How you make a practice swing when chipping from off the green is especially critical. First of all, you're not just trying to calculate how far you need to hit the ball, you're also trying to determine how high the ball should fly and how much roll you want it to have. Also, a practice stroke helps you to assess the lie, which can range from having a ball that's sunken down in the rough to one sitting high on the collar. All these variables come into play when making a practice swing, which is why I think it's critical that every golfer learn my rehearsal technique before hitting a chip or pitch shot.
To begin this shot rehearsal, first inspect the lie as best you can. Note if the ball has grass above, below or to the sides. The higher the ball sits up, the more backspin you'll impart on the ball, and the higher and farther it will carry. The lower it sits, the more grass that will come between the ball and clubface, causing the ball to both fly lower and with more forwardspin once it hits the ground. After assessing the lie, determine how the grass will react to a downward sweeping motion through the ball. In this case, make two practice strokes, both by sweeping down through the grass. Do this as close to the ball as possible (without hitting it), and get a feel for whether the grass is catching the clubhead or if the grass allows the clubhead to slide through easily. If it's grabbing the face, you'll need a firmer grip for more steadiness and a slightly more downward angle of attack to prevent a flubbed shot. If the grass is loose, then a softer, more delicate grip will help you make a smooth stroke through the ball.
Finally, two practice sweeps will help you feel whether or not your ball sits on some sort of incline or sidehill, since some greenside lies aren't as obvious as they look. Hitting successful chips and pitches always requires you to make a downward stroke into the ball, so try and avoid any scooping or lifting of the ball. That kind of shot rarely pans out!
These two sweeps, although seemingly simple, should be rehearsed before every chip or pitch shot to ensure you have as much information as possible about the kind of lie you have to contend with. This will also make a big difference in your ability to successfully get up and down from anywhere around the green. Do this little rehearsal, and you'll start seeing better results with your pitches and chips around the green.
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Barry Goldstein is a professional golf teacher at Inverrary CC in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.