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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. Dennis now teaches at Bobby Clampett's Impact Zone Golf Indoor Performance Center in Naples, FL. .

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Bradley R Brown

    Jul 16, 2020 at 11:44 am

    Great info, thank you!! When you open the face, do you adjust your aim, or will you hit to the left? I’m just asking for clarification as this would be a new technique for me. Thank you

  2. ~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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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!!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. North Butte

    Feb 2, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    Five little words…

    Putter
    From
    Off
    The
    Green

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. juststeve

    Feb 2, 2018 at 11:13 am

    Another sound article from Dennis

  18. C

    Feb 2, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Raymond Floyd would approve of this method.

  19. 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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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: It is early season WITB time!

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Played some golf recently and the “gamer” bag is getting a little more settled in. Time to do an early season WITB, what is staying and what is on thin ice to maybe be replaced!

 

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The Wedge Guy: Your wedge shafts DO make a difference

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Over the past few decades, golf shafts have come to represent an extremely broad and deep segment of the golf equipment marketplace. And the major manufacturers spend countless hours evaluating shafts – within an acceptable cost range, of course – for their product offerings in irons, drivers, fairways, and hybrids. As a result, the custom-fitting layer of golf club retailing is myopically focused on shaft selection — often at a premium price.

Special shaft technologies are even finally working their way into some of the newer putters — but not your wedges.

Take a stroll down the seemingly endless display of wedges in any big store, and you’ll see numerous brands, models, lofts, finishes and sole grinds — but nearly every one of them has been fitted with the same type of heavy, stiff steel shaft. I’ve always thought that was really shorting golfers where feel and performance need to be pinpoint perfect.

I have learned from countless observations of golfers of all skill levels that getting the right shaft in these super-important scoring clubs can reap huge rewards in performance. Just like in your driver, the material, weight, and flex of your wedge shafts have to be exactly right for you to optimize your scoring range skill set — whatever that might be.

Stop to realize that, when it comes to the shaft in your wedges, you’re asking a lot. They have to stabilize the heaviest clubheads in the bag at full swing speed, in order to give you full shot trajectory control so that your distances are consistent. But they also have to give you precise feel and control of those touch shots around the greens where clubhead speed is only a few miles per hour. That requires the shaft to have the ability to flex or move a bit in order to give you optimum motion feedback — the sensation back to your hands of exactly where the clubhead is and what it is doing.

I think it is very important that wedge shafts should be fitted to the individual golfer’s strength profile.

Every week on television, we see the tour professionals exhibit an unbelievable display of short game mastery, hitting greenside wedge shots with absolute control of trajectory, spin, and distance. And while most all of them play a steel shaft that is the same weight as that in their irons, most all also opt for a bit softer in flex than the shaft in their irons.
But you have to also realize that these guys are top-level athletes who are extremely strong in the forearms and hands, so they can do things with a wedge of that overall weight that very few recreational golfers can even dream about – simply because you do not have the arm and hand strength to allow that level of precise manipulation of the club.

To solve this dilemma, I strongly advocate the following: Select a shaft for your wedges that closely approximates the weight of your short iron shafts. If you play lightweight steel or graphite shafts in your irons, by all means, demand the same in your wedges. This, of course, means you need to retrofit the wedges you have, or buy from a company that will accommodate your needs.

Your wedge shafts, however, should be a bit softer overall than your iron flexes to give you the feel you need around the greens. One way to achieve that is to select the same type of shaft as your irons, but in a softer flex, then cut back some of the tip section if you can.

And finally: test everything! Trying new things is one of the fun aspects of playing golf, and wedges are no different. You can experiment with different shafts in your wedges at a pretty low cost, so do it! I think you’ll have fun, and you’re likely to stumble on a formula that really improves your scoring.

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Ways to Win: Focused Phil does anything but flop at the PGA Championship

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That was fun. Through 55 holes, it looked like Brooks Koepka was ready to return from injury and establish his dominance with three wins in four years at the PGA Championship. Instead, his putter went dead cold and Phil Mickelson did the improbable.

Despite having poor form in recent weeks, Mickelson felt like he was on the verge of a breakthrough. He spent much of his recent practice working on focus. Staying present in the moment. In the end, golf is a mental game where a single uncommitted swing or distraction can lead to disaster and cost a tournament. There is no doubting Mickelson’s tremendous talent, but he is notorious for losing focus at the worst possible moment. Not this time. Between his practice and timely advice from his brother and caddie, he was able to remain dialed in down the stretch and outlast a star-studded leaderboard to win the PGA Championship at 50 years old. Incredible.

So, how did he do it? Well first, he hit bombs.

Mickelson has been all over social media discussing his “hellacious seeds” and “bombs.” Over the past several years, he put in a tremendous amount of work to go from average in terms of swing speed on the PGA Tour to fast. All of this at 50 years old. While this has separated him from fields on the Champions Tour, it has been difficult for Mickelson to keep it in play on the PGA Tour. Not this week. Mickelson may have only finished 29th in terms of strokes gained: driving this week, but he kept the ball in play and gave himself chances to hit the green. On a difficult, windy Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, that is more than many can say. In fact, he hit the longest drive of the day on hole 16 on Sunday. Take that Bryson. Using V1 Game’s driving distance analysis, Mickelson averaged over 300 yards across all drives for the week. This allowed him to dismantle the par 5s, which were critical to getting his overall score under par.

Mickelson did most of his damage on the front nine and in particular, holes two and seven above where he was 7 under for the week. V1 Game’s Hole History view gives a Shotlink-like view of how he played the two holes. Long drives in the fairway allowed him to be aggressive into the greens with easy chips or two-putt birdies. At a course as difficult as Kiawah, you have to birdie the holes you’re supposed to to give room for mistakes on the more difficult holes. Typically, the winner of each PGA Tour event makes very few mistakes. However, at Kiawah, mistakes were unavoidable. Between narrow fairways, wind, and difficult conditions, the week was more like a U.S. Open than a PGA Championship. Mickelson made mistakes, but he was able to minimize them with his amazing short game and tremendous lag putting.

The Virtual Coach in V1 Game details the mistakes Mickelson made throughout the week. Despite playing well all week, when the pressure was ratcheted up on Sunday there were more mistakes. Still, Mickelson did a great job of turning doubles into bogeys to minimize the damage. He was off to a shaky start on Sunday. He 3-putted the first hole and took 4 to get down from just 36 yards on the third hole. Around that time, his brother Tim told him to start committing to shots if he wanted to win. Mickelson was able to do that and didn’t make another mistake until the 13th hole by which time he had a five-stroke lead. Sometimes golf is a game of survival.

Not enough will be said about Mickelson’s putting this week. Phil is notorious for struggling with the short ones in pressure situations, and one observation from tracking his rounds — his lag putting was phenomenal. He consistently left himself inside two feet for his clean-up. This takes a tremendous amount of pressure off the putter when nerves are at an all-time high. This may not show up from a strokes gained perspective where you are rewarded for making longer putts, but not missing short ones is important as this was the downfall of both Louis Oosthuizen and Koepka. Mickelson may have finished 37th in strokes gained: putting for the week, but he made it easy for himself on the greens. So, if he finished in the 30s for driving and putting, how did he win the golf tournament?

If Mickelson is known for anything, it’s his prolific short game. He certainly shined when it mattered, gaining strokes on all four days around the green. He finished 18th for the week in strokes gained: short and made critical up and down time and again to minimize big numbers and save par. However, Mickelson truly separated himself with his strokes gained: approach gaining 4.4 strokes on the field with his irons and finishing fifth in the field. Add it all up and Phil is the winner in strokes gained: total and gets the Wanamaker.

It was a brilliant display of golf and focus. The scene at 18 was incredible as the crowd chanted “Lefty” and circled the green to watch the historic moment as the oldest man to ever win a major championship tapped in the final putt. Mickelson was focused. Golf is a mental game after all. The golf course was difficult and he played it better than anyone else.

Mickelson knew what he needed to work on these last several years to stay at the top of the game and has been able to do it through not just working on speed and hitting bombs, but improving his mental game along the way. V1 Game can help you understand what you need to work on to get better at any age and any skill level. Mickelson’s performance was inspiring as is his desire to use every tool available to get better. It was interesting late on Saturday to listen to both Oosthuizen and Koepka discuss their play. Louis was frustrated with his ballstriking, despite leading the field on Saturday in strokes gained: tee to green. It was his putter that was letting him down. Koepka complained about his putting after a late short miss when his iron play was below average for him. Even the best in the game can be confused on which area of their game is impacting their score. Strokes gained and V1 Game take the mystery out of game improvement. Whether you’re a young gun or closer to the Champions Tour, advanced analysis from V1 Game can get you following in Mickelson’s footsteps. What a great game golf is.

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