A Lifetime Of Lessons: Lesson 2 Chip Shots

An excerpt from Marshall Smith's latest instruction book focuses on the 50-year teaching veteran's favorite tips.

A Lifetime of Lessons: Chip ShotsSome Good Advice: Brick Your Chips
The most important thing you can do to improve your chipping game is to know your distances precisely. Here’s a drill that can help. Find an area where you can pace off 30, 60 and 90 yards. Then place a small builder’s brick at each distance. Hit pitch shots at the 30-yard brick until you land one on it. You’ll get a great thrill from seeing the ball bounce way up in the air, and you should start to develop confidence and an aggressive attitude when you begin to hit such a small target with regularity. After you hit the brick from 30 yards, go for 60 then 90 yards.

Editor’s Note: Since 1997, Golf Tips has featured one of the game’s great teaching personalities, Marshall Smith. The proud Oklahoman has made his instruction home on practice ranges from coast to coast and on every level of the pro circuits. Marshall’s newest book, A Lifetime of Lessons (Triumph Books), spills forth over 50 years of teaching expertise and his unique take on the way the game is meant to be played.

A good chip-shot player is usually a good lag putter as well. That’s because he or she understands how to use the speed, slope and grain of the green to his or her advantage. You should start any short-game practice by getting a feel for the greens you’ll be playing that day. Spend a few minutes on the putting green before you move over to the pitching and chipping area. The idea is to get a feel for how the ball will behave when it’s rolling on the ground. A small investment in learning the tendencies of the greens will pay off many times over.

Know the geography. Is there a geographical feature that affects the ball consistently? In the mountains, the ball will often tend to break away along a certain ridge. On seaside courses, it will move toward the ocean. My friends on the tour always make a mental note of how the land drains and use it to their advantage.

Know the grain of the green. This is particularly important on Bermuda grass, but it’s a factor on every course. Go to the center of the putting green and roll several balls toward the fringe in each direction. See how the different putts behave, and note the effect of the grain on each one. If you ever have the opportunity to watch a PGA Tour event practice round, you’ll see the players doing exactly that on each green.

Know your set makeup. As far as shot selection is concerned, the most important thing is not to get fancy. Don’t try a highlight-film flop shot when a nice little chip would do the job just as well. Use club selection to help with this. The basic idea is to use the chip technique for any shot. If you need to hit it higher, take a sand wedge or a lob wedge. You’ll naturally get more loft without having to make major adjustments to your stroke. For more roll, opt for a less-lofted iron. Sometimes it’s easier to roll a ball up onto the green than it is to fly it onto a ledge. Work backward from your target area, and go with the shot that makes the most sense.

My Chip Shot Technique
Of all the shots in golf, chip shots are my favorite. I’ve literally spent years of my life chipping—in the backyard, with my kids, against friends at the club in friendly competitions, and alone around the practice green with the setting sun as my only companion. Chips are funny—they’re not full swings, but they’re not putts, either. They’re kind of a blend and, therefore, require a special technique. Here’s what I focus on.

I try to settle into a relaxed address position, just slightly opening my stance by pulling back my left foot. I play the ball back with my hands forward-pressed. This assures that I make a nice “pop” on the ball. Scooping need not apply when it’s time to chip.

To take away the club, I use my hands and never—ever—move my hands above my knee. The clubhead should remain low to the ground until a slight—slight—hinge of the wrists brings the club up.

Before I change direction, I ease up on my hold of the club just a bit. The sensation I want to create is that my hands lead the club back to the ball, but they don’t dominate to the point where they overtake it. The last thing you want in a chip is for the hands to get “wristy” and sling the club into the back of the golf ball. Rather, the hands should lead the club into impact just as they do in a full swing, with the shaft and left forearm properly aligned at the point of contact.


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