How to get Better at Chipping in Golf
Want to Lower Your Scores? Improve Your Chipping
This article was written for golfers who carry a mid- to high-handicap index and who are struggling to break into the next lower tier of scoring. In other words, it is targeted at 100+ shooters who would like to shoot in the 90’s, and 90’s shooters who want to shoot in the 80’s.
Two things should be stated at the outset.
First, you’re in good company. This subset of players happens to comprise most golfers, so you shouldn’t feel that your swing and scoring issues are unique. In fact, most golfers in the world have the very same issues that you have.
Second, and more important, is that these golfers usually don’t know specifically how they can knock strokes off their scorecard, thinking erroneously that the only way to lower scores is to somehow produce more birdies in each round. For golfers with this frame of mind, I would suggest that a different mindset is needed. Thinking that more birdies are needed in each round can lead to misguided decisions on the golf course and added pressure, the result of which will usually be higher scores, not the lower ones you’re seeking.
For this level of golfers, a better way of thinking about how to lower your scores is to focus NOT on trying to produce more birdies, but rather to focus on producing fewer bogeys, double bogeys (and “others”) that are now adding unnecessary, wasted strokes to your score. It’s a subtle, but crucial, shift in your mental approach to the game that will help to reduce all of those added strokes.
OK, I’m all in. But how can I make fewer bogeys and double bogeys?
For players at this level, there are often several areas of their game that are contributing to all their wasted strokes and higher scores. But there is one area in particular that stands out as “low hanging fruit,” a place where relatively simple improvements in technique can produce significantly better results: get better at chipping and watch your scores go down.
Why better chipping can have such a big impact on scoring
To appreciate why chipping is so important in reducing strokes, there is an important short game concept that needs to be understood. It is called getting “up and down.” What does getting up and down mean?
Getting up and down is a term that comes into play on occasions when a player misses the green on his approach shot but is still able to put the ball into the hole in just 2 strokes from anywhere their ball is lying around the green. The first shot from off the green puts the ball “up” onto the green, and the following putt puts the ball “down” into the hole. When a player accomplishes this in just 2 strokes, they are said to have gotten “up and down.”
The importance of this concept in improving your scoring should be clear. When you don’t reach the putting surface in regulation, and you find yourself near, but not on, the green, it’s critical that you are able to then get “up and down” as often as possible. This will give you the opportunity to save strokes by eliminating the dreaded 3-putts that afflict so many higher-handicappers. This usually requires that your chipping is good enough to put you in relatively close proximity to the hole so that the odds of sinking your next shot (your first putt) are greatly improved.
The basics of proper chipping technique
OK, now that we’re in agreement that better chipping can lower your scores, let’s look at the fundamentals of the basic chipping motion. We’ll briefly discuss the proper address position, the backswing, the downswing and the position at impact, and post-impact/follow-through.
- Unlike in your full swing address position, you should stand fairly close to the ball, with a narrow stance. There should only be about 4-6 inches (10-15cm) between your feet. Then open both toes slightly, about 20 degrees toward the target. A stance that is too wide will restrict the natural (although small) body rotation that is needed for successful chipping.
- Put approximately 60% of your weight on your front foot. The proper technique for chipping requires a slight descending angle of attack into the ball and having your weight distribution favoring your front foot will make that descending angle of attack easier to execute.
- The ball position should be in the center or just slightly back-of-center in your stance. Position your hands slightly in front of the ball so that there is a slight forward shaft lean. Along with having your weight favor the front side, this ball position will also make it easier to hit slightly down on the ball.
- Finally, gripping down an inch or two will provide better control in the stroke.
- The proper chipping backswing calls for the hips to remain relatively fixed in place (no rotation of the hips away from the target), but it does require an athletic motion that allows the upper body to turn slightly, with a minor hinging of the wrists. Staying too rigid can lead to the hands becoming too active in the swing, which is the single most common chipping flaw among amateur golfers.
- A steady head position is vital to good chipping. Make sure during the backswing, even though there is some small amount of upper body turn, that your head doesn’t move.
- The length of the backswing is determined by the length of the chip. For a very short chip, the backswing should likewise be relatively short. For a longer chip, the backswing should be proportionately longer. A short backswing for a long chip will result in a choppy, stabbing swing and it will be hard to have good distance control. Similarly, a too-long backswing for a short chip will likely result in deceleration of the club into impact.
- As you begin the downswing, your body and chest should start to rotate back toward the target.
- Make sure to maintain your posture angles (no dipping down or standing up). This will help to ensure an all-important center strike on the clubface and will keep the low-point of the swing arc where it should be.
- As at address, your clubhead should return to the ball with a slightly forward-leaning shaft and with a downward angle of attack. This is not to suggest that you should take a divot with a chip (never a good idea), but it should be a descending blow.
- Make sure to maintain your flat leading wrist all the way through impact into the follow-through. Flipping the wrists as you make contact with the ball can result in poor contact, hitting behind the ball (fat), blading the ball (thin), and poor control of distances.
- As your club head begins its approach to the ball and all the way into your post-impact position, your body should rotate gradually toward the target. Staying too rigid by restricting this natural, athletic move will cause an improper increase in the role of the right hand (which we’ve already described as being counter-productive).
- The position of the left arm in the post impact position should mirror its position at address. That is, it should form an almost straight line from the arm through the golf shaft.
- You’ll also notice in the photo that the left wrist has maintained its relatively firm, flat orientation and hasn’t “cupped.” A cupping of the wrist at this point would indicate that the wrists have improperly flipped through impact.
Keep this thought in mind: Anyone can become a good chipper. Whether you’re a man or a woman, whether you’re big or small, or whether you’re young or old, you can excel at this all-important aspect of the game. Chipping isn’t a stroke that requires any special skills and stronger golfers have no advantage over weaker ones. Knowing the proper technique and regularly spending some of your practice time working on it can transform your chipping from a liability to a strength. And before long, you’ll be happily posting lower scores.
- Bill Sullivan