Hitting your chip shots on the proper line is a pretty easy task.

Senior Chipping Distance Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro

After all, you aren’t standing very far away from the target when chipping, so getting the ball on line is something that most players can handle. Unless the chip shot you are facing features a dramatic slope from one side to the other, you are unlikely to miss the line by more than a couple of feet.

That being the case, why do so many amateur golfers struggle with their chipping? The answer is simple – distance control. You need to control the distance of your chip shots for them to be successful and doing so is something that gives most players fits. Whether you tend to come up short or send the ball racing past the target, getting the distance wrong means you will be facing a long putt for your next shot – or even another chip. If you would like to make meaningful progress with your chipping game, learning to control distance properly is essential.

In this article, we are going to provide some tips which we hope will point you in the right direction on this part of your game. There is obviously no substitute for practice when trying to improve your chipping performance, but our hope is to speed up your progress during practice by giving you some simple, practical advice. Take a few moments to read through this article and pick out the pieces of advice that you think will apply most directly to your game.

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.

Factors Influencing Distance

Factors Influencing Distance

What is it that determines how far a particular chip shot is going to travel? In this section, we are going to sort through the various factors that can influence the distance of your chip shots. Before we get started, it is important to understand that there are two parts to each chip shot – the part when the ball is flying through the air, and the part where it is bouncing and rolling along the ground. To successfully manage your distance control on a chip shot, you need to deal with both parts properly. Moving forward, we’ll refer to the first part of the chip shot as the ‘carry’, and the second part as the ‘roll’ (it’s technically bounce and roll, but you’ll know what we mean).

The points listed below are the key elements that determine the distance any chip shot ultimately travels before coming to rest.

  • The speed of the strike. This is a big one, of course. The speed with which you move the club through the ball is going to go a long way toward determining how far you hit the shot. This is the same as it is anywhere else on the course – make a faster swing, and you can expect the ball to go farther. However, it’s trickier to manage your swing speed when chipping than when making a full swing, since you aren’t using all of your available power. You are only swinging the club at a fraction of the speed that you are capable of producing, so you need to do a good job of predicting how hard you need to swing based on the specifics of the shot. It’s relatively easy to control your distance on a full swing shot, as long as you make good contact, because you aren’t trying to hold back any power. When chipping, you may only be trying to hit the ball a few yards in the air, meaning it’s essential to have good touch and feel for the club as it swings.
  • The quality of the strike. The speed of the club as it moves through impact is a big piece of the puzzle, but you need to combine that with a quality strike in order to predict your distance properly. If you strike the ball poorly at impact, it’s possible to ruin the shot – even if you had been swinging at the right speed. Shots hit high on the face, or on the toe or heel, will usually come up short of the hole. However, shots struck low on the face – often called ‘thin’ or ‘bladed’ shots – will usually race past the target and maybe even off the green on the other side.
  • The lie of the ball in the grass. You will encounter a wide variety of lies for your chip shots as you gain experience in this game. If you are already an experienced player, you know that one of the big challenges when chipping is dealing with the many different kinds of lies you will face. When the ball is sitting cleanly on short grass, you should have a much easier time predicting distance than when it is sitting down in the rough. Shots played from the rough typically have little spin, so they will often roll out much farther than those played from a fairway lie. In terms of reading your chipping lies before playing each shot, experience is your best friend. Try to practice frequently from various lies so you can get used to how the ball is going to react.
  • The firmness of the green. Sometimes, you’ll play a round of golf on a course where the greens are quite firm, as is usually the case in the middle of the summer. On such a course, the ball is going to take a big first bounce most of the time, meaning you’ll have to account for that bounce when planning your chip shots. On the other hand, you will occasionally encounter a course where the greens are soft, as can be true during the rainy season. On those days, the first bounce after you hit a chip shot may be rather soft and short, and you’ll be able to fly your shot up close to the hole as a result. Getting a feel for the firmness of the greens before you start your round is one of the most important things you can do to be prepared for the day.
  • The speed of the green. Finally, the speed of the putting surface is going to play an important role in managing the distance of your chip shots. Remember, there is going to be a roll phase to your chip shot, meaning the speed of the green is going to in part determine how far the ball goes before coming to a rest. You should already be spending part of your warmup time getting comfortable with the speed of the greens for putting purposes, so that work will benefit you with regard to chipping, as well.

Believe it or not, this is not an exhaustive list of the things that will impact how far your chip shots travel. Yes, we have five points listed above, but there are even more to keep in mind that you will learn along the way. Things like any moisture that may be on the greens, the wind (yes, a strong wind can impact a chip shot), and more can come into play. As is always the case in golf, experience simply can’t be replaced when it comes to learning how to account for the variables involved in a chip shot. Make it a point to practice regularly so you can accrue as much experience as possible.

Common Distance Control Mistakes

Common Distance Control Mistakes

It’s helpful when trying to improve in golf to look at common mistakes players tend to make. You may make some of the mistakes listed below, or you might have your own problems to deal with. Either way, understanding where chip shots frequently go wrong is a great way to avoid falling into the same traps. Specifically, the errors we have listed below relate to getting the distance wrong on a chip shot.

  • Failing to identify a landing spot. This is crucial, and we will highlight this point again later in the article. When hitting any chip shot, it is important to pick out a landing spot that you will use as your target. The landing spot is not where you want the ball to finish, but rather where you want the ball to land (as the name would suggest). So, in picking your landing spot, you are giving yourself what amounts to an intermediate target for the shot. You’ll do your best to land the ball on the spot you’ve chosen, with the expectation that it will then bounce and roll nicely up to the hole. Unfortunately, many golfers skip this step entirely. They choose to just look at the hole and swing away, hoping for the best. Obviously, that failure to plan is going to be costly in the end. Getting into the habit of picking a landing spot for each of your chip shots is one of the best ways to improve your outcomes.
  • Ignoring the lie of the ball. This is a mistake that is not only made by golfers when chipping, but when playing a variety of different kinds of shots. Unless you are playing from the tee, where you should have a perfect lie every time, you’ll need to be sure to account for the lie of the ball in the planning of your shot. When chipping, that means figuring out how well the ball is going to come out of the grass, and also how much spin is going to be on the ball. If you can read your lie correctly, you’ll be able to accurately predict how the ball is going to react when struck, meaning you should be able to get closer to the hole in the end.
  • Decelerating prior to impact. If you allow the club to slow down before you actually contact the ball, it’s likely that you will come up short of your target. This is a common mistake for amateur golfers to make, and you’ll even see professionals make this same mistake from time to time when under pressure. Hitting good chip shots requires full commitment from start to finish – in other words, you need to believe in yourself and believe in the shot you are planning to hit. If you let the doubts get the better of you, your club will slow down before you strike the ball and the shot will come up short.
  • Using the wrong club. Sometimes, making a mistake with your distance comes down to nothing more than selecting the wrong club for the shot. For instance, if you only have a little bit of green to work with on a given chip, you’ll likely want to use your most-lofted club, in order to stop the ball relatively quickly after it lands. Should you decide to use something with less loft – like a nine iron or pitching wedge – the ball is likely to run out too far (unless the greens are soft and slow). One of the skills you need to practice when working on your short game is selecting the right club for the shot at hand. Knowing how to chip with at least a few different clubs will pay off in a big way when on the course.

Most likely, you recognize at least one or two of the mistakes we have listed above. Maybe, you can think back to a time when all four of these mistakes were giving you trouble in the short game – or maybe that is still the case. By knowing how chip shots can go wrong from a distance perspective, we hope you’ll be able to get down to work on making the necessary corrections.

Planning for Success

Planning for Success

Every golf shot needs a plan. You always want to plan out the basic elements of your next shot before you make a swing, as having a clear plan in mind is going to make you more likely to be successful. Also, in the process of planning a shot, you might realize that going with a certain club would be a mistake, or that you need to aim in a certain direction to stay out of trouble.

Unfortunately, some golfers fail to plan their chip shots, thinking it is good enough to just aim at the hole and hit the ball. You might be surprised to learn that many chip shots actually require more planning than shots where you will be making a full swing. If you aren’t already in the habit of planning your chip shots, the list of tips below should help you get started.

  • The lie is first. We already mentioned the importance of reading the lie of the golf ball when chipping, and that is where you should start when making a plan. Everything else you decide about your shot is going to be dictated by the lie of the ball. For instance, as you walk up to the ball, you might be looking at the green and thinking that a low chip with plenty of spin would be the perfect shot for the situation. That’s great – but it’s only possible if you have the right lie. If the ball is sitting down in the grass, you won’t get the spin needed to pull off such a shot. On the other hand, you might find a situation where you’d like to play a soft lob shot that lands on the green gently and doesn’t bounce or roll far after it comes down. Such a shot is possible when you have a ‘fluffy’ like with a bit of grass under the ball, but it pretty tough from a bare and firm lie. There are countless potential examples here, but they all come back to the same thing – you need to respect the lie and let it dictate what kinds of shots are possible.
  • The club is next. With the lie evaluated, you should now have a pretty good idea of what type of shot you want to hit. As a result, you should also have a pretty easy time deciding what club you are going to use for the shot. If you want to loft the ball high in the air, you’ll use either your sand wedge or lob wedge for the job. Want to play it along the ground? A lower-lofted club will be in order. It’s important to be decisive at this point in the process – choose your club with confidence and don’t look back. If you are standing over the ball wondering if you have the right club in your hands, you are setting yourself up for failure.
  • Finally, the landing spot. As the last step in this process, you are going to pick out the landing spot that you will use to guide your swing. Since you know what kind of lie you have, and what club you are going to use, picking a landing spot at this point should be pretty simple. Of course, you’ll need to keep some other pieces of information in mind as you select the landing spot, such as the speed and firmness of the greens.

It might seem like going through the steps above would take a long time, but you will get comfortable enough with the process to handle it easily in just a matter of moments. As with anything else in golf, doing a good job of working on this routine in practice will make it easier to use successfully during your rounds.

Helpful Practice Drills

Helpful Practice Drills

To wrap up our article, we’d like to offer two ideas for practice drills you can use to work on your distance control. These drills are quite simple, but they should help you advance your skills quickly.

  • Hit the towel. For this drill, you are going to need a place to practice your chip shots, a wedge, a few golf balls, and a small towel. The idea is to take the towel and lay it out on the ground where you would like to land your shots. Then, simply hit a few chip shots and try to land as many of them as possible on the towel. Using the towel will not only give you a way to judge your success, but it will also give you a visual aid as you get ready to hit each shot. While this is a helpful drill, don’t pay too much attention to what happens to your shots after they land on the towel – the bounce and roll will be affected when the ball hits the towel instead of the grass.
  • Three clubs, one distance. Ideally, you will have plenty of variety in your short game, having the confidence to reach for various clubs depending on the situation you face. With this drill, you are going to work on your flexibility by using three different clubs to hit the ball the same distance. Pick out a hole on the practice chipping green to use as your target and set three balls down on the grass in front of you. Then, select three clubs that you usually use for chipping, such as a pitching wedge, sand wedge, and lob wedge. Using the lowest-lofted club first, play the chip shot to the best of your ability. Then, move up to the next club, and finally the last club to finish this quick drill. If you’ve managed to adjust your landing spot properly, and you’ve made good swings, each of the three balls should be relatively close to the hole.

Controlling the distance of your chip shots is an important skill, and one you should strive to improve as you work toward lower scores. With the ability to consistently chip and pitch the ball the right distance, getting up and down will suddenly seem much easier than ever before. Of course, you’ll still need to knock in your putts to finish the job, so make sure to give your putting technique some practice attention, as well. Good luck!