Chipping Alternatives

Chipping the ball onto the green seems like one of the simplest shots in golf. Yet many things can go wrong because:

  • Chipping requires the golfer to hit down and make contact with the ball before the ground. This narrow contact zone causes many golfers to strike the ground early (fat shot), or to hit the ball with the iron's bottom leading edge (thin shot).
  • Golfers often try to hit up on the ball in an effort to get additional height. This scooping action usually results in poor contact and a chip that comes up short.
  • When trying to hit a short chip shot, golfers will often take too large a backswing, then decelerate before contact to prevent it from going too long. Deceleration creates a variety of mishits.
  • Here are some great alternatives to chipping that can improve your chances of getting the ball up and down from around the green:

  • From the rough around the green, opt for a number 8 hybrid with 38 degrees of loft (or similar) rather than a standard iron. The hybrid performs well with a sweeping swing, and slides through the grass without twisting or snagging like an iron. (FYI – Hybrids offer better performance than conventional irons on many different shots. Hybrids are available in a wide range of lofts to replace any club.)
  • From the first cut around the green, a hybrid putter comes in very handy. In fact, this club's snag-less body and sole design make putting from the first cut practically the same as putting on the green.

For many amateur golfers, chipping is the scariest part of the game.

Alternatives to Chipping

While it can look pretty simple when executed properly by an accomplished player, chipping is not easy. You need to make clean contact in order to send the ball up toward the target, and even a small mistake can be magnified into an ugly result. Whether you tend to hit the ball fat or thin when you miss the sweet spot, the outcomes can be equally disappointing.

Improving your chipping is one of the best things you can do for your game. Since chipping is a skill which is called upon frequently in this game, improving your performance in this area will go a long way toward lowering your scores. Do your best to include chipping as a part of every practice session you complete. Over time, you should be able to move your chipping results in the right direction, and your confidence will gradually grow.

While long-term chipping improvement is a great goal, you may not have time right now to think about the big picture. For instance, if you are playing in an upcoming tournament at your local course, you might not be able to fix your chipping problems before the competition begins. So, what do you do? Fortunately, there are some alternatives to chipping that you may be able to use to get by. These alternatives are not going to completely replace the need for basic chip shots, but they will do in a pinch.

In this article, we are going to highlight some of the best alternatives to chipping. It needs to be noted that you'll need to practice these alternatives before you actually put them to use on the course. Even though these are shots which are meant to be a little easier than 'regular' chip shots, they are still not automatic. Everything you do on the golf course requires preparation, and these shots are no different.

All of the advice below is written from the perspective of a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Pros and Cons of Low Short Game Shots

Pros and Cons of Low Short Game Shots

When you are talking about going away from chipping to use other methods of moving the ball up onto the green, you are talking about playing low short game shots. You really can't get the ball up in the air without chipping, as any shot played around the greens that flies up into the air is going to be classified as some sort of 'chip'. So, for the duration of this article, we are going to be talking about how to use low options to get the ball close to the cup.

As you might imagine, there are some pros and cons associated with keeping your short game shots down near ground level. Let's take a look at some of those points below –

  • Pro – Repeatable contact. One of the biggest motivations for playing your short game shots low to the ground is the fact that you should be able to make clean contact time after time. Simply put, it's just not that hard to hit the ball squarely when playing this type of shot. No matter what club you are using – and we will get into club selection in the next section – it is going to be a simple swing that is easy to replicate. Even when you are nervous, you should be able to achieve a clean strike on these kinds of shots. A big part of the reason you would turn to a chipping alternative on the course is to be able to rely on solid contact.
  • Con – Limited opportunities. Simply put, you aren't going to be able to use these kinds of shots in every situation. Since the ball is going to be played along the ground, you need to find yourself in a position where you have the necessary turf between you and the hole. The number of opportunities you will have to use an alternative to chipping will depend greatly on the type of courses you usually play. Courses that fall in the category of 'links' designs usually have plenty of opportunity for these kinds of shots. Elevation changes tend to be subtle on links courses, and long rough is usually not present around the greens (although that is not true of all courses). On the other hand, 'parkland' courses tend to require more aerial shots in the short game. There is more rough around the greens to deal with, and there may be dramatic elevation changes.
  • Pro – Consistent across various conditions. Another benefit of playing the ball low is the fact that you won't have to adjust as much for the condition of the course. Sure, you'll need to change the speed of the shot based on the speed of the greens, but that is something that you always need to do in this game. By playing the ball low, however, you don't have to think much about how the spin of the shot is going to affect your plan. When chipping the ball higher in the air, you need to plan for the impact of backspin. That impact is going to depend on the firmness of the greens, the quality of your lie, etc. For the average golfer who doesn't get to practice and play on a regular basis, the consistency of this type of short game shot should be considered quite appealing.
  • Con – Need to judge the speed perfectly. One of the benefits that can come along with playing your chip shots through the air is the ability to use spin to stop the shot. For example, picture a downhill chip shot to a hole that is cut near the middle of the green. Not only is the chip downhill between your ball and the hole, but the hole itself is also cut on a section of green which is running away from you. By hitting a chip shot with plenty of backspin, you may be able to bring the ball to a stop around the cup – even on the slope. That is going to be much more difficult when you play a low, running shot. Without any backspin to work in your favor, your only option will be to get the speed just right. You will need to give the shot enough pace to get up near the hole, but not so much that it runs off the other side. This can be tricky, depending on the speed of the greens and the severity of the slope.

It should be plain by now that playing your ball along the ground is not a perfect solution. This type of short game shot does have its advantages, but it comes with its drawbacks just the same. Of course, you are probably turning to this option as a way to get around the problems you have been having with your chipping performance. If that is the case, you'll likely accept the drawbacks as long as the gains help you post better scores. In the next section, we will identify three clubs you may be able to use to hit these low bump-and-run short game shots.

Three Club Options

Three Club Options

In reality, you can use any of the clubs in your bag to hit a shot from around the green – as long as you find the right situation. Yes, even your driver could be deployed in this kind of duty, if you only need to bump the ball up toward the hole without getting it airborne at all. With that said, some clubs are better suited for this kind of work than others. In this section, we are going to focus on three clubs that you should consider learning how to use in this regard.

  • Putter. This is perhaps the most useful option of all when you are trying to get away from hitting traditional chip shots. As long as you don't need to get the ball up in the air, and as long as you have a good lie on the short grass with no rough between you and the hole, there is no reason you can't simply putt from off the green. The great thing about this option is its simplicity. You won't need to think about how you are going to alter your technique, because you'll just be using your standard putting stroke. And, if the course you are playing does a good job of maintaining the grass around the green at a low height, you may not even have to hit the ball much harder than if you were on the green itself. Some golfers shy away from employing this option simply because it may seem like a beginner's move, but that's silly. The only thing you need to worry about is getting the ball as close to the hole as you can on each short game shot. If that means using your putter from off the green, so be it.
  • Hybrid club. This is another great option. If you carry a hybrid club in your bag, and you probably should, given the many benefits that these types of clubs have to offer, you can use that hybrid to play some simple shots from around the green. Basically, you will be using a putting motion to pop the ball just slightly off the ground, only to have it return to the ground and run up nicely toward the hole. This is a very simple shot to play, and it shouldn't take much practice to get comfortable with the technique required. The advantage to using this shot rather than using your putter from off the green is that your hybrid is going to give the ball more speed with a smaller swing. There is more 'spring' in the face of your hybrid, meaning you can make a small little swing and still send the ball a useful distance. Also, the shot will pop up slightly at first, helping you to get over any rough patches of turf immediately in front of the ball. As a word of warning, you may get caught off guard initially in terms of how quickly the ball comes off your club with this shot. The main goal of the practice time you put into this shot should be to get comfortable with distance control.
  • Five iron. Finally, we get to the five iron. This is a club that most golfers would not think about using in the short game, but it can be surprisingly effective. Again here, the idea is largely the same as it is with your putter or hybrid. You are going to play a shot that travels most of its distance on the ground, using speed control to get the shot to stop around the hole. However, since the five iron has more loft than your putter, and probably your hybrid as well, you'll get slightly more carry out of this shot before it lands and rolls. That could be important, depending on the circumstances of each individual shot. When you aren't quite comfortable using your putter in a given spot, for instance, you may be able to use the five iron to greater affect. While you might want to use a bit more hand action when opting for a five iron instead of a hybrid or putter, the basic idea is going to remain the same. You'll use your shoulders to rock the club back and forth, and you'll focus on keeping your head still to make clean contact.

As mentioned above, you can really use any club in your bag from just off the green, given the right situation. We think these three are a great place to start, however, and this list will give some purpose and direction to your practice routine. Spend just a bit of time trying some shots from off the green with each of these three clubs and you'll have many more options available to you during your next round.

Assorted Tips: Before we finish up this article on chipping alternatives, we want to make a couple final points related to this topic.

  • Keep working on your chipping. While playing the ball along the ground with low-lofted clubs can help you get around your chipping issues, this should be seen as only a temporary solution. The far more desirable solution, of course, is to improve your short game. If you can learn how to strike solid chip shots in most situations, you won't have to be afraid of playing a 'regular' chip when the time is right. Does that mean you'll never play the ball down along the ground? No, of course not. There are times when a simple bump-and-run shot is a smart choice. Those situations do not come up all the time, however. If you are going to reach your potential as a golfer, you will need to develop your chipping ability to where you can play shots through the air and along the ground with equal confidence.
  • Play safer approach shots. It is not realistic to expect yourself to hit every single green in regulation during a round. That is a feat which is rarely accomplished by high-level professional golfers, let alone amateurs. With that said, you can take steps to improve your percentage of greens hit in regulation. For every additional green you manage to hit, that's one less chip shot you'll need to deal with. Toward that end, consider picking safer targets when planning your approaches. Instead of always aiming right at the flag – even when it is perched in a precarious position – try aiming toward the center of the green from time to time. Playing it safe might not be quite as exciting as aiming directly at the hole, but it will improve your odds of finding the putting surface with your approach.

You can only hide from your chipping problems for so long. If you continue to struggle with the task of chipping the ball, it's going to be hard to shoot good scores. However, while you are working on improving your chipping in practice, you can adopt some low short game shots that may help get you out of trouble from time to time. We hope the tips offered in this article will help you save a few strokes in upcoming rounds. And, even when you do rebuild your confidence in hitting regular chip shots, you should keep these low shots in the back of your mind for use on occasion. Good luck!