Few golfers would disagree that there’s a big difference between putting from 25 feet out and putting from 10 feet out: 10 feet is a very makeable putt - 25 feet is a hail mary.
A good chip shot can leave you in a great position on the putting green and as a result, can help knock some serious strokes off your score.
Although the concept of chipping seems pretty straight-forward in the moment, there’s a lot that can go wrong in that shortened swing if you’re not executing it properly.
What is a chip shot?
If you’re new to the game, a chip shot is when you take your pitching wedge (ideally with a loft of between 52-56 degrees) and take a slow and reduced swing, to hit the ball a relatively short distance.
Chip shots most often occur when you’re about 50 feet or less from the hole and you need to hit a short but accurate shot onto the green, to position yourself well for your first (and hopefully only!) putt.
What to watch out for
There’s nothing worse than taking your time to methodically set up your chip shot, only to catch too much turf before you make contact with the ball and watch it land well short of the intended target. This is called ‘chunking’ the shot and is a result of hitting the ground too far in front of the ball.
The other common issue when chipping is hitting the ball too thin and ‘skulling’ it. This occurs when you don’t get under the ball enough and hit the ball directly with the bottom edge of your wedge. This usually results in you hitting the ball way too hard, getting no loft on it and sending it skimming low and fast across the green - well past your target.
We’ll discuss how to avoid both of these unfortunate (but all too common) shots later on, but the more you’re aware of them the less you’re likely to make these mistakes.
Planning your chip shot
Before we get into the mechanics of the shot, we wanted to take a second to work through setting up your chip shot, so that you’re more tactical with your approach.
When chipping onto the green, it’s common to use the hole as your target. Unless you’re able to drop your ball right into the hole (which is extremely rare), you’re going to want to aim for an area on the green where you’d like your ball to land and then envision how your ball will spin, roll or break once it lands.
Make sure to take into account any slopes that are in play between where you’re aiming your ball and the hole, as this could impact your target area.
You’ll also need to consider how high you want to try and hit your ball. The higher you hit, the more likely the ball will land heavy and roll less. For the more advanced golfers, this is also the time to consider what (if any) backspin you may benefit from using.
Setting up your stance
One of the most common issues that occurs when chipping is catching too much turf before making contact with the ball.
Most people drop their back shoulder, bend too deeply in their back knee and tilt backward at the hip to try and make the ball go upwards. However, the aggregate of all these adjustments is that your clubhead drops too low, causing you to hit the ground before the ball.
In a proper stance, your feet should be a little less than shoulder-width apart, with the ball roughly in the middle of your stance. Then shift your weight slightly forward onto your left foot (right foot if you’re a lefty), while keeping your shoulders level and a little bit open towards the direction you’re shooting.
If you’re chipping a super short distance, you may want to consider choking down on the club before you start setting up, but then follow all of the same steps.
Swinging with confidence
Now that you’re in your stance, take a few practice swings to make sure that you’re comfortable with where your club is bottoming out (i.e. connecting with the ground). You should also try to find the right size of backswing and appropriate clubhead speed for the distance you’re shooting.
Once you’re feeling comfortable, take one last millisecond to remind yourself to SWING ALL THE WAY THROUGH. Swinging all the way through is crucial to ensure you don’t short your shot. Use your backswing and clubhead speed to control your distance - not your follow through.
Putting it all together
Once you’re set in your stance, you can start with a slow and easy backswing. As you start your backswing, you should bend your right arm and left wrist in unison as you're taking the club back, so that you raise the clubhead. This creates a bit more of an angled trajectory as you swing through, so you hit down on the ball at impact.
As you start to swing through, keep your weight on your front foot and straighten out your right arm, being sure to keep your right elbow tucked in to just above your hip area. Make sure you’re swinging through with your shoulders and core, not your wrists.
If you’re able to put your stance, mental game and swing together, you should be able to cleanly pick the ball as your club lightly grazes the turf.
And last but not least (and likely for the 1000 time!), make sure you keep your head down from start to finish, to ensure a nice smooth stroke and clean contact.