Hitting better chip shots requires a few fundamentals, most of which get overlooked by beginner and better players alike. Let's look at a few and get your chipping back on track.
Choke Down On The Grip
This seems like an obvious mechanic, but choking down on the grip actually does a lot more than simply get your body closer to the ball to make a delicate stroke. Choking down also counterbalances the club, meaning added weight above the hands work to make it easier to make less than full shots without flipping the hands over too soon. As for your body, remember as you choke down: Don't hunch your upper body. Instead, choke down with your hands, and get your body lower by adding more flex in the knees, as opposed to hunching over.
Stay Open & Narrow
Many of my students assume the best way to chip is to align their body either at or parallel to the target. I advise against this, since it's important for the body to rotate (unlike a putt where it doesn't rotate) just as with a full shot. Also, when it comes to chipping, because the hands have a delayed or lesser release than they do with a full swing, it's even more important that the body be poised to turn. Think of it this way: If you're too square, the body will resist rotating, and the hands will take over and get too active. That is, they'll start to flip! Instead, make a narrow and open stance (don't just flare out one foot) and let your body turn through the shot.
Weight On Your Forward Side, And Ball Back In Your Stance
Why? Simple. Keeping your weight predominantly on your forward side with the ball back in your stance (toward the target) helps to ensure a steeper downward blow into the ball. This prevents fat and thin shots and helps you make consistent contact with the ball. Also, by keeping your weight leaning toward the target, this helps maintain a consistent impact position, which will help you better control your shots and gauge different distances. As for the ball position, I like to play my shots just off the inside of my back toe. But you may prefer it slightly farther back or slightly farther forward. It's okay to be flexible, but try to keep it consistent. And stay away from placing the ball too far forward in your stance. If you move it forward, you'd better be ready to hit a flop or lob shot–which is a different lesson for a different day.
Keep Your Head UP!
Let's get this straight: Keeping your head down is never a good idea, especially with your chips. If you stuff your head into your chest, your upper body loses its ability to rotate and once again, the hands will try to take over. When that happens, the hands get flippy, and even if you manage to make decent contact, you'll have a heckuva time trying to control your distance and direction. Instead, keep your head upright and your neck in line with your spine. This will free your upper body to rotate. And by the way, keeping your head up doesn't mean taking your eyes off the ball.
Choose The Right Club
When chipping, I like to mix up my club options, depending on the amount of height and roll I want. This allows me to maintain the same chipping stance and ball position, and lets the club do the work for changing the way the ball flies and rolls. But look closely at my options. I prefer to use an 8-iron, pitching wedge and a sand wedge. The 8-iron is my go-to for low-rolling chips. The pitching wedge does the same, except that I use it in deeper grass. But notice I omitted the lob wedge? Reason being, a lob wedge is for lob shots, not chip shots. A 56-degree sand wedge gives me the optimal height/spin combination, and because of the bounce, making solid contact is a lot easier than with a low-bounce lob wedge.
Make A Single-Lever Swing
Steve Stricker does it best. Next time he's on TV, check out his single-lever chipping style. What that means is he hinges his wrist at the setup, then maintains that hinge all the way through the chip. The body rotates the clubhead through, and because of this, Stricker is able to consistently reproduce a stacked impact position. What's that mean? It means Stricker, like many good players, can better gauge different distances by adjusting his swing length. So, longer chips require a longer swing; shorter chips need a shorter swing. He doesn't have to make big changes to his ball position, how he releases the hands, etc. Instead, by using a single-lever method and rotating the body through the shot, Steve Stricker is able to get up and down a whopping 75 percent of the time. Good enough for fourth in Scrambling on the PGA Tour in 2010 (at the time of this issue). Copy this method and you'll become a better chipper in no time.
Bobby Hinds, PGA, is well known throughout Southern California for his innovative short-game teaching philosophy. To learn more and to book a lesson, call (323) 363-7761.