From time to time, you are going to have to play a chip shot from a tight lie.

Chipping Tight Lie Lesson by PGA Senior Teaching Pro Dean Butler

These types of shots are no easy task, as you have very little margin for error. If you hit the shot a bit fat, it’s going to come up way short of your target. Or, if you hit it thin, the ball will scurry across the green and possibly into trouble on the other side. Making clean contact is essential when chipping from a tight lie, and we hope to help you work toward that goal with this article.

One piece of the puzzle with regard to this kind of shot is the technique you use to send the ball toward the hole. Using solid technique is important here, as it is your fundamentals that will help you make good contact. However, we can’t make the mistake of overlooking the importance of good decision making and having the right mindset. Your mental approach is always important in golf, and that certainly holds true here. Make sure your mind is in a good place before hitting any chip shots from tight lies, so you can optimize your chances of success.

All of the content 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.

Chipping Technique Basics

Chipping Tight Lie Lesson by PGA Senior Teaching Pro Dean Butler

The basics of your chipping technique are going to more or less hold steady regardless of your lie. There are some specific adjustments that you should make when playing from a tight lie, and we’ll get to those in the next section, but first we’d like to start with a basic introduction to proper chipping technique. If you have a good base of mechanics in place for your chip shots, you’ll always have a chance to produce a good shot.

  • Quiet hands. The starting point of your chipping technique is going to be quiet hands. If your hands are too active during the chipping motion, you’ll struggle to be consistent and you might wind up mis-hitting some of your shots. In this way, good chipping technique is similar to good putting technique. You want to use your shoulders to move the club back and through, only slightly hinging your wrists when necessary to add a bit of speed to the swing. For those who are used to chipping with a lot of wrist action, this is going to be a big adjustment at first. Spend plenty of time practicing chip shots where you keep your hands out of the equation, so you can get used to what it feels like and how the ball reacts off the club face.
  • Steady head position. This is a big one, yet it is often a point that gives amateur golfers trouble. When you are hitting a chip shot, you need to keep your head as still as possible in order to improve your chances of achieving a clean strike. Early head movement is a common cause of poor contact, so don’t let such a simple mistake trip you up. Why would your head move early? Simple – to sneak a peek at the ball and make sure it is heading in the right direction. You’ll be tempted to look up early but remember that doing so doesn’t benefit you in any way. Your best bet is to keep your head down and swing through the shot with confidence. Once the ball has been struck and it is on its way toward the target, you can then look up and see how you’ve done. Of course, teaching yourself to watch the ball all the way through impact is something you can work on in practice. During a practice session, try hitting some chip shots where you keep your head down all the way until the ball has finished rolling out. This is more dramatic than what you need to do on the course, but it will reinforce the importance of keeping your head still during the swing. And, as you practice, you’ll find that you don’t need to lift your head in order to hit good shots, as watching the ball bounce and roll has nothing to do with where it ends up.
  • A slight lean to the left. For a standard chip shot, you want to hit down slightly on the ball as you go through impact. To make that happen, get in the habit of leaning just a bit left when you take your stance. This shouldn’t be a dramatic tilt to the side, but just enough to encourage a downward strike through the ball. The nice thing about preparing this way for a chip shot is that it simplifies the process – you’ll naturally swing down when leaning a little to the left, so you don’t really have to think about that part of the shot. Also, when you need to alter your angle of approach somewhat, you can do that easily as well by changing your weight distribution at address. To hit a flatter shot that has less spin and rolls out toward the target, skip the lean to the left and balance yourself perfectly before chipping. Or, to swing downward more sharply in order to load the ball with spin, you can lean more to the left than normal. Experiment with how your weight distribution alters the pattern of your chip shots so you can produce as many different types of chips as possible.
  • Acceleration through impact. This is another tough one for many golfers to grasp. Since you are standing so close to the target when you make your swing, it might be hard to convince yourself that you need to accelerate the club through the hitting area – but that’s exactly what you need to do. Swinging through the ball aggressively is going to make it easier to achieve clean contact, it will help you put spin on the ball, and you should find it easier to perform under pressure, as well. To avoid hitting the ball too hard while still accelerating though impact, you will need to manage the length of your backswing. If the backswing goes too far, you will not be able to accelerate and still keep the ball at the appropriate distance. Work on making compact backswings so you can add speed on the way forward and send the ball perfectly up to the hole.

If you can work on the four points listed above while trying to improve your chipping, you should come away quite happy with the results. Chipping is one of the many challenging parts of this game, so expect to have some struggles along the way while you work to improve your performance. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you feel confident in your technique and you expect to chip the ball close to the hole more times than not.

Tight Lie Points to Consider

Chipping Tight Lie Lesson by PGA Senior Teaching Pro Dean Butler

At this point, we’ve established some basics for chipping technique, so we now need to get into the specifics of how to deal with tight lies. The challenge here comes from the fact that you don’t have any space under the ball to work with. The ball is sitting directly on the ground with very little grass underneath, meaning there is no margin for error when you make contact. That’s different than chipping from the light rough, for instance, where the ball is likely to be sitting on top of the grass with some air between the ball and the ground. While you can’t spin the ball as well from such a lie, that type of lie is more forgiving and should help you elevate your shot and send it on its way.

The points below are things to think about as you work on improving your chipping performance from tight lies.

  • Holding still is particularly important. If there are any points from our list above that you should emphasize more than the others when playing from a tight lie, it is holding your head still. There just isn’t any margin for error on this kind of shot. If you are going to play the ball up close to the hole on a consistent basis when you have a tight lie, it will be necessary to hold your head still and keep your eyes trained on the ball throughout the swing. If you look up early when playing off a tight lie, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be happy with the result of the shot. Every time you encounter a tight lie, remind yourself to hold your head still just before you walk up to take your stance. That quick reminder will hopefully be all you need to properly focus and execute the shot.
  • Use less loft when possible. If you have the room to play the ball low up toward the hole, opt for a lower-lofted club than what you might use out of the rough. This is a step you can take to give yourself a little extra margin for error. When trying to hit the ball high, you need to be perfect at impact to catch the ball just right and send it up in the air. If you opt to bump a lower chip shot toward the green, you won’t have to be quite as perfect. It’s still best to make a clean strike, of course, but you can get away with a slight mistake and still come away with a good shot. Obviously, you won’t always be able to play a low shot, so it’s important to practice higher shots from tight lies so you are ready when such a situation comes up.
  • Expect some spin. As you plan where you would like to land the ball for your chip shot from a tight lie, remember that you are likely to impart some backspin thanks to the clean, firm lie that you are dealing with. While it’s likely that the ball will spin some, remember that spin varies based on a number of other factors, as well. The condition of your wedge plays a role, as does the golf ball you use, any moisture on the surface of the grass, as more. As is usually the case, practice can help here. If you’ve hit plenty of chip shots from tight lies during practice – using the same type of golf balls that you’ll use during your rounds – you should be able to accurately predict how much the shots are going to spin.
  • Keep your grip pressure light. You want the club to flow freely through the hitting area on this kind of shot, but that isn’t going to happen if you squeeze tightly onto the handle at address and during the swing. The ideal grip pressure here is a light one, where you apply enough pressure to control the club but not so much that you lose feel or freedom in the swing. If you find that you are having trouble with your grip pressure in the short game, try quickly shaking out each of your hands before taking your grip. Doing so should help you relax a bit, and that may be all you need to keep your fingers soft around the club. Also, try taking a deep breath before settling into your stance, as this is another good way to relax.

Chipping from a tight lie can actually be a lot of fun, and you will probably come to appreciate this kind of lie once you gain some confidence. Until then, seek out tight lies while practicing your chipping to get used to the technique and steady hand required to produce good results in such a situation.

Thinking Strategically

Chipping Tight Lie Lesson by PGA Senior Teaching Pro Dean Butler

At this point, we’d like to get into a discussion on the strategy of chipping from a tight lie. Strategy always plays a role in golf, and that is certainly true when the ball is resting near the green on some firm turf with short grass. Making the right decision can help to improve your chances of success, while opting for the wrong choice will make things even harder.

The first key to being smart in this situation is picking a shot that provides you with plenty of margin for error. Here’s the thing – you are already going to be a little bit nervous over this kind of shot, as you’ll know you have to strike the ball nicely to be successful. So, with those nerves in the back of your mind, you may find it tough to perform at your highest level. Then, if you go ahead and select a target that provides you with very little margin for error, you are only going to be adding to your nerves. You’ll know that the path you’ve selected to the hole is only going to work if you hit a perfect shot, and you will likely tense up even more than normal.

Avoid all of this trouble by selecting a shot and target that are on the conservative side. Give yourself some room for error even if that means aiming a bit away from the hole. After all, setting yourself up with a ten-foot putt to save par might not be the best possible outcome, but it’s far better than having to chip again because you didn’t even get your first chip on the green. Play it relatively safe and give your putter a chance to do the job.

Another strategy element to keep in mind has to do with where you are going to putt from for your next stroke. Ideally, you’d like to be close to the hole, of course, but you also want to be putting uphill if at all possible. An uphill putt is one that will allow you to be more aggressive, thanks to the fact that you don’t have to fear the ball rolling out too far after the cup. It won’t always be possible to position your ball under the hole but do your best to find this situation as often as you can.

Finally, one more strategic point to keep in mind has to do with the shot prior to your chip from the tight lie. While back in the fairway (or rough) contemplating your approach shot, evaluate the area around the green and figure out where the best miss would be. You’d love to hit all of your approach shots up within a few feet of the hole, but we all know that isn’t going to happen. Instead, you are going to miss from time to time, and favoring one side of the green over the other to leave yourself with an easier putt or chip is just a smart way to play.

Keeping Your Confidence Up

Chipping Tight Lie Lesson by PGA Senior Teaching Pro Dean Butler

The last topic we’d like to cover in this article has to do with confidence. Simply put, it takes confidence to hit quality chip shots from tight lies. Of course, it takes confidence to do just about anything on the golf course, so you should always do your best to be positive about your game and the outcomes that you will achieve. You can’t fake confidence, though, so it needs to come from a place of legitimate belief in your abilities.

As you may already know, confidence starts in practice. The more quality shots you produce in practice, the better you will feel about your chances to succeed on the course. With that said, it isn’t enough to just go through the motions during practice while counting the time that passes. You need to practice with a purpose and make sure you are doing work which will pay off in the long run.

The kind of practice that tends to pay off is practice that closely imitates what you will experience on the course. Do you stand in the same place and hit five or ten chip shots in a row when playing a round of golf? No, you don’t. You only get one chance at each shot when playing this game, so that’s how you should practice more often than not. Try completing a practice session where you attempt each chip shot just a single time before walking up and hitting a putt to attempt to finish your up and down. By practicing this way, you will feel like you are getting more ‘real world’ experience, and your confidence should be higher on the course.

It’s also important to remember that one poor chip on the course should not take away all the confidence you have built up in practice. Bad shots happen in golf. It’s just part of the game. If you watch professional golf on TV from time to time, you will see pros hit some bad shots along the way, and those are the best golfers in the world. No matter how much you practice, or how well you refine your technique, you are always going to hit bad chip shots (and other types of shots) on occasion. If you can accept that fact, you’ll find that it’s easier to keep your confidence up even after a bad shot or two. It’s the players who let a single bad shot eat away at their confidence that really struggle to perform well round after round. It might sound counterintuitive, but one of the best things that you can do for your game is to accept the fact that bad shots are a part of golf for everyone.

We hope the information we have provided in this article will help you get up and down from tight lies more often than ever before. It might be hard to believe at the moment, but you may actually find that you come to enjoy these kinds of shots, as there is a certain degree of control that you have from a tight lie which simply isn’t present when playing from longer grass. Remember, no progress will be made without practice, so get out there and work on your short game skills when you have a chance. Good luck!