Old School The best way to chip the golf ball isn't the way you might have been taught. In fact, chipping is arguably the most misunderstood aspect of scoring, mainly because there are countless ways to get the job done. Many golfers tend to follow a series of mechanics that have been taught through the years, starting with an extreme forward press of the hands (see photo above). If you do this, not only do you run the risk of stubbing the wedge into the turf, but it also makes solid contact harder to achieve.
Another misconception about proper chipping is laying the wedge flat on the ground with the sole on the ground. This too maximizes friction through the shot, again causing all sorts of possible in-consistencies through the shot.
New School The right way to chip is, in my opinion, also the easiest. Start by addressing the ball in a more neutral position, with the shaft still leaning toward the target, albeit less than before. A good rule of thumb is to address the hands slightly in front of the ball. As for proper ball position, play the ball in the back center of your stance.
By addressing the ball in a more neutral state, you're allowing for a more natural, less-forced motion through the shot. To take it even further, consider how the clubhead rests on the ground. The trick is to avoid as much surface-area con-tact through the shot as possible. Lifting the heel slightly off the ground will help the wedge to glide through the shot with less chance of grass or debris getting in the way of the shot.
Distance Check How far you stand from the golf ball also makes a big difference in your ability to hit good pitch and chip shots. And, like putting, getting the right direction is best attained by situating your eyes just inside the golf ball. This will help you better see the direction in which you want the ball to go, as well as help improve your posture so it becomes easier to rotate the club back and through the shot. Also, if you're going to err one way or the other, err with the ball too far from rather than too close to you. If you get too close, you can't swing freely through the ball.Get Your Wedges Fitted Wedge fitting is just as important as any other club in the bag. Reason being, the average player hits numerous shots in a given round with his or her wedges, and having a proper fit can make a huge difference in how well they perform. The first place to look is in the wedge's loft. Typically, players use wedges with anywhere between 56 and 60 degrees of loft. The key isn't so much in exact lofts, but in separating your wedges by no more than three or four degrees. Start by checking the loft of your pitching wedge, and move up from there in loft increments of three or four degrees. This may mean adding a 52- or 54-degree gap wedge to your arsenal of wedges (the other two being a 56-degree and a 60-degree wedge). Second, check the bounce angles. If you like to pick it and avoid hitting it fat, stick with higher bounce angles. If you want more shotmaking capabilities, try lower-bounce models. And finally, make sure the length and lie angle of your wedges are right for your swing. If your wedges are too upright or flat, you'll have a harder time being consistent.
Closed Face Another misconception about good chipping is the one about keeping the clubface facing the target as much as possible. At impact, yes, you obviously do want the clubface facing the target. But on the backswing, a closed clubface will only lead to awkward positions at impact. From this position, I'll have to excessively rotate my body to make up for a clubface that's already too closed at impact, i.e., I'll pull it.
Another problem with this position is the stress it puts on my hands. Because the clubface is closed, I can't fully rotate the hands. If I try, I'll end up hitting down too steeply onto the golf ball. Which as you might guess, makes it impossible to hit consistent chip shots. A fat, stubbed or thinned shot is just a matter of time.
Square Face A square face and open face are not exactly the same thing. By square, what I'm referring to is keeping the clubface square to the upper body, not the target. So, when you swing the club back, by allowing the clubface to rotate open relative to the target, the clubface is actually staying square in relation to the upper body. As you swing through on the forwardswing, the clubface is in the process of closing relative to the target line, but again, remains square relative to the upper body.
Experiment with a couple waist-high practice swings. As you rotate back and through, keep the clubface angle square to your body. As you do so, you'll see the clubface open and close relative to the target line.
If you stay square, you'll not only hit straighter shots, but also find it's easier to correct bad alignment in a hurry.
Rotate The Body You can't hit good pitches and chips by trying to push the ball toward the hole! Let your body rotate, just as it does with any regular swing. The biggest difference isn't so much that the swing is smaller; rather with delicate pitches and chips, your body weight ought not to shift laterally as much it does with a full swing. Instead, allow your body to rotate; just be sure to keep excess weight shift to a minimum. Stay centered over the ball from start to finish.
Groove Concerns The pros say they've noticed a difference, but what about the rest of us? In 2011, equipment companies will stop manufacturing wedges that have pre-2010 rulings on groove-edge sharpness. You can still use your wedges from 2010 and earlier for a few more years (depending on your circumstances), but if you do make a switch, the area in which you'll see the biggest difference will be in the rough. The pros seem to agree that their shots from the rough don't check up as much as they used to, while shots from the fairway still have plenty of bite. As for how much the grooves will affect amateurs, only time will tell.
More Contact At the moment of truth when hitting shorter shots, how you come into contact with the ground is more critical than it is with full iron shots. With full iron shots, you take divots on the target side of the ball. With chips, instead of taking divots, you actually glide across the turf. Plus you swing a lot slower, and how you make contact with the green stuff then is even more important. In the case of the photo to the left, it looks as though I've hit a decent shot, but notice how low into the grass the leading edge of the wedge is. I actually stubbed this shot, and both the ballflight and spin rate of my ball were lower than I had wanted.
Less Contact With less friction comes less deceleration through the shot. Not only does this help add a little more backspin, but avoiding too much surface contact also prevents me from opening or closing the clubface at impact, two things that send the ball off the intended line.
If you have a depressed lie, then more surface contact is necessary to hit the ball. With ordinary lies, brush across the top of the grass and let the wedge's grooves and lofts do the work for you in getting the ball up and airborne.Release It There really aren't many shots in golf where you don't want to release the hands. The same holds true for short shots. By allowing the hands to release through the shot and letting the clubhead turn through, you're more inclined to make a natural, free-flowing swing in and through the golf ball. Stay relaxed! Freeze It If you freeze your followthrough, you're not only more prone to chunking or skulling your chips, you actually increase your chance of shanking the ball off the hosel. It also means you're keeping your hands too firm, which restricts your swing altogether. The only time you can get away with this type of shot is when the ball is embedded and you have to dig.
If i had selected the right wedge, then maybe I wouldn't have totally whiffed this shot! Many amateurs think that the closer they get to the hole, the higher-lofted wedge they ought to use. Well, this case proves that theory wrong. I'm actually on a downhill/sidehill just off the green. I played the shot correctly, with my shoulders aligned to the slope and the ball in the right position. Heck, I even made a good swing. The problem? My 60-degree had too much loft, and I slid right underneath the golf ball.Play The Right One Choose the right club for every shot, and don't be afraid to mix it up and get comfortable hitting shots around the green with all your wedges. This way, you can make the same swing with each wedge and let the differences in lie, length and loft do the work for you. Choose Wisely Downhill lies are brutal with higher-lofted wedges. In the case of my whiffed shot above, I should have hit a lowered-lofted wedge to avoid slipping underneath the ball. And by the way, make sure you always assess the lie before you select your club, and not the other way around.
Hold The Face Open To Lob It A good lob shot means hitting through the golf ball with an open face so the ball flies up and stops in a hurry. To hit this shot, you have to be able to go against conventional wisdom and make a swing while holding the clubface open as long as possible through the shot. To do this, you have to master the art of swinging outside-in–that is, from outside the target line to back inside the target line on the forwardswing. If you can master that, holding the face open will be a lot easier to do.
Activate The Lower Body Although much has been said about how the upper body should perform, it's just as important to know how the lower body should work during the swing. My advice? Let the lower body get active in the swing. Don't restrict your motion. That isn't the same as adding excessive lower-body motion; rather, as your body rotates, so too does your lower body. With the pitch shot I'm hitting here, notice how my right knee is rotated in through the shot, and my hips are opened as I finish the swing. For chip shots, you'll rotate less, but the point is to allow your lower body the necessary motion to make sure the clubhead is square to your upper body and you can swing freely without any forced restrictions. Do that and you'll see how being comfortable over your short shots is key to helping you hit better shots from around the green.Grip Control Grip thickness can play a huge role in how well you execute your golf shots, and with your wedge shots, it can help you fine-tune your shotmaking ability. If you struggle with too much hand action, i.e, you flip your chips, try using thicker or fatter grips on your wedges. If you need more action, go with skinnier models. Either way, choosing the right grip diameter for your swing and for your tendencies is among the simplest ways to make a quick fix.
Execute Effectively You may know how to play a variety of golf shots, but knowing when to play what is just as important. And in case you were wondering, the way Phil Mickelson hits high and short lob shots probably isn't the way you should do it. In other words, this means playing lower shots whenever possible. Why? Simple–lower shots have forward momentum and are more likely to reach the hole than a high, finesse shot is. With a lower shot, you need to factor distance and direction, whereas, a higher shot requires you to assess trajectory, spin, distance and direction. So when you can, hit the lower shot and use the contours of the course to your advantage. You'll save par more often.
n Brady Riggs, PGA, is one of the most sought-after instructors in Southern California. To learn more, or to book a golf lesson, visit bradyriggs.com.
Photo location: TPC of Valencia. For information, visit tpcvalencia.com.