GOLF: Short Game Issues
Let’s start with the basics. What is the difference between a chip and a pitch? Generally speaking, a chip shot will have more roll than flight, while a pitch shot will have more flight than roll. Consequently, we usually chip the ball when closer to the green, and pitch the ball when we are further away. Most of us understand that the chip shot and pitch shot are designed to make the ball react differently. Why then do I see players using the same club for both? I cannot tell you how many times I see players chipping with a high lofted wedge when they should be using a different tool.
First, let’s establish a good set-up for the chip shot. I refer to the chip shot as a putting stroke with loft. The stance should be narrow and slightly open. Opening your stance, or dropping your left foot back, will effectively shorten your left leg and move your weight to your left side. The ball position should be center and your hands should be slightly in front of the ball. You may want to choke down on the grip for control. Finally, you are using your shoulders, not your hands, to make the stroke. Thus, I recommend using your putting grip.
As I mentioned earlier, a chip is simply a putting stroke with loft. Thus, a chipping stroke is controlled by the shoulders. One of my keys to good contact is the left wrist. At impact, the left wrist must remain flat and should be in front of the ball. This will promote a downward strike and help ensure solid contact. One of the biggest flaws in chipping technique occurs when the player tries to cup his left wrist at impact to help get the ball in the air. Remember, a chip shot is designed to roll more than it flies. If we want to get the ball up in the air, we either need to choose a different club or a different shot type.
To better understand club selection, we must first talk about philosophy. My goal when chipping is to get the ball to land ON the green and start rolling as quickly as possible. Thus, I chip with three different clubs—
7-iron, 9-iron and SW. I recommend practicing the technique and experimenting with different clubs to find which you feel most comfortable using. The best way to a better chipping game is to get out to the practice green and experiment!
Similar to the chip shot, I recommend setting up a pitch shot with a slightly open stance and choke down on the grip for control. I prefer a centered ball position, however, this will change depending on the desired trajectory of the shot. You should pitch the ball with any and all of your wedges. For the pitch shot, you will need to set up with the shaft pointing at your centerline to maintain the bounce on your wedge. The bounce of a wedge, when used properly, will allow the club to glide along the turf for a period of time that will actually assist in the consistency of the shot. To practice this feeling, make practice swings by folding your right elbow and turning through the shot, so the shaft once again points at your centerline at impact. Try to feel like the back of the sole on your wedge is striking the ground. This is quite different from the chip shot where the leading edge of your club strikes the ground and tends to dig.
Once you feel comfortable with the basic motion of a pitch shot, I recommend experimenting with different ball positions, as well as different wedges, to see how each will produce a different shot. Use the following “Flight-to-Roll Ratio” chart as a guideline for your own experimentation. This chart outlines the basic flight distance to roll distance for four wedges (pitching wedge, gap wedge,sand wedge, and low wedge) when played from each of the three ball positions (back, middle, and forward of stance). All shots are played with the same pitching motion.
Flight to Roll Ratio
Knowing is half the battle. I hope you now understand the difference between a chip shot and a pitch shot, as well as when each should be used. Remember, when playing a round of golf, you should always hit the shot type that you are most comfortable with. The other half of this battle is in your hands. It is up to you to go out and practice the techniques outlined here and experiment for yourself what shots will help you become a better golfer.
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Colby Wollitz is a PGA-certified teaching pro at Oxmoor Country Club in Louisville, Kentucky.
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