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Opinion & Analysis

The Lost Art of Chipping

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From a teacher’s perspective, golf on TV is a double-edged sword. It seems to have both positive and negative influences on the people I teach.

One of the most destructive influences for the average golfer is watching the touring professionals around the greens. This is the part of the game that really separates good players from great players. The athletes we are watching are in the upper 0.01 percent of golfers worldwide. Their touch, feel and imagination around the greens is really quite extraordinary. A prime example of this might be their scoring statistics; the best golfers in the world miss an average of  5-6 greens a round, yet they consistently shoot under par. How do they shoot 68 or 69 while missing 5 or 6 greens every round? Well, for one thing, they’re getting up and down. It also doesn’t hurt your score when you’re hitting it to kick-in distance 3-4 times a round. But I teach golfers who are not the best in the world, so my whole day is spent trying to teach logic and percentages.

The modern game has changed so much in so many ways. With the onset of the 60-degree wedge and the modern golf ball, the tools of today are superior. Regardless of how adept a player is with the modern equipment, however, I suggest that the average golfer will still make a lower score a higher percentage of the time if they opt for more straight-faced, bump-and-run style shots. Maybe the best players in the world can pull off high-spinning, low-flighted, check-on-the-second-bounce kind of deals, but for the average golfer this is still a recipe for disaster. And don’t forget that the pros are hitting band new golf balls… from perfectly manicured fairways… with a spotless wedge… while employing nearly flawless technique.

I might suggest this rule of thumb for most who are reading this — get the golf ball on the ground as quickly as possible around the greens. When you have ample green to work with and there is no obstacle between your golf ball and the hole, a chip shot will be safer than a lofted one. I cannot tell you how many students I bring to the green and when I ask what club they would use for a 30-yard shot across an open green, they say, “Well, lob or sand.” From there, we get into a discussion on the law of averages. Just last week I told one very well-heeled student (and friend) of mine, “I’m glad you don’t invest the way you chip.”

Try this simple practice routine and see if your chipping game improves. When you look at a long, flat shot to a big green, instead of looking at the hole, pick a spot 3-4 paces on the green and try a 7, 8 or 9-iron to chip the ball no further than the spot you’ve selected. In practice, put a ball or a head cover at the 3-4 pace spot and chip to IT, not the hole.

Personal Beef: Another reason many golfers struggle with long chips is they don’t get to practice them enough. Most golf courses have a large putting green and a much smaller chipping green or “short-game area.” In fact, the large green often has a “no-chipping” sign on it. So you get to practice only short chips with rarely a chance to run out long ones.

Now let’s say you’re chipping stroke comes up short with a 9-iron. Instead of hitting the ball harder or with a bigger stoke, grab an 8 iron. The 8-iron comes up short? Grab a 7-iron, and so on. Make the smallest, easiest stroke you can to get the golf ball on the green and running EARLY. When many of you try this, you’ll hit your shots too far. The reason is you’re accustomed to taking big swings with lofted clubs.

In addition to the simplicity of the stroke, the other reason I prefer this method is the visual perspective one gets when looking down the line. It’s not unlike bowling over the arrows. The flagstick bowling pins are 60 feet away, but the arrows are much closer. Looking at and getting a feel for a hole some 60 feet away is difficult compared to looking at a spot few feet in front of you and only a few paces on the green.

Personal Story: My eyes just ain’t what they were, and this visual trick has helped my chipping tremendously. Once I was quite adept around the greens; it was the best part of my game, but in my later years it left me. I first blamed it on not playing as often and my failing eyesight. Then it hit me; I used to play a lot of bump-and-run chips. And without even realizing it, I fell victim to TV golf and the 60-degree wedge era. I was playing many more shots in the air, trying to hit, check and trickle them instead of playing the higher-percentage shot. I’m back to my old method now and the odds are more often in my favor.

I can’t be more emphatic about the benefits of chipping with my students. It WORKS. To boot, at 60 feet away, if I drop kick a 60-degree wedge or lay sod over it I still have 50 feet to the hole. I can skinny an 8-iron up much closer, even on a miss. Needless to say, this is a straight-forward chipping situation. Playing over hills or hazards is a whole different ball game. But we have the trusty lob wedge handy for those times, don’t we? We just don’t need it all the time. Play the odds for a change; your score will reflect your more conservative approach.

As the country song says: “Never hit 17 when you play against the dealer; the odds don’t ride with you.”

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. ~j~

    Feb 5, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Would argue against. I solely use a 60* from 100 yds and in. I know the feel of it from a slight bump and run to a 72-yd short-side shot. While having plenty of green to work with is great, it shouldnt be often one misses the green on the complete opposite side of the flag (with exception of missing the green short or long). Most of my buddies can only do the bump ‘n run 7i’s and such, couldn’t hit a 56-60* to save their asses, or pars, literally. Without a rounded shortgame, pats are going to be hard to save.

  2. Bob Jones

    Feb 5, 2018 at 11:40 am

    What I learned one time from watching a tournament on TV is that the pros are not trying to get the ball close. They’re trying to sink it. And they do that by rolling the ball to the hole. I built my chipping game around that idea and I have a very good chipping game.

  3. Dennis Clark

    Feb 5, 2018 at 7:56 am

    Three rules around the green:
    Putt whenever you can
    Chip when you cant putt
    Pitch it only when you must

    • Raymond CHASTEL

      Feb 6, 2018 at 3:47 am

      You should learn the “RULE OF 12 ” to select the proper club to chip with around the greens .Ancien “greats ” such as JOHNNY REVOLTA and PAUL RUNYAN taught you to keep the ball as low as possible when going for the green .More recently SEVERIANO BALLESTEROS ridiculized all his opponents whan chipping around the greens ,especially at one memorable BRITISH MASTERS.The “BUMP AND RUN shot “is also quite useful.

  4. Acemandrake

    Feb 4, 2018 at 10:47 am

    RE: Bump-and-Run Shot

    Is the bump-and-run more like a putting stroke or more of a strike down on it type of shot?

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 5, 2018 at 7:53 am

      I thik there is a little more wrist hinge in chipping, we set the wrists going back and hold the angle a bit coming through providing some down attack angle. Thx

  5. orv

    Feb 3, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    NO NO NO ….!!!!
    All you gotta do is buy the Square Strike Wedge being advertised on WRX.
    https://www.squarestrikewedge.com

  6. acew/7iron

    Feb 3, 2018 at 8:51 am

    There is never enough written about face angle when chipping and its importance in pulling off a successful shot. If you take a 8 iron but have too much shaft lean front or back …Fail

    If you have the toe too far up or down…Fail

    If you have face too open or too closed…Fail

    There is a Art to chipping and its a very difficult one to master…matter of fact…Its very difficult to just be avg around the greens.

  7. freowho

    Feb 3, 2018 at 1:49 am

    Good article. How bad was Patrick Reeds club choice on the last hole of the PGA. $50 lesson off Dennis might have earnt him another half a mill!

  8. Nick Nack

    Feb 2, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    When you get closer to the green there are so many possibilities. Most people confuse a short pitch (fly more than roll) with a chip (roll more than fly) and call them both chips shots. I let the lie and any obstacle between help determine my choice and then I visualize how the shot should look. I usually use an 8 iron for chipping and a wedge for short pitches. Oh yeah, I practice a lot!

  9. bcsquare

    Feb 2, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Great article. This is the same conversation I had my local pro during a lesson. We went through the same exercise on a 19th hole and after looking at my bag, said dump the lob wedge and fill it with a utility.

    • Joe

      Feb 2, 2018 at 8:57 pm

      Best advice I’ve gotten all year…..thank you!!

  10. ChipN'Run

    Feb 2, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    Dennis,

    Someone needs to tell younger competition golfers about this. I volunteered as a marshal for the 2014 Curtis Cup (USA vs. British-Irish women amateurs), and it seemed the American women were addicted to the lob wedge.

    In the rounds I observed, the Americans several times hit a lob shot into an uphill slant of the green, only to have the ball spin 30 feet back. The B-I visitors did a much better job on selecting chip-and-run, using everything from a PW to 5i. And they used putters well from just off the green.
    ——————————
    As for me, I use an even mix of wedge pitches and 8i chip-and-run. If I have a 60 yd. shot into a cross wind, I often will use a 7i punch and run for control. And, the bounce-ons are a good way to defeat false fronts on greens.

  11. Greg V

    Feb 2, 2018 at 3:08 pm

    About 6 years ago I learned to chip with a putting stroke, putting grip, and toe of the club down. I now save strokes from off the green. I wish that I had learned the technique 50 years ago – yes, I am showing my age.

    • Dennis Clark

      Feb 7, 2018 at 6:21 pm

      Agree greg, if you’ll recall it’s the technique Phil Rogers taught jack Nicklaus in 1980 when he decided to remake his short game. The only limitation of it is long chips, the toe killls it. But it’s the most ANTI-SHANK chip in the game.

  12. North Butte

    Feb 2, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    Five little words…

    Putter
    From
    Off
    The
    Green

  13. Jim

    Feb 2, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Completely agree. Chipping saves you so many more shots around the green versus trying to hit the perfect flop shot. And having the creativity to use anything from a wedge to a 5 iron is great fun as well. It’s amazing how many people grab their sand or lob wedge when around the green and then chunk it. Grab the 8 iron more often and learn to chip, you’ll save a bunch of shots during the round.

  14. James T

    Feb 2, 2018 at 11:42 am

    As a kid I would even chip with a 5 or 6 iron at times. It was a shot I practiced a lot. Like Dennis I was known for my up and down dead-eye chipping back then. Now I have a wedge in my hands too often.

    Thank you Dennis for reminding me about the odds. Time for me to be a kid again.

  15. juststeve

    Feb 2, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Now a question for Dennis. What do you think happened. In the past I played a lot of recreational golf with Ray Floyd in particular and he played short shots as you suggest. He ended us closer to the hole more often than the guys I see on TV yet his style, and Paul Runyan’s style are now out of fashion. My question is why?

    • Ryan

      Feb 2, 2018 at 1:14 pm

      The greens on the Tour appear to be much faster. Add the fact that guys on TV have fresh wedges and unlimited supply of ProV1’s, the pro’s can stop it on a dime.

    • Dennis

      Feb 7, 2018 at 7:10 am

      Steve, I’m sorry for the delay here…the biggest reason is golf courses have changed. I think newer courses have much more protected hole locations with flags placed precariously close to the edges of greens. That may be one of the reasons.

  16. juststeve

    Feb 2, 2018 at 11:13 am

    Another sound article from Dennis

  17. C

    Feb 2, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Raymond Floyd would approve of this method.

  18. alexdub

    Feb 2, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Great article Dennis. The 8 iron runner from 20 or 30 yards is one of my favorite shots.

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Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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