While driving and putting get the majority of the acclaim, one of the most important areas of the game for most amateurs and professionals is chipping. A strong chipping game can turn a bad day into a good one, a high score into a low one, and otherwise keep you in a match. Chipping, of course, is the area of your game around the greens. Chipping includes short shots out of the green-side rough after missing the green left or right, or chipping from the fairway before the green after coming up a few yards short.
While there are many variables to consider when trying to position the ball closely to the hole while chipping, we examine the six points to keep in mind when chipping around the green.
Golfers who have traveled to different parts of the country to play golf will appreciate our first point, which is that the grain of the grass will play a big part in the success or failure of your chipping. The turf’s grain, of course, relates to the direction in which the grass is lying. A piece of turf’s grain is impacted by a number of things — direction of the mower, grass type and foot traffic just to name a few. It will change your club’s path and the ball’s flight depending on its condition.
With most types of grass, golfers breathe a sigh of relief when their ball’s lie is “with the grain.” Being with the grain means that the grass your ball is sitting on is lying in the direction of your club’s swing path. Typically, a lie that is with the grain is easier to chip and produces a relatively easy-to-predict ball flight, which also makes success more likely once your ball lands on the putting surface.
When your ball is “against the grain,” you’re up for a challenge. A ball that lies on grass that leans away from your target and alternates your swing path produces a number of challenges. During the swing, the grass is likely to catch the club’s face and negatively impact its path towards your ball. The small shift in swing path causes big problems for your ability to make optimal impact with the ball. Additionally, even if you’re able to make square impact with the golf ball, its flight is far less predictable than a chip that offers a lie going “with the grain.”
To combat a chip that presents a problem with the grain, golfers are required to approach the shot differently. When your ball lies against the grain, aim to “pick it clean,” by limiting the amount of grass you actually catch during impact. This approach mitigates the damage caused by the less-than-ideal grain.
As all golfers know, there are very few flat surfaces on a golf course. When you find yourself chipping from around the green complex, there are even fewer flat surfaces to be found. Slope is an integral piece of information to consider in your chipping strategy. Taking the “grain” issue out of the equation, slope is the single most important factor in predicting the flight of your golf ball and its speed once it reaches the putting surface.
Typically, an uphill lie will cause the ball to fly higher and land softer, leading to a more manageable and predictable roll. Providing the uphill slope isn’t too severe, golfers love uphill lies. Downhill lies, of course, create some problems. Depending on the severity of the downhill slope, a downhill chip can be tough to catch clean during your swing and fly unpredictably. It’s tougher to control once it reaches the green complex.
Sidehill lies — which put the ball either above or below your feet — will typically spin to the direction in which the lie points. If you’re a right-handed golfer and find yourself with a sidehill lie and the ball is below your feet, the ball is likely to trend from left to right. For balls that sit above your feet, you’ll likely see it move the opposite direction — from right to left. Simply account for this movement during your chip to keep it close to the hole.
If you’re lucky enough to hit the chip you desired, the next thing to keep in mind is if the ball will “check” or “release.” Checking and releasing are heavily dependent on the ball’s spin. The ball’s spin, of course, is dependent on your lie and the quality of the strike at impact.
Golf balls with a high amount of spin will typically “check” on the green. When a ball checks, you’ll see it come to a quick stop after one or two bounces. Most advanced golfers rely on the ball checking and play their chips accordingly.
A ball with little or no spin will likely “release.” When a ball releases, it means that it rolls after bouncing onto the green. Most golfers play with the intention of the ball releasing and aim to play the green’s break when considering their strategies.
4. Putt position
The location from which you would like to putt is a big consideration when chipping. While we’d all like to drain every chip we make, it’s typically a better strategy to chip with the thought of putting yourself in a position to make the ensuing putt. With that said, it’s typically best to putt slightly uphill or leave yourself with a flat putt.
5. Your best chip is your worst putt
Often, you’ll be in a position around the green where you can either chip or putt. These situations are typically on the short grass, fringe, or in short and well-kept rough. In these situations, it’s often best to putt. If you have the opportunity to putt, take it. After all, the best chip you can hit is only as good as your worst putt.
6. Flop with caution
When watching a television broadcast of the PGA Tour, have you seen Phil Mickelson hit a crazy flop shot from around the green, over a tree or from the beer tent? Resist the urge to be like Mickelson and play a shot that makes sense for you and your abilities. A flop shot, of course, is when one takes a shot from a short distance that requires a high-lofted club, a full swing, and superior touch and precision.
Many golfers — regardless of skill level — opt for the flop shot more often than they should because of its appeal and the possibility of landing the ball softly on the green surface. While those are certainly good reasons to hit a flop shot, the room for error on these types of shots is far greater than a standard chip. If you’re able to chip the ball traditionally, we suggest you take that option and leave the flop shots to PGA Tour pros.
— Ben Larsen