Good Chipping and the Art of Getting 'Up and Down'
What, you may ask, is a chapter on chipping doing in a book about putting? Well, if you consider what the entire purpose of the short game is, the relevance and importance of chipping to putting success becomes readily apparent.
You can think of it this way: the purpose of the short game in golf is to reduce the number of putts you will need to get the ball in the hole. Whether you are pitching, chipping or escaping from a sand trap, the goal is to get the ball close enough so that you can hole out in as few strokes as possible. The ideal scenario is that you would make your very next putt, which is commonly referred to as getting “up and down.”
To get up and down in golf requires a player to put the ball into the hole in two strokes from anywhere their ball is positioned around the green. The first stroke, a chip or bunker shot, will get the ball ‘up’ onto the green and the following putt will put the ball ‘down’ into the hole.
Clearly, getting the first shot from off the green as close as possible to the hole is an integral part of the up and down equation, since we’ve already established that the probability of a higher-handicap amateur making the subsequent putt declines substantially once they are beyond five feet from the hole. If they are able to get within 3-5 feet of the hole after their chip (or pitch), they have a reasonable chance of getting up and down, which is to say that they have a reasonable chance of saving what would otherwise be a lost stroke.
Getting up and down frequently during a round is an indication of someone’s overall proficiency in the short game. It usually means that they are very good chippers of the ball or very good putters. Probably both. Again, as you would expect, a player’s probability of getting up and down from around the green is directly related to their overall skill as a golfer, as you can see from the following table:
Why Getting Up and Down Is So Important
One interesting way to look at the importance of getting up and down is to think about it in terms of a player’s declining chances of recovering from poor shots the closer they get to the hole.
For example, if you were to hit a bad tee shot, you will still have several opportunities on subsequent shots to recover from the poor drive. You could hit a good fairway wood shot, a good hybrid shot, or a good iron shot that could still put you in position to salvage a par or bogey. Similarly, if you were to hit a poor second shot, you may still have chances to recover by executing a good pitch, chip or putt to make up for it.
But when you perform badly on a shot around the green (e.g., a poor chip), you have only one chance to recover from that shot, and that is by sinking the subsequent putt. And by now you’re well aware of the decreasing probabilities of making that next putt the farther you are from the hole. So the message is clear. Amateurs should spend a lot of their practice time on their chipping, so that they can reduce the strokes given away when they are not able to get that chip to with five feet of the hole (or even closer if they really hope to maximize the probability of an up and down).
Good Chipping Saves Strokes
We’ve alluded to this multiple times before, but let’s say it again. Since amateurs are guaranteed to miss quite a few greens each round, it’s essential that they are able to chip close enough to get up and down (that is, to 1-putt) at least a few times per round. With higher-handicappers missing about 3 out of every 4 putts beyond 8 feet, you simply must get better at chipping to within that 5-foot range if you have any realistic chance of making the putt and saving that stroke.
Unfortunately, a chip from off the green to 10 feet, which many might consider to be a reasonably good effort, is likely not going to result in an up and down. If you do this repeatedly during your round (miss the green, chip on, and then take 2 or more putts to hole out), you will add a large number of wasted strokes to your card.
Let’s look at the 20-25 handicap player. Statistics show that this player will usually only hit about 2-3 greens in regulation during a round. Looked at from the opposite perspective, that means that this player will have 15-16 opportunities to chip or pitch from off the green. Obviously, if he is not able to get up and down at all when he misses a green, that’s an additional 15-16 strokes (at least) added to his score!
But if this same golfer was able to get up and down even a small handful of times, that would result in a major reduction in strokes taken. Getting up and down just a quarter of the time would knock 4 full strokes off the scorecard. Doing so just half the time would result in saving 7-8 strokes.
PGA Tour Pros Get It
Even the best players on the planet don’t hit every green in regulation. In fact, the average number of greens that PGA Tour players hit in regulation during each round is 12. You probably thought that number would be higher, didn’t you? What that tells you is that even these guys miss an average of 6 greens per round, requiring them to chip it close enough to salvage pars on those holes.
And, if you look at the scores they shoot on Tour, with any score over par being considered a disappointment, and with many scores well down into the 60’s, the obvious conclusion is that when they miss a green, they’re usually saving par anyway. That’s a tribute to their remarkable short games, the majority of which is chipping. If their chipping wasn’t so stellar, many of those salvaged pars would have turned into bogeys.
It’s obvious that, to stay that sharp week in and week out, the pros spend a lot of time practicing these shots. They know that they can’t afford to have a weakness in this part of the game or they will get steamrolled by the field. When the difference between winning an event on Tour and coming in well back of the lead can come down to just a few strokes, they don’t have the luxury of giving away too many shots around the greens.
There is a lesson here for amateurs. No one expects that you will be able to hone your short game to the level of a Tour pro, but you should at least model their behavior by putting in some practice time on this vital aspect of the game.
Amateurs Need to be Good Chippers, Too
It goes without saying that higher-handicap golfers miss a lot more greens than the pros do. So, in a way, it could plausibly be argued that the relative importance of good chipping is even greater for amateurs than it is for the Tour pros. Put simply, the more greens you miss in a round of golf, the greater the need to have sufficient chipping skills to minimize 3-putt greens and the resultant bogeys and double-bogeys that follow.
There is data that proves just how big of an issue this is for amateurs. As it turns out, the number of greens you miss during a round is proportional to your handicap level (a recurring theme!). A golfer with a handicap of 30+, hits just 6% of greens on average in a round (that’s only 1-2 greens). The greens-in-regulation percentages gradually improve as a player’s handicap level goes down. For example, 10-15 handicappers hit about 27% (5 greens), etc. So, clearly, getting better at chipping is critical for everyone, but even more so if you tend to miss a lot of greens.
Tips on Proper Chipping Technique
There will be times when you will want to hit low, running chips. Other times, you may want to hit the ball higher to get a softer landing with less rollout. But for standard chip shots, where you are not trying to alter the trajectory for any reason, here are the basic fundamentals that you should employ:
- Narrow Stance
Your stance when chipping should be fairly narrow, narrower than your full swing stance. Then, in addition to moving the feet closer together, open your stance slightly to the target. To do this, drop your front foot back slightly from the target line and flair the toes on that foot outward. This allows you to see your target line better and to turn through the shot better.
- Weight forward/hands ahead
To hit crisp, consistent chip shots, it is essential that you have a downward angle of attack into the ball. To encourage this descending strike, you should place the majority of your weight (approximately 70%) on the front foot. If your weight is on your back foot, it makes it easier to unintentionally flip your hands at impact which can result in skulled shots (thin) or chunked shots (fat). Move your weight to your front foot before the shot, and leave it there. Moving your hands ahead of the ball at address also encourages this descending strike. An easy way to ensure that you are in the proper position is to make sure the buttons on your shirt are in front of the golf ball at address.
- Ball position
Where you position the ball in your stance depends upon what trajectory you want to see with your shot. For a straightforward basic chip shot, you would typically want a lower trajectory. For that type of chip, make sure the ball is positioned back of-center, toward the rear foot. With your weight forward and with your hands ahead, a chip hit with the ball back in your stance will produce a low ball flight. On the other hand, should you desire a somewhat higher trajectory on the chip, move the ball up in your stance, nearer to the front foot. With your weight still forward, a chip hit with the ball up in your stance will produce a higher ball flight.
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