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The Wedge Guy: Scoring Series Part 4: Chipping fundamentals

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Editor’s Note: Pictured above, Bud Cauley is the PGA Tour leader in strokes gained: around the green this season, picking up an average of .684 strokes on the field. 

In this fourth part of my series on short range performance, I am going to dive into what I consider the basics of chipping. Understand that I know some of you are already superb chippers of the ball, while others struggle with this part of the game. It is this latter group that I hope to help with my thoughts today.

One of the odd things about chipping is that you can see golfers with their own “home-made” technique that do just fine, possibly even much better than average. We all know some of those guys. This treatise, however, is to try to break down some of the basic fundamentals that will help you become better on those short shots around the greens.

When the ball is off the putting surface, and you face a basic chip, think of it as a mini-swing or a long putt. You are trying to execute a rather relaxed back-and-through with only a little movement in the wrists…but there will always be some if you are relaxed. The essence of the chipping stroke, however, is a rotation of the shoulders. With that as our foundation, here is my take on the basics

  1. Your basic chipping posture is somewhere between your putting set up and that for a half-wedge. Knees should be flexed, and your upper body should be bent over from the hips so that your free-hanging left arm puts your left hand clear of your thigh. Your front foot should be pulled back from the line a little so that your hips and shoulders are slightly open to square to the intended line. Notice where your naturally hanging left-hand position is in relation to your body—I’m a believer that in the shorter golf shots you want the left hand to “cover” its address position as it comes back through the impact zone.
  2. Set up with the ball at or just back of the center of your stance. Pay attention to this, as you will find that the open stance might visually throw you off here. Use your naturally hanging left hand as your guide. Gripping the club there, the shaft should have a slight backward angle so that your hands are just forward of the ball. The most common error I see in chipping setups is that golfers have a severe backward angle of the shaft, which de-lofts the club too much for good chipping. But having the ball too far forward will cause you to “flip” the clubhead at the ball, usually resulting in very thin contact, or chunking the club behind the ball.
  3. Use a very light grip on the club. This is a feel shot, and a tight grip destroys all sensation of touch, and ruins tempo. I like to feel like my left arm and hand are holding the club with control, and my right hand is taking it back and through with precision and touch. If you are right-handed, your eye-hand coordination is firmly established between your eyes and right fingers and thumb. Use this natural “touch” in your putting and chipping as much as you can.
  4. The back stroke is almost lazy. —A very simple backward rotation of the body core, allowing the right hand to “feel” the shot all the way. A slight break of the wrists can be allowed at the end of the backstroke, and you should feel the club stop and reverse direction—pause if you have to. But a hurried downstroke is the killer.
  5. On the through stroke, the body core and shoulders lead, with the left arm and hand guiding the path and the right hand determining the touch required to generate the proper force. Do not make an awkward attempt to “accelerate” but just emulate a pendulum stroke—back and through, keeping the hands ahead of the clubhead. Your goal is for the impact position to exactly duplicate your set up position.
  6. Finally, I’m a proponent of chipping with different clubs, while others believe you should always chip with your sand wedge or even lob wedge. My philosophy is that you should choose a club that will just loft the ball safely over the fringe, so that it lands on the green where bounce and roll-out are predictable. For consistency, figure out where the ball needs to land on the green, and then how much roll to allow for after that, to get it all the way to the hole. If you want to carry it only 10-20 percent of the way, a 6- 8-iron is usually good. At the other end, if you want to carry it more than half-way to the hole, you might opt for a pitching or gap wedge or even more loft. Of course, green speed and firmness have to be taken into account. It only takes a little experimenting learn this basic piece of the puzzle.

To give yourself the best chance at giving the shot the right touch and speed control, pick out the exact spot you want the ball to land…and then forget the hole! Focus intently on this landing spot. Your natural eye-hand coordination will always register on where you are looking, and if you are looking at the hole, you will usually fly the ball too far and hit your chips long more often than not.

So, that is my guide to a good chipping technique. I hope many of you can put at least one or two of these fundamentals to work right away.
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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Dan Poehler

    Jul 25, 2019 at 9:52 am

    Terry, this is all good and I agree. A personal preference that I would like to add is to let the hips rotate back & then through. This changes the swing to a mini version of my full swing where the club travels back inside, square and then back to inside instead of like a pendulum. My home course is Timber Creek in Friendswood, Texas.

  2. Bob Jones

    Jul 24, 2019 at 7:28 pm

    #3, grip pressure, is super-important for the very reason you mention.

  3. DJM

    Jul 24, 2019 at 4:51 am

    What grip do you like to use when you chip? Also, this product helps achieve everything you discuss and is an awesome chipping aid: https://www.amazon.com/IdealStretch-Doctor-Training-Practicing-Easiest/dp/B07TKMPRL8/

  4. Johann van der Walt

    Jul 23, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Fantastic guidelines! Thank you.

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