Hitting quality chip shots is a valuable skill in the game of golf.

Senior Chipping Strike Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

Most golfers focus on their full swings during practice, thinking that hitting as many fairways and greens as possible is the right path to lower scores. And, to be sure, hitting a lot of fairways and greens is extremely important. But what happens when you make a mistake with that full swing? No one is perfect in terms of hitting greens in regulation, so chipping is something you’ll have to do in nearly every round you play.

In this article, we are actually going to focus on one specific part of your chip shots – the strike. This is the moment when the golf club meets the golf ball, and its importance should be obvious. Getting the strike right will usually lead to a successful outcome. Make a mistake here, however, and chances are you will be looking at a long putt to save your up and down (or you might even be chipping again). There are a variety of elements that need to come together nicely during your chipping swing if you are going to hit a good shot, and we’ll get into those elements as this article unfolds.

Before we get too far, it’s important to mention that you aren’t going to improve your chipping in any meaningful way without consistent practice. That might sound obvious, but countless golfers never bother to practice their chipping at all. Many players head directly from the driving range to the putting green without thinking to stop along the way to hit some chip shots. You don’t have to spend hours on end practicing your chipping to make progress but do try to carve out at least a few minutes each time you practice.

All of the content 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.

Anatomy of a Great Chipping Strike

Anatomy of a Great Chipping Strike

Every golfer knows the feeling of striking the ball just right. It feels great when the ball comes off the club perfectly, and the result of that kind of shot is usually something to be proud of. So, the obvious goal is to achieve that kind of clean strike as often as possible – but how do you make it happen? The points below outline the anatomy of a solid strike when playing a standard chip shot.

  • Ball first. This is the starting point for any cleanly-struck golf shot. You need to deliver the face of the club to the back of the ball without letting anything (grass, specifically) get in the way. If you can hit the ball before you hit anything else, you’ll be off to a great start. This single point alone does not guarantee a good result, but it’s important to check this off before concerning yourself with other issues. Of course, striking the ball first is not only important when chipping, but when making full swings, as well.
  • Downward hit. Most golfers understand that they should be trying to hit the ball first as they swing through a chip shot. Unfortunately, some golfers don’t seem to understand that hitting down through the ball is another important part of the equation on a standard chip shot. Golf is a game of opposites, so you need to hit down if you want the ball to fly up. Many amateur players feel like they need to hit up if they want to get their chip shots off the ground, so they ‘scoop’ the ball through impact and all sorts of unwelcome outcomes are the result. Trust the loft on your club and hit down nicely through impact – as long as you make good contact, you should see the ball pop up into the air without any trouble.
  • Find the center. When chipping – or when hitting virtually any shot – the goal isn’t to simply hit the ball with the face of the club. Rather, you are trying to use the sweet spot, as in the center of the face, to strike the ball. That is where the transfer of energy will be the most efficient, and that type of strike will also lead to the most accurate shots. Fortunately, it’s easier to hit the sweet spot when chipping than it is when making a full swing, simply because the swing is so much smaller and slower. To work on improving your ability to hit the sweet spot when chipping, focus on fundamentals. Specifically, be sure to keep your head nice and still during the swing, and keep your eyes trained on the ball until it has been sent on its way. Nobody hits the sweet spot each and every time, but you should be able to make yourself rather consistent through regular practice and attention to detail.
  • Firm and flat left wrist. The last point on our list, this is certainly not one you want to overlook. At impact, it would be ideal to have your left wrist in a flat position, so it can hold firm as the club moves down through the ball and into the turf. Golfers who keep their left wrist firm at impact usually do a much better job of achieving a solid strike than those who let the wrist fold up prematurely. One nice way to work on this part of your chipping technique is to hit some one-handed chips with your left hand only. Place your right hand either in your pocket or behind your back and hit a few short chip shots with only the left hand on the club. You’ll soon find that you need to keep your left wrist firm through impact if you want to strike a solid shot. After a few one-handed shots, go back to hitting the ball with two hands on the club, but remember the feeling of a firm left wrist at impact.

If you do manage to bring together the four points listed above, you’ll almost certainly love the outcome of most of your chip shots. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s remember that learning anything in golf is hard, and it’s going to take time and effort to improve on these points. If you would like to have one area to direct your attention during your next practice session, make it the left wrist. Improving on that part of your technique will in turn make it easier to strike the ball on the sweet spot, hit down through impact, etc.

Common Mistakes

Common Mistakes

There are a lot of mistakes that you can make when trying to hit a chip shot. Sorry to strike such a negative tone, but it’s true. Chipping is certainly not impossible, but you need to steer clear of some common errors if you want to produce shots that you can be proud of on a consistent basis. In this section, we are going to talk about some of the ways a chip shot can go wrong. By confronting this topic, instead of running away from it, we hope to help you understand how you can steer clear of the common mistakes that so many golfers make.

  • Rushing the tempo. It’s hard to hit your chip shots cleanly if you rush through the swing from start to finish. And, even if you do manage to hit the ball cleanly, you’ll likely struggle to hit the ball the proper distance. While you don’t necessarily need to swing your club slowly on chip shots, you do want to keep your tempo even and under control. If it feels like you are constantly rushing on these shots, you will always have trouble producing quality results. One of the tricky issues here is that you may be able to chip with a nice tempo in practice, only to find yourself rushing when you get nervous on the course. As you are preparing to hit chip shots on the course, take a deep breath and focus on your target for the shot. Try to block out any distractions and remind yourself that there is no need to hurry through the swing. It won’t be easy, but you should gradually get better at maintaining your tempo even in nerve-wracking conditions.
  • Too much right hand. For a right-handed golfer, the right hand can be the cause of many issues during chip shots. Specifically, if you allow your right hand to get too involved during the forward motion of the swing, you’ll wind up dealing with all sorts of negative results. Forcing the club forward with the right hand is likely to lift the club up away from the turf, potentially causing you to hit the ball thin. And, on those shots where you keep the club head low enough to strike the shot cleanly, you will still have trouble controlling your distance because of the extra speed the right hand has injected into the process. In the previous section, we mentioned that you can practice hitting chip shots with just your left hand. That’s good advice here, as well, if you need help taking your right hand out of the shot. Use just your left to practice for a few shots before hitting a few more with both hands. Eventually, you’ll realize that the right hand should be mostly passive when hitting a basic chip shot, and your results will improve tremendously.
  • Ignoring the lie. In the next section of this article, we are going to talk specifically about the role that the lie of the ball plays when chipping. For now, it’s enough to say that you can’t afford to make the mistake of ignoring the lie you happen to draw. Sometimes, you’ll get a great lie on the fairway cut – while on other occasions, you’ll barely be able to see the ball it will be so deep in the grass. If you try to chip the ball the same way each time regardless of your lie, you’ll be in for some struggles. Respecting the lie in golf, when chipping and when hitting any other kind of shot, is an important lesson to learn.
  • Moving the eyes early. It is tremendously tempting to look up early when you are chipping. You aren’t going to be standing very far away from the hole, of course, so it will only take a quick peek to see if your ball is headed in the right direction. There is nothing wrong with taking that peek after the ball has left the club, but you need to be careful to avoid looking up before you actually make contact. If you move your eyes early, it’s possible that the swing of the club will be affected, and you won’t wind up making great contact as a result. To give yourself a bit of ‘insurance’ on this matter, make it a habit to keep your eyes down for a moment or two after the ball has been sent on its way. Looking up to see where it is going isn’t going to change the outcome of the shot anyway, so keep your eyes down and focus on making the best possible contact with the ball. It will take some discipline to get into this habit, but you should become a better chipper in the long run as a result.

If you can manage to steer clear of the common mistakes listed above, you’ll be on the right path to consistently getting the ball up and down from around the greens. Even without getting out to practice, you can probably already determine which of those mistakes are issues for you on the links. Take aim and eliminating those problems one at a time until you are happy with your chipping performance.

The Role of the Lie

The Role of the Lie

It is now time to turn our attention to the role that the lie of the ball plays in how you can strike your chip shots. The way the ball sits in the grass is always going to influence the type of shot you can hit, whether you are right next to the green or a couple of hundred yards away. Golfers who learn how to read their lies properly will always have an advantage over those who ignore this variable.

Let’s take a look at some points which you should keep in mind as you practice reading lies and executing solid chip shots.

  • Fairway lie = no worries. If your ball comes to rest on fairway-length grass with nothing around the ball to worry about, you can hit basically any type of chip shot you like. With a good lie, you won’t be limited in your options and you will be able to make your decisions based on the path you need to take to the hole and your own personal preferences. For instance, some golfers like to hit high chip shots while others prefer to keep the ball down along the ground. When the lie is good, either one of these options will work – so the choice is yours. One thing to keep in mind here is that you need to decide on a specific type of shot before actually making your swing. Knowing that you have a good lie, it would be easy to take the shot for granted and approach the ball without much of a plan. Every shot you hit needs a plan, even if it seems like an easy shot.
  • Limited control in the rough. When playing a course with medium to long rough, you will find that you lose a measure of control over the ball when chipping out of that rough. The reason is simple – some of that long grass is going to be trapped between the clubface and the ball at impact. The quality of contact you are able to achieve will be diminished, and you won’t get much backspin on the shot. In the end, it will be hard to control the speed of the shot because you are likely to get quite a bit of roll out after the chip lands on the green. The best thing you can do here, of course, is to keep your ball out of the rough. Once in the rough, however, try using a high-lofted club and open the face a bit for even more loft. Lobbing the ball gently out of the rough may give you a bit more control over the shot, although these kinds of chips will always be a challenge.
  • Slope is important. Just as you need to read the lie in terms of what the grass looks like around the ball, you also need to judge the slope of the ground under the ball before you hit the shot. If the ball is resting on an upslope, the chip shot will come out high and probably stop quicker than it would otherwise. The opposite will be true on a downslope. During practice, try to hit shots from a variety of lies so you can get used to how the ball is going to react depending on the slope in question.

There is no substitute for repetition when trying to learn how to read lies in this game. The more shots you hit, the better you will get at judging how the ball is going to react when coming off the club. This is why dedicating some of your practice time to chipping is so important. Hitting 20 or 30 chip shots doesn’t really take very long in practice and doing so consistently can provide you with a great education in this part of the game.

Controlling the Outcome

Controlling the Outcome

It’s one thing to strike your chip shots cleanly – it’s another thing entirely to chip the ball close to the hole. And, of course, the ultimate goal here is to chip the ball up close to the hole to setup an easy putt (or chip it in and avoid the putt altogether). So, how do you translate solid contact into good results? We hope this last list of tips will be of assistance.

  • Pick a landing spot. One of the best habits you can develop in your short game is picking a landing spot for each of your chip shots. It’s obvious that you want the ball to finish close to the hole – but where do you want it to land? Each chip shot has two phases, one that happens in the air and another that happens along the ground. By picking a landing spot, you are breaking up your chip into those two segments and simplifying the process. Once your landing spot is selected, you can forget about everything else and focus solely on hitting that spot with the ball.
  • The moisture factor. When the grass is wet – either from rain or just morning dew – the spin you put on the ball is not going to have as much effect as it would on dry conditions. In other words, your chip shots are likely to skip farther after they land, since the spin on the ball won’t be able to ‘bite’ into the green and stop the shot.
  • Green speeds. Thinking about the speed of the greens is not something that is restricted to putting. When chipping, you need to take this variable into account when picking out your landing spot. Quick greens are going to require you to leave more room between your landing spot and the hole for the ball to roll out. On slow greens, you should be able to carry the ball farther up toward the target. If possible, hit some practice chips before you start your round to get a feel for how the ball will be rolling out on that particular day.

Believe it or not, chipping can be one of the most satisfying skills to develop in this game. As you start to make some progress and pick up confidence in your chipping, you will notice that missing a green no longer causes the same stress that it did previously. Now, you’ll feel like you can chip the ball up close and save your par more often than not. Good luck!