Monday, February 21, 2011

Chipping for Dummies

The title of this blog is really a joke.  Most golfers think that chipping should be easy for them.  It seems like a simple shot and not much needs to happen, right?  No, it isn't the simplest shot in golf and here are the reasons why. 

First, if you aren't confident, it will show in your chipping.  I have seen more golfers have chipping yips than putting yips.  We aren't going to talk about the yips today, because that is a big can of worms we will open at another time. 

Second, the chipping motion is short and should be efficient and crisp.  There is no room in this small motion to hide inefficiencies or poor technique.  You cannot recover if you get the club in the wrong position.  Your technique in chipping is crucial. 

Finally, most golfers are too caught up in mechanics when they chip and they rarely have a clear idea of what they want to do with the golf ball.  Your chipping should be reliant upon the picture you have in your mind for the shot.  Without a picture, you have little chance to get the ball close to the hole.

Here are the ingredients needed to hit a good chip shot.  I hope this helps you become a great chipper!
  1. Start with a clear picture of the shot.
    • Choose a landing spot where you can predict the outcome.  Usually a flat spot.
    • Visualize the trajectory needed for the shot and choose a club that will reproduce that trajectory.
    • Now see the shot in your mind from beginning to end.
  2. Club face aim is very important to hitting the shot on line.
    • Make sure your alignment is good and based on the landing point, not the hole.
    • Your club face and the back of your left hand should be doing the right thing at impact and this is the biggest fault I see on the lesson tee.  Your left arm should hang straight, but not locked, because you want to keep the back of your left hand working down through the shot and if you lock up your elbow, the opposite will happen.  The only way to keep both your club face and the back of your left hand working down through the shot is to keep your hands moving, keep your wrists firm and allow your left elbow to fold into the body after impact. Here is a shot of Tseng, the hottest player in woman's golf today, showing how her left arm folds and allows her wrists to stay firm and match her club face.

  3. Set up is half of the battle in chipping.
    • Your weight should be balanced over your left hip.  This will help you have a downward motion into the ball and also alleviate a lot of leg movement, which is unneeded.
    • Your hands should be set in front of the ball and they should match the position you want to have when you hit the ball.  By setting up with your hands forward, you are creating the shaft lean that will enable you to control the trajectory of the shot.  Make sure you maintain the alignment of the club face when you set your hands forward.  One way to ensure this is to check how far your hands are from your thighs prior to forward lean of the shaft.  When you set your hands ahead, your hands should remain the same distance from your thighs.  If your hands move closer to you, your club face will be closed.
    • This final set up step seems to help people who scoop the ball, which is a large percentage of the population.  Keep your eyes on the front of the golf ball.  Focus on a dimple on the front of the ball and don't allow your eyes to move to the back of the ball.  So many people try to help the ball up when they chip and their weight goes to the right side, their eyes go to the back of the ball and their hands scoop at the ball.  This is all the opposite of how a good chip shot is hit.  Just stay focused on the front of the ball and get that club moving down through the shot with your weight stable on that left hip center.  
  4. The mechanics of the shot
    • Your club is set up with shaft lean to the left.  Your job is to swing the club and return it to that position with that shaft lean and the proper amount of speed.  The tricky part for most people is maintaining shaft lean.  See above where we talk about how your left hand and arm works.  If you hit behind the ball sometimes and send the ball scooting across the green sometimes, you are losing your shaft lean.  Picture yourself sweeping your kitchen floor.  If you keep the broom handle constant as you sweep, you can control the dirt.  However, if your handle flips back and forth, you are throwing the dirt all over the kitchen.  Your club's shaft should work the same way as a broom handle and maintain its angle through the shot.  
    • The angle of attack is fairly important to hitting crisp chip shots.  You will set your angle with both your wrist cock and the bend of your right elbow.  Both of these things move a little, not a lot.  Too much wrist cock will give you too steep of a swing and too much speed to control.  Too little wrist cock will cause you to catch too much grass behind the ball.  I can't tell you exactly how much wrist cock you need, but if you are sticking the club in the ground, it is too much.  If you are sweeping the grass on the way back to the ball, you have too little.  Also, keeping your arms hanging straight but loose is very important to creating a bit of angle with your right elbow bend.  Too many people are too tense and tight with their arms and that makes them overuse their wrists and usually release the club early and scoop on the way through.  Check out this video of Shingo Katayama chipping.  You might think it is a pitch because of the length of the backswing, but chips can have long back swings.  The difference is in the shaft lean at and past impact.  Anyway, you will see a very tight looking left arm on Shingo, but watch him as he finishes and you will see that his left arm rotates, folds and ends up next to his chest.  We often watch the pros and pick up the wrong things, like how straight his left arm is through the shot.  What is really important is how the back of his left hand stays down through impact and the shaft lean remains constant until after impact.  Here is a shot of Henrik Stenson after impact on a chip shot.  Notice how the back of his left hand and his club face match perfectly!

    • The chip shot should be rhythmic with a swing that works an equal amount behind and in front of the ball.  For most of you, that means you need to shorten your follow through.  The best chippers in golf rely a great deal on momentum to swing the club forward.  If you are taking the club back a short distance because of a tip your buddy gave you, you are probably not swinging through, but pulling the club.  A chipping motion based on momentum looks smooth and rhythmic.  If you are pulling the club through because you don't have a big enough back swing, your swing will feel jerky, you will not maintain your shaft lean (big mistake) and your follow through will be too long.  
    • The body motion in a chip is quiet, yet very important.  Sometimes on the lesson tee, teaching a student to gently point her right knee at the ball is the key that gets her to put it all together.  Here is a great video of Tiger hitting chips.  Watch how he pivots on that left leg and allows his body to turn to the target ahead of the club.
  5. Learning and practicing - Use drills and practice aids to help you learn this skill.
    • Can you chip with a hockey stick?  Because a hockey stick is so long, you cannot cup your hands at or after impact.  A hockey stick forces you to keep your left hand solid and your left arm soft and close to the body.
    • Do a drop drill.  Simply lift the club and drop it on the ball with no follow through.  What happened?  I would guess the ball jumped up, went forward and rolled out.  This is a great drill to teach you how to form and use momentum and how important the angle of attack is on the trajectory of the shot.
    • Find and hit an impact bag.  Impact bags transform the form of 30 handicappers and make them look like single digit handicappers.  There is no compulsion to cup your wrists when you hit an impact bag and you will naturally keep your shaft angle and keep the hands leading into impact. 
    • Learn to land the ball on a spot.  Put a small towel down and get great at landing your ball on it with any club you use for chipping.  This will teach you many things innately.  First, you will learn how much momentum is needed to fly the ball that distance.  Second, you will learn how different clubs react and the angle the ball comes off of each.  Don't worry about how far the ball runs when you do this.  Instead, just get a feel for the trajectory of each club and figure out how much momentum is needed for each.  
    • When you get pretty good at landing the ball where you want to land it, you can then learn about the roll out of each.  You can also start to figure out how to put a bit of spin on the shot.  We will talk about this in a later blog.  When you swing the club, you create momentum and set the ball off at a trajectory.  How far will that ball roll?  If you add momentum, what changes?  You have to answer all of these questions yourself.  It is like learning to play the guitar.  Your teacher can tell you where your fingers go for certain chords, but it is up to you to make music with these chords.  You have to practice!  This is fun stuff and it is easy to lose yourself in the variations.  
  6. Now it is time to go to the course and take this knowledge and technique with you WITHOUT over thinking.  This means you have to rely on a routine.
    • Approach the shot and check out the lie of the ball.  If you deem it a good lie, your options are many, but if you deem it a poor lie, you will need a steeper approach and more loft, so your options for club choice are your lob or sand wedge.  
    • Can you putt?  If you have a flat lie, a fairly flat approach and you aren't going into the grain, putting might be the best option.  
    • If you can't putt, can you find a flat spot to land the ball on the green so you can predict its first bounce?  Pick the spot to land it.  Check out Phil picking his spot!
    • Now picture your ball flying to that spot and rolling to the hole.  Which club matches your picture?  
    • Choose the club, aim the face at your landing spot, and execute the shot.  If you need a practice swing, go ahead and take it.  See it, feel it with your practice swing and trust it. 
    • This process should be fairly fast.  In other words, make your decisions quickly, trust your gut and your first impression and commit to your decision.  This is key to the process of being a great chipper.  If a shot makes you uncomfortable, don't hit it! Don't do it to impress someone, don't do it to prove to yourself you can do it!  Don't do it because it is the "right" shot to hit!  Choose the shot you are comfortable hitting.
I hope you enjoyed Chipping for Dummies.  The reason I liked that title is because only a dummy would think that chipping is a "no-brainer" and the easiest shot in golf.  There is no such thing as an easy shot in golf.  All shots require technique, focus and trust.  Good luck with your chipping!

This blog and all of my blogs are very prejudiced and speak only to right handers.  If you are left handed, my apologies.  Please change all rights to lefts and all lefts to rights and you will be in good shape.

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