Hitting successful chip shots from around the green requires a few basic fundamentals to understand. I think chipping is a little like putting, in that there's more than one right way to succeed. Some players like less hand and wrist movements, while other players like to feel some flex or play in the hands and wrists. Some like to open their stance, while others prefer a square stance. And on and on go the different ways to hit a chip, as it seems the ways to get the job done are endless.
That said, there happen to be two keys that I think are required to execute successful chips. The first is to understand where the majority of your weight should be during the stroke, and where the ball should be. I encourage my students to keep the majority of their weight on their left side, and play the ball in the middle-back of the stance. This ball-back/weight-forward combo does two things: It creates the necessary shaft lean toward the target, which then steepens your chipping stroke to prevent hitting the ground first before the ball. If you're too vertical with the shaft, you run the risk of hitting fat and thin shots, more often than you would with the ball back in your stance a little bit. Second, it makes it easier to control the trajectory and roll, helping you better dial in the right stroke length and distance for each chip.
A great way to feel this for yourself is to set up, shift your weight so it's predominantly on your left side (maybe a 65/35 split), and play the ball off your right toe. To know how far to lean the club forward, simply lay the club so the grip rests over your left thigh. That's where you should grip the club and play the shot.
Notice how just postimpact, my hands are still leading ahead of the clubhead? It's a lot less than at address, but they're still slightly ahead of the clubhead. This indicates crisp ball-first contact and a controlled swing over my left side.
The other critical component for better chipping mechanics is to remember that although the chip shot is a short one, the body should still be engaged in the shot. This means, I like to see my students rotate their body with the shot. From down the line, you can see that my upper body has rotated away from the target on the backswing, then back toward the target on the forwardswing. If I were to seize up, I run the risk of collapsing my wrists, lifting up and, likely, hitting fat and thin shots.
If you follow these two basic fundamentals, and feel as though you have a good shaft lean and rotation in your stroke, the rest is up to you! Add as much hinge to your wrist as you'd like and align your stance open or square, depending on your personal preference and what looks and feels good to you. Just remember, once you find a particular chipping style, stick with it for all your shots. The last thing you want to do is hit every chip completely differently, since it makes hitting consistent chips almost impossible. Instead, master the fundamentals and hone in on your personal style. You'll start seeing better results in no time.
AJ Gaul, PGA, teaches at the Faldo Golf Institute at Marriott's Shadow Ridge in Palm Desert, Calif. Visit gofaldo.com for info.