The biggest obstacle keeping players from getting to the next level of improvement is greens in regulation. The average 15 handicap only hits 19% of their greens from 130 yards and up. And obviously that percentage drops the farther they are from the green. This means in any 18-hole round you are faced with many chip shots and trying to get up-and-down. That puts a lot of pressure on your short game, and thus your putter. Four hours of grinding to save par and bogey takes the fun right out of the game and your clubs end up on Craigslist fairly quickly.
Too many people think that the chip shot is nothing but an arms swing. I see all the time a player takes a nice, relaxed practice motion, brushing the turf ever so finely with the sole bottoming out with the perfect strike; then they take a step in, address the ball, and everything gets stiff. The next few tips are not only going to improve your technique and thought process, but with practice and repetition, I guarantee you’ll start chipping the ball closer to the hole and tapping in more often….or hearing those oh sweet words from your playing partner, “that’s good, pick it up.”
Choke down for shorter shots With a short shot you always want to choke down a couple inches to shorten the club. You will have more control. Gripping at the end of the club and trying to rehearse a swing that makes the ball travel 15 yards is extremely awkward and unorthodox, and it will be difficult to judge how far the ball carries. Keep golf simple: short shot, short club.
Narrow your stance No need to stand with your feet shoulder width apart. With a chip shot we are swinging for control here, not power. Narrow your stance to where you have no more than 4-6 inches between your feet. The wider you stand the more you have a tendency to slide or have too many moving parts.
Rotate your body A chip or pitch shot is not an “arms only” shot; far from it. Players hear someone say “just take a putting stroke with your 8 iron” and get all screwed up. Through impact your chest should rotate to your target. In the finish position the club will be in front of your belt buckle with your chest facing the target. In order to time this properly and ensure the club bottoms out in the correct spot, you want to lead your downswing with the rotation of your lead hip. This transfers your weight forward towards the target.
Ball position The loft of the club you choose obviously determines the trajectory at which the ball travels, but ball position does as well. If you want to play a higher, soft-landing pitch, you want to play the ball more forward in your stance. Your hands will stay neutral and you will use the loft and bounce of the club. If you want to play something lower with some topspin, play the ball back from middle with your hands creating some forward shaft lean. This decreases the loft and ensures you lead the grip through first.
Open stance? This is something you will need to experiment with and practice as you go, and make adjustments based on results. We always teach to pitch and chip with a slightly open stance because it creates a steeper swing arc and ensures you catch the ball first. But you want to make sure you are still swinging the club on your target line, not your feet line. Start with an open stance and adjust based on the direction your ball travels. If you notice you are pulling a lot of chips, square up your stance and try to release the club more at the hole.
In Memoriam Pete Dye is my favorite golf course architect, and I was sad to hear of his passing last Thursday. Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2008, Pete was known for his use of pot bunkers, railroad ties, and for simply jotting his greatest creations down on a napkin whenever a thought or idea would strike him. His wife of 68 years, Alice, is actually the one who came up with the island concept of the famous 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. I have been lucky to play a number of his courses, as I make a point to do so whenever I travel. My two favorites are arguably two of the best courses in the country; The Dye course at French Lick and the Pete Dye Club in Bridgeport, WV. The French Lick design sits on Indiana’s highest point of elevation, and tips out at 8,000 yards. That sounds a bit gimmick-y, I know. And us idiots played it at that just to say we did. But it is a great track from the 3rd and 4th sets of tees with incredible views and vistas. I know the story is that they looked at Mr. Dye like he was nuts when he said he wanted to put a course on that property, yet it is one of the most natural courses I’ve ever played. It looks as if God himself routed it. The Dye club in Bridgeport is routed through old West Virginia coal mine country, and you actually take the cart path through a coal mine to get to the 7th tee. Jack Nicklaus credits Dye with being his biggest course design influence. “Golf is not a fair game. So why should I build a fair golf course?” Pete was 94 years old.
The American Express Picks Golf is a fickle game. You’re up, and before you can blink, you’re down again. Tournament of Champions winner Justin Thomas missed the cut at Sony, and so did the player he beat in the playoff, Patrick Reed. But last week wasn’t a normal birdie-fest Sony Open. The wind at times gusted at 40 mph, and it rained off and on for all 4 days. Charles Howell III just missed what would have been his 11th top-10 in the event with a tie for 12th, and Abraham Ancer finished t-38. We now head to the Cali dessert for the former Bob Hope Classic, now called The American Express. Phil Mickelson will not tee it up but he is serving as tournament host, as the pro-am benefits his charity, the Phil Mickelson Foundation. Winner Rickie Fowler Rickie is returning to PGA West for the first time since 2014. He plays well this time of year and on resort courses. Will contend Kevin Kisner Kis was one of two players to shoot all 4 rounds in the 60’s at Sony on his way to 4th place finish. Sleeper Jason Kokrak Making his 2020 debut. Finished t-18th in 2019. Time to get that first tour win.
Enjoy the game and each other,
Written by Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional
Design and Published by Craig Walton