Developing a one-piece chipping motion with minimal hand action is the key to consistency. A firm left (lead) wrist is a primary ingredient.
A left wrist that breaks down through impact adds loft to the club, causing shots to fly higher and shorter than intended. It may also lead to thin and topped shots. Many golfers hinge the left wrist in an attempt to lift the ball into the air, which is entirely unnecessary due to the club's loft.
While you want a firm left arm and wrist, be careful not to tense up or grip the club too tightly. Also, the hands and forearms should be allowed to rotate (without the wrists hinging) on the backswing and follow through. If your wrists are rigid, the clubface will close on the backswing, causing all manner of mishits.
Practice chipping with the left arm and club forming and maintaining a straight line through the entire swing. The butt end of the club should remain close to the left wrist at all times. Remember to set up with hands slightly ahead of the ball, which creates a downward blow and solid impact.
Control the Lead Arm for Crisp Golf Chips
Chipping the ball well is crucial to your overall success on the course. You will have to chip the ball during each and every round that you play - unless you hit all 18 greens in regulation, which is quite the rare feat. Understanding how to chip the ball consistently so that you can set yourself up with short par putts is one of the keys to lowering your scores. Professional golfers are able to get the ball up and down from all around the green, which is one of the reasons they so regularly shoot scores in the 60's.
Technique is an important part of becoming a good chipper, although you will need more than good mechanics to regularly chip the ball close to the hole. Think of your mechanics as the first step in the process - only after you learn proper technique, can you then move on to other elements like developing your touch, reading the lie, choosing the right club, etc. You will only chip the ball successfully when you can blend all of the various elements together, but it all starts with learning and practicing a fundamentally-sound motion.
You lead arm - the left arm for a right handed golfer - plays an important role in every chip shot. Since you don't need to create very much power in order to chip the ball onto the green and toward the hole, your lead arm can take charge of the chiping motion. If you tried to use your lead arm to dominate the full swing, you would never be able to generate enough speed to move the ball sufficiently down the fairway. However, power is not a problem around the green, so using your lead arm as the dominant force on your chip shots is a great way to combine control and consistency in your short game. When executed correctly, a chip shot that is built on the movement of your lead arm will enable you to strike the ball cleanly from a variety of lies around the green.
In the end, it really is all about clean contact. If you are able to strike the ball cleanly while chiping, you will have a much easier time controlling both the speed and direction of your shots. Making clean contact means that the face of your club is striking the ball before hitting the ground, and hopefully as close to the sweet spot as possible. This kind of quality contact is just as important in the short game as it is when you are making a full swing. When you hit your chip shots clean you can expect them to come out with plenty of backspin, which will help you to stop the ball on firm and fast greens. Hopefully, the content below will help you learn how to make clean contact by controlling your lead arm.
All of the instruction contained below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Keeping it Simple
As you already know, the full swing can get rather complicated when you start to break it down into individual components. One of the reasons so many people struggle to improve their swings is the sheer complexity of the motion itself. The golf swing happens fast, yet there is a lot that needs to be done in that short amount of time in order to generate a good shot.
Fortunately, it is a different story when you are chiping the golf ball. Chipping is rather simple when compared to the full swing, so there is no reason for you to fear this part of the game. By learning the basic mechanics involved in a successful chip shot, you should be able to knock the ball up close to the hole time and time again. Before getting into the role that the left arm plays in the chiping motion, let's first look at the basic fundamentals that you need to have in place in order to chip properly. As you will see, each of the three points on the following list are simple and easy to implement into your technique.
- Lean left. When hitting a basic chip shot, you should have your weight leaning onto your left foot as you address the ball. By leaning left, you will naturally create a downward angle in your stroke that will allow you to hit down through the ball at impact. Hitting down on your chip shots is crucial because that angle will enable you to put backspin on the ball, making it easier to stop shots even on fast greens. Also, hitting down can be beneficial when you are playing chip shots from long grass, as you will be able to miss some of the grass behind the ball during your downswing. Many of the common problems that plague the average golfer when it comes to chipping can be solved simply by setting your weight into your left side at address.
- Soft hands. It is extremely important that you keep your hands soft throughout the chipping motion, as tightening up your hands and forearms can ruin the rhythm you need to hit a good shot. Since the club is not moving very fast during a chip shot, there is no need to grip the club tightly – you will be doing more harm than good by squeezing the handle. Instead, keep your grip soft so you can feel the weight of the club head as it moves back and through the ball. It may take some practice to get comfortable chipping with a soft grip, but you will soon find that your performance improves dramatically when you lower your grip pressure.
- Eyes down. You always want to keep your eyes on the ball when you are hitting any golf shot, but that tip is especially important when it comes to chipping. The key to hitting good chip shots is making solid contact, and you are only going to make solid contact on a consistent basis when you watch the ball closely. It is hard to hit something that you can't see, so focus on the back of the ball and deliver the club head as cleanly as possible each and every time. It is okay to have a little bit of head movement during your chipping motion (not too much), but your eyes should be steady until the ball is on its way toward the hole.
The three points above are about as simple as you will find in the world of golf tips. However, despite their simple nature, they are still extremely important to your eventual success in the short game. Before you get into anything else to do with chipping, you should first be sure you have each of these three points under control. Work on your chipping in the short game practice area at your local course until you are confident that all three fundamentals above are in place within your chipping technique.
The Role of the Lead Arm
Now that you have some basic fundamentals under control, you can move on to focusing on the responsibilities of your lead arm in the chiping motion. At address, your left arm should be in a comfortable position, just as it would be for any other shot. While your arm should not necessarily be locked out completely straight, you don't want to have too much bend in the left elbow, either. Try to find a comfortable position that allows you to swing the club freely without too much extra effort from the rest of your body. Your torso doesn't need to get too involved in the chipping action – it should just be a simple rock of the shoulders that moves the club back and through.
The first thing you need to understand about using your left arm when chiping is that it needs to keep moving throughout the chip shot. This is the single most-important piece of advice you will find this in article, as many amateur golfers struggle on this point. When the backswing of your chipping motion is completed, everything starts to move to the left – led by your left arm. As you approach the ball, you might be tempted to stop the movement of your arm in order to flip your wrists and hands through impact. This is the disastrous mistake that so many average golfers make. If your left arm stops moving and your hands flip at the ball, you will very likely top the shot and send the ball shooting across the green. If you don't top it, you could stick the club into the ground behind the ball and hit the shot fat. Either way, nothing good is going to come from slowing down or stopping your left arm prior to impact.
To hit the ball crisply when chipping, you need to have your hands in front of the ball at impact – and the only way to reach that position is to keep your left arm moving steadily through the hit. Focusing your mind on your left arm motion is a great way to stay committed to the shot all the way through into your finish position. If you let your mind wander onto other things – like the outcome of the shot – you may get nervous and make a sudden movement that ruins the outcome of the chip. Thinking about swinging your left arm through to the target is a great mental key that just might enable you to chip the ball better than ever before.
Another mistake that is frequently seen in the ranks of amateur golfers is trying to gently 'scoop' the ball up toward the hole instead of hitting the chip shot with authority and confidence. Even though you aren't hitting the ball very far, you still want to strike your chip shots aggressively. Hit down through the ball with an aggressive stroke, so that you can cut through the grass and send the ball on its way successfully. To control your distance, you want to shorten your backswing rather than slow down your forward swing. Each chip shot should be hit with conviction, just like any other shot that you play around the course. By using your left arm aggressively to swing through the ball, you will make it much easier to hit every chip shot with the authority it requires.
There is a delicate balance that you will need to strike when thinking about how to use your left arm while chipping, because you want to hit the ball aggressively, yet keep your arm soft throughout the swing. Stiffening that lead arm will make it tough to strike the ball cleanly, and you will lose a lot of the touch that allows you to hit the ball the correct distance. So, your challenge is to swing the club with confidence through impact, while still keeping your muscles soft and relaxed. This balance isn't easy to find, but your chip shots will feel great coming off the club when you get it just right.
How to Control Your Spin on Chip Shots
One of the things you will quickly find when you start to use your left arm properly during your chip shots is that you are now putting more backspin on the golf ball. This can be a great thing – as long as you know how to manage that spin successfully. If not, you will only end up frustrated as you see the ball stop short of your target time and time again. chiping with spin is an advanced skill in the game of golf, but it is one that can help you lower your scores when used properly.
When you want to use spin to your advantage to stop the ball, the first thing you should do is choose a lofted club from your bag. Higher-lofted clubs like a sand wedge or a lob wedge will help you produce spin on short shots. If you chip with a pitching wedge, or even an eight or nine iron, you simply aren't going to generate enough backspin to stop the ball quickly. There is nothing wrong with chipping while using less loft, but you shouldn't count on backspin to help you out when taking that approach. It may take some practice to get comfortable with chiping while using more loft, but you should be able to make the transition successfully after a putting in some practice time. In addition to adding backspin, chipping with your lofted clubs also opens up more possibilities, such as hitting flop shots.
In addition to loft, you will also need a clean lie in order to use backspin on a chip shot. If your ball is sitting down in the rough, you simply won't be able to spin the shot due to the grass that will get trapped between your club and the ball. However, if your ball is resting on the fairway cut, you should be able to load the shot up with spin and watch it stop quickly – hopefully near the hole. As you gain experience in trying to use spin on your chip shots, you should get better and better at reading your lie before picking the right shot for the situation.
So, you should now understand that there are two main ingredients needed to hit spinning chip shots – loft, and a good lie. However, there are some other factors that need to be figured into this equation as well. The points below will help you improve your chances of mastering the spinning chip.
- Quick stop uphill. If you use a spinning chip shot into an upslope on the green, expect the ball to stop rather quickly. The spin will 'dig in' to the turf, and there won't be much momentum left to carry the ball forward after the first one or two bounces. Therefore, when you are picking your landing target for an uphill chip shot that you play to hit with spin, make sure you aren't expecting very much roll.
- Loft may be the better downhill option. While you can certainly use spin to stop the ball while chipping downhill, you might be better off using loft to slow the ball down instead. The spin on your chip shots won't do all that much to stop the ball when you land it on a steep slope, but lofting the ball high in the air could lead to a soft bounce and limited roll out. Chipping downhill will always be a challenge, so be careful with how you try to use your spin in this situation.
- Not effective in wet conditions. When the ground is wet during your round, you should discount the use of spin when chipping around the greens. Wet grass will cause the ball to skip on the first couple of bounces, meaning the spin won't really take effect as you might have hoped. To consistently chip the ball near the hole on wet greens, you will likely be better served to hit lower, chip-and-run style shots.
- Need a good ball. No matter what kind of technique you use, you aren't going to be able to put a good amount of backspin on your chip shots unless you use a quality golf ball with a relatively soft cover. Generally speaking, you can judge how much spin a ball will provide by its price tag. Cheap golf balls are great for beginners, but they aren't going to offer much of anything in the way of chipping spin. Only when you get into the mid-level and Tour level golf balls will you find the kind of performance that you need to increase your spin rate.
Using your lead arm in the correct way while chipping should make it easy for you to put spin on the ball with your chip shots. The information contained in the section above highlights some of the ways you can use this spin to get the ball close to the hole – however, you are only going to become proficient at this skill through trial and error and plenty of practice. Pro golfers make spinning their chip shots up close to the hole look easy, but it is actually a complex skill which can take years to master.
Different Rules from the Sand
When you need to play a greenside bunker shot to get your ball out of the sand and back onto the grass, you can basically forget about everything that was written above. While there are a few similarities between chiping and bunker play, the role of your lead arm is not one of them. In fact, your left arm should do basically the exact opposite of what it does while chipping when you are in the bunker.
To hit a good bunker shot, you need to stop your arm swing in order to allow your hands and wrists to release the club head under the ball. The idea of the greenside bunker shot is actually to miss the ball entirely – you want the club to slide under the ball, and allow the sand to lift the ball up onto the green. If you were to move your lead arm through the shot like you do while chipping, you would catch too much of the ball at impact and the shot would likely sail over the green. When you practice your play from the bunker, focus on keeping your left arm in close to your body in the downswing while you aggressively release the hands in order to splash the ball softly up into the air.
There is no reason to be afraid of the average chip shot. While this part of the game is a sore spot for many average players, you can quickly improve simply by mastering some basic techniques. Once you are properly using your lead arm in your chiping motion, it will be up to you to put in the practice time to develop your feel and touch around the greens. This time investment will be worth it, however, as good chipping can save you several strokes in each and every round that you play.