Missing greens is pretty much the norm for average golfers. In fact, statistical studies over many years prove that higher handicappers miss almost 16 greens each round, and the majority of those misses are short of the green (a topic for another instructional piece). That’s an overwhelming statistic. But it also reveals what area of your game you can improve the most, almost instantly, that will improve your scores without hitting any more greens than normal.
In other words, the chip shot is arguably the most important shot any golfer should master.
Exactly what is a chip shot? The simple definition is a shot that has more “roll time” than “air time.” The ball is hit with a lower trajectory, lands on the green and rolls itself to the hole utilizing as much of the green as possible.
When do you use a chip shot? Any time you miss the green, as well as when you are in trouble from an errant tee shot. The chip shot is your friend anytime you’re looking to hit a more controlled shot.
How do you hit a great chip shot?
Club Selection — You can use any club in your bag after determining the amount of distance the ball needs to travel in the air versus the amount of green you have to work with to roll the ball as much possible. A simple rule to remember is the more loft, the less roll.
Aim – When aiming, there are two obvious targets you must hit to execute a great chip shot:
Intermediate Target on Green — Where you want the ball to land. It’s a spot on the green that allows for the ball to release properly and roll to the hole. To avoid the ball from landing inconsistently, pick a spot approximately three to five feet on the green. Hint: As you make practice swings, look at that spot, imagining the ball landing there and releasing to the hole. Doing so makes it easier for your eyes and brain to calculate the size of your swing.
The Hole (Bull’s Eye) – Very much like throwing a dart to the bull’s eye of a dart board, I believe you should execute chips from around the green with the sole purpose of making the shot. Too often the chip shot is taught to come to rest within three to six feet of the hole. Under a pressure situation, most of thee chips come up well short or well past your imaginary six-foot circle. Too many studies prove taking dead aim at a target reduces the size variance of missed attempts at a target. In other words, when you take dead aim, balls that don’t go in the hole end up closer to the hole. Hint: Using the intermediate target as the point where the ball rolls to the hole, continue to make practice swings looking at the spot where you want the ball to land, while imagining the ball rolling from that spot to the hole, and entering the hole. Hold your follow through position with this image in mind — it will give your eyes and brain the information they need to execute the proper length stroke for the shot at hand.
Set-Up – Four simple yet widely overlooked set-up positions will guarantee you hit a better chip shot every time:
Place your Feet slightly “open” to your intended target, not pointing at the target.
The ball should be slightly behind the middle of your stance.
Your weight should be slightly into your forward hip (approximately 60-80 percent depending upon conditions).
Your hands should be low on the grip/handle of the club.
How to swing the club to hit a great chip? The chip shot swing motion is very easy to execute. It’s a smaller than normal swing that has little to no wrist hinge, made mainly from your shoulders and arms, with your lower body solid as you make your back swing, and moving slightly forward as you finish the swing.
A few pointers to properly make a great chip shot swing:
Backswing – Maintain a “triangle” between your shoulders, arms, and hands as you make your backswing. Use your front shoulder to push the club back to a position where your wrists barely want to hinge.
Downswing – Maintain your triangle as you start the down swing with your hips turning towards your target. As you do this, the back of your top hand will stay ahead of the club head itself and face the target as you swing through the shot.
Throughswing – Keep your triangle intact as your hips slightly release some weight from your front side as your arms release the club through the shot.
Drills You can Use to Improve Your Chip Shots
The most common flaws of the average golfer when executing a Chip Shot are:
• Setting up incorrectly to the ball
• Trying to “lift” the ball in the air
• Failing to land the ball at or near their intended target.
The following drills address those issues. You can do them in your own backyard.
Shaft Extension Drill
In the photos above, you can see how the upper body forms a triangle throughout the swing. You can use the shaft extension drill to feel a great impact position for a chip shot, or for that matter, any short game shot. This drill will assist you with understanding the relationship between your club face and the ball at impact, to the position various body parts should achieve at the moment of impact.
Execution: Place an alignment stick in your hands as you hold the golf club. The stick should extend underneath the front arm. Make practice swings with the club and stick so the stick does not hit your side when you finish. Doing so will force your front hand from breaking down too soon, like it does if you are trying to scoop or lift the ball when you are making your swing.
Back Toe In Ground Drill
Use this drill to feel the proper weight distribution in your set up, or you are trying to scoop the ball. Set up normally to your chip shot. Before hitting the ball, remove enough weight from your back foot so it can be pointed, toe first, into the ground.
Hit balls from this position to feel:
• A more descending shot into the ball, versus the hands attempting to use the club to “scoop” the ball into the air.
• When you are attempting to understand that you do not need to shift your weight backwards with your backswing.
• Or when you are attempting to better understand a proper weight shift forward as you finish a chip shot swing.
Use this drill if you want to aim to a spot on the green where you want the ball to land and release to the hole.
Place a towel on the green where you intend for your Chip Shot to land on the green. Placement of the towel should be about 3-5 feet from the edge of the green.
Hit balls to the towel with a club that will allow the ball to fly to the towel but roll to the hole from that point.
Circle Around the Hole Drill
Use this drill if you determine how big your “comfort circle” is when trying to make every chip shot, and to make that circle smaller as you become a better chip shot artist. This circle is not about hitting the ball inside a predetermined distance of the hole. It is all about determining where 60-70% of your current missed chip shots come to rest and making the necessary adjustments to leave 90-95% of the chip shots not made within one to two feet from the hole.
Put it All Together
Hit 10 chip shots with the intent of making all of them. After completing the 10 shots, go to the hole and look at where the missed shots come to rest.
Any shots short are a sign you are a passive player with little or no opportunity to make this shot. Any ball short of the hole has ZERO chance of going in. Gradually learn to be more aggressive with your pre-shot routine; look at your targets and be willing to have the majority if not all of your misses end up beyond the hole.
Any shots pin high, left or right of the hole, are good shots. Be more precise with your aim, adjusting set-up or your intermediate target, and you’ll get closer to the hole.
All shots ending up two to four feet behind the hole had a good chance of going in. Refine your distance control by making more practice swings while looking at your two targets.
Any shots ending up more than four feet beyond the hole are a sign that you are too aggressive and need to refine your touch and distance control. Place a flagstick or alignment rod approximately three feet behind the hole and make sure that all shots will come to rest at the hole or no more than three feet beyond.
The smaller the circle your missed chip shots come to rest, the less pressure you place on making a putt for par.
You can practice all of these drills in the convenience of your office, home, backyard, or on the course. Five to 10 minutes every other day is enough for your brain to understand the concepts and your body to feel the set-up and swing positions you want to accomplish, and to adapt your game to a more aggressive strategy to make great chip shots.
John Hughes is a PGA Master Professional based in Orlando, Florida. He is vice president and secretary, North Florida PGA Section and 2013 PGA of America Horton Smith Award Recipient. He offers golf academies at several locations throughout Central Florida. For more information, visit www.johnhughesgolf.com