipping action, you are going to move the club back without the aid of your hands or wrists. Obviously, your hands will be holding on to the club, but they won't actively be doing anything early in the swing. You are going to move the club back by rocking your shoulders gently. For most chip shots, you won't need much power in the swing – so a slightly movement in your shoulders should be enough to get the job done.
- As the backswing finishes and you start swinging down toward the ball, get ready to use your right hand to 'pop' the ball out of the grass and into the air. This shouldn't be a dramatic hit with your right hand, but it should be more than you would do when putting. Many golfers think they have to keep their hands totally quiet while chipping, but that technique leads to more fat shots than anything else. Allow your right hand to pop the club into the back of the ball and you should hit solid chip shots more often than not.
- The follow through on your chip shots should be abbreviated, and your left wrist should remain mostly flat as it points near the target. A high finish after a chip shot indicates that you have used too much hand action, so guard against making that mistake.
As you can see, chipping the ball is not a complicated process. You don't have to build any complex moves into your technique in order to chip well – you just have to master the fundamentals. Take some time to practice the process above and you will be impressed with how quickly your chipping comes along.
Mastering the Pitch Shot
It was mentioned earlier in this article that the swing you are going to use for a pitch shot is just a miniature version of your full swing. While that is true, you still need to understand the adjustments that have to be made when you move down to a pitch shot from a full swing. Those adjustments are as follows –
- Choke down on the grip – but only slightly. One of the common mistakes that is made by the average golfer when pitching the ball is choking down too far on the grip of the club. Yes, you want to choke down slightly, but going down the grip too far is only going to cause you to lose feel for the clubhead. Try choking down just an inch or two for added control so you can still feel most of the weight of the club as you swing. The perfect grip point for every player is a bit different, so experiment with how much you need to choke down in order to find a comfortable spot.
- Play the ball from the center of your stance. If you are just hitting a basic pitch shot – not a specialty shot, like a flop – you should be playing the ball from the middle of your stance. Place the ball evenly between your two feet and stay balanced throughout the swing. You will usually play the ball slightly forward of center when making a full swing, so this is just a minor adjustment that needs to be made when pitching. With the ball in the middle of your stance, you should be able to hit down aggressively through impact, which is key if you are going to impart spin on the ball.
- Keep your hips quiet. In a full swing, you should be using your hips to rotate toward the target from the top of the swing down through impact. That is not how you are going to go about hitting a pitch shot. Instead, you should be using your arms and hands to hit this shot, while your lower body remains quiet and stable. Limiting the amount of movement in your lower body is going to make it easier to make solid contact – and solid contact is the name of the game with this kind of shot. You still want to keep your knees flexed to engage your legs in the stance, but your hips should be mostly passive as the club swings back and through.
There are only a few changes that need to be made from your full swing in order to prepare for a pitch shot, but those changes are important to be sure. Carve out a bit of time during your next practice session to work on getting more comfortable with the task of pitching the ball. This is a shot that strikes fear into the hearts of many golfers, but you can conquer it with sound technique and plenty of practice time.
- Whether you are chipping or pitching, it is important to read the green in much the same way that you would when putting. After your ball lands and takes a bounce or two, it is going to roll out toward the hole. As it rolls, the ball is going to take the break just as it would when you putt, so you will have to plan for that curve accordingly. By taking the time to read the green before you pick out your landing spot, you will give yourself a better chance of placing the ball right next to the hole.
- You need to pay careful attention to the condition of the golf course when playing any short game shot. For instance, if the greens are dry and firm, you will need to give your shots more room to roll out before they are going to come to a stop. Or, if it has been raining and the greens are soft, you might be able to fly the ball all the way to the hole and have it stop almost immediately. A good golfer is constantly adjusting to the conditions that he or she finds on the course, because those conditions are going to continually change throughout the day.
Chip and pitch shots play an incredibly important role in the scores that you are able to post as you make your way around the course. While it would be great to hit every green in regulation and avoid these shots entirely, that just isn't how golf works. You are going to miss greens, and you are going to have to chip and pitch the ball well if you want to lower your scores. Make sure that chipping and pitching are a regular part of your practice routine, and be sure to use the information above to point your short game in the right direction. Good luck!