One of the reasons the world's best players are so good is that they have stellar short games. Consider how well Phil Mickelson chipped the ball at this year's Masters. On Sunday, his driver got him into trouble on a few holes, but he got the ball back in play–and up and down–because of his combined chipping and putting skills.
Learning how to chip the ball well will help you save strokes, but it also has side benefits. After all, the motion you use to chip is really just a small version of your full swing. Once you learn to chip well, simply lengthen your swing into a pitch-shot length and then, with a little more motion, you have a full swing. Here are a few variations of the chip shot that will help you save shots around the greens, and maybe even help your full swing, too!
1 Hold Your Finish
One of the keys to good chipping is to control the length of your swing, back and through the shot. Since you're hitting a low shot, make sure to finish with the club in a low followthrough. This will prove that your impact and contact positions were good. If you can learn to finish in this position and hold it until your ball rolls next to the cup, you'll look like a pro!
2 The Low Spinner And The Release Runner
Tour pros have great impact positions when they hit shots and, as a result, they're able to hit some really fun low shots.
a.) The low spinner comes in on a low trajectory, takes a bounce or two and then spins hard. To hit a shot like this, simply hit a long version of a chip.
I recommend opening the club slightly at address and then getting into a good setup position. Even though the clubface is open a little, the setup and chipping motion will produce a low shot. As you swing into the ball, make sure you hold the face open through impact and finish low. Combining the little clubface rotation with a great impact will produce the spin you're looking for.
Open Face = Low spinner
Closed Face = Runner
b.) The released runner is a shot to hit when you have a lot of green to work with. Instead of hitting a shot with a lot of spin, this one runs out so the ball rolls up to the pin.
To hit this shot, set up in your standard chipping position and make a normal backswing. The trick is to actually release the club through impact. As you swing down, let your clubhead, hands, wrists and forearms rotate through impact. The turning down of the clubface (much like hitting a draw on a full shot), will produce a shot that runs a bit more than a normal chip shot. As long as you're careful to make good contact, this is a great shot to add to your short-game arsenal.
3 Gauge Your Trajectory
When faced with a shot over a bunker, many players think they need to hit the ball on a very high trajectory. Although this may be the case on some occasions, we don't always have to play a flop shot like Phil Mickelson. Although hitting a high shot like that is fun, your goal is to control your ball, and the best way to do that is to try to hit it lower.
Even though I'm faced with a shot over a bunker here, I'm using my trusty 56° sand wedge. All I'm going to do is make a longer chip swing, hit down on the ball and see if I can pop it over the bunker. There are about eight paces from the edge of the green to the pin, so I can hit a medium-trajectory shot instead of trying to hoist it too high in the air. I feel better knowing that the ball will get over the bunker and release to the pin.
Experiment with this shot to see how different clubs produce different trajectories.
4 The Bladed Chip
This specialty shot should be used when your ball comes to rest on the collar of the green but is up against the first cut of rough. (It's very difficult to make good contact with a standard shot because of the lie.)
This shot basically requires you to use a putting motion but with a wedge. Grip down on your sand wedge for control. Set up to the ball like a putt, with your weight balanced and the ball played slightly forward in your stance. Hover the club just above the top part of the rough and make a putting stroke.
The goal is to make contact with the leading edge of your sand wedge on the top half of the ball. This produces a rolling shot. Even if you top the ball a little, it will bounce only once or twice and then roll out. This is a fun shot to play but you may want to practice it a little before you attempt it during a round of golf.
5 The Basic Chip
The standard setup for a chip shot is quite simple. Using your regular full-swing grip (shorten the club for better control) set up with a narrow stance (your feet should be square or slightly open to the target). Play the ball in the center of your stance or a bit back of center and then lean your weight forward so the weight distribution is somewhere in the 70% (left foot)/30% (right foot) range.
The chip swing is very simple, as your setup has put you in a great position to hit down into the ball. As you swing, your arms and club should swing back to your desired backswing length (this will help determine how far the ball will go). As this occurs, if you feel a little wrist set on the backswing, that's perfectly okay.
Although your hands should be fairly quiet, they shouldn't be stiff or locked in your backswing. The club should feel like it's swinging back fairly vertically (your weight distribution at setup will put you in that position). On the downswing, your arms and body should swing the club back to the ball. Your goal is to clip the grass underneath and in front of the ball. On the downswing, it's important to keep your hands quiet so you hit firmly into impact. The finish position should be low (low shot = low finish).
6 Downhill Chip
One of my favorite shots is a chip shot from a downhill lie. It's a great shot to learn because the elevation change actually forces you into a chipping setup position and encourages a very descending blow into the ball.
Just like all other downhill lies, it's important that your body lines are parallel with the slope so you can make crisp contact. Lean your weight forward to accommodate the hill, even if it feels like you may fall forward. This position with your weight forward encourages a swing that works from high to low. Finally, the key to good contact is to swing down into the ball. If your wrists flip, you'll top it from this lie.
The ball tends to come out hot from this lie, so concentrate on controlling your backswing and making good contact. The ball also will come out lower than normal. You may want to use your lob wedge or open your clubface a little to help the ball come out a bit softer. Taken together, these factors will help determine how far your shot travels in the air and on the green.
7 Two-Club Drill
Probably the most important aspect of a chip shot is to return the club back to the ball in a good impact position. And the key to good impact is to use your body well on the downswing and keep your wrists from being too active through impact. A great way to control the club properly is to make some swings with two clubs.
In this drill, hold one club with each hand. The goal is to keep the club shafts the same distance apart during the swing. Notice how, during the swing, my body turns back and through, and the clubs stay about the same distance apart. If either of your hands gets too active, the shafts won't stay in the proper position.
8 The Bump-And-Run
It's not unusual to see the bump-and-run shot at the Masters or British Open where the area around the greens is extremely tight. It's the perfect shot if you're uncomfortable lofting the ball onto the green. It gets the ball running on the ground and rolling toward the target.
Consider the situation you see me in here. I'm a good bit below the target and afraid to loft the ball to the hole. (If I hit the ball even a little short, it will roll back to me; if I hit it a little long, it's going to roll away from the hole.) I'm using an 8-iron here, and just hitting a chip shot into the hill so the ball will slow down as it climbs the hill.
This shot takes a little practice to gauge how hitting into the hill impacts your ball's speed, but it's a shot that will help you tremendously when you fear hitting the ball in the air.
9 Bonus Drill: One Foot Back
Here's a drill I learned from PGA Tour pro Martin Laird. Set up with a closed stance (pull your right foot back) and then lift your right heel so you're up on your right toe. To balance yourself, you have to be careful to keep your weight forward and consistent throughout your swing. That's it! Doing so will help you hit it solidly all the time.
Steve Dahlby, PGA, is the director of instruction at The Golf Club Scottsdale and Forest Highlands Golf Club. He has taught numerous Tour players.