February 2011

FEBRUARY 2011: Golf Tips From A Pro - The Art Of Scoring, Part 1: Chipping

Author: Pete Popovich | Photographer: Photography by Anne

I am often asked, “Next to putting, what is the biggest difference between a fine amateur and a touring professional?” My response is, “Three things: short game, short game and short game.” The short game includes pitching but especially chipping. Unlike pitch shots, chip shots are executed in close proximity to the green and have a lower trajectory; if you are unable to chip the ball close to the hole, your percentage for making putts—and lowering your scores—drops significantly.

As always, regardless of the club or the shot, good teachers begin with the set up. In a chipping stance, the feet should be approximately four-six inches apart at the heels with a slight bend in the knees. The lead foot can be flared out slightly. To shorten the backswing, open the stance approximately 15-20 inches. The position of the hands is the same as for a full swing—forward of stance center and just inside the crease of your forward-leg trousers. This setup places your hands ahead of the ball, regardless of ball position, and is a constant for almost any chip shot.

By altering your ball position only half a ball-width backward or forward from center, you can use the same swing to achieve a variety of ball trajectories, spin and roll. There are three such positions:

1. Middle ball position; i.e. middle of the ball placed directly in middle of stance so your eyes are looking directly onto the top of the ball. The middle of the ball is in the middle of the stance because the tangent point of the swing arc on this shot is also in the middle of the stance. Since half of the ball is behind the middle of the stance, the descending club contacts the ball slightly prior to contacting the ground and produces a repeatable mid ball flight.

2. Back ball position; i.e. ball moved half a ball-width back from middle of stance. With this ball position, your eyes are looking down directly onto the front of the ball (remember: your head does not move; only the ball position moves!) at address. Here, the club head contacts the ball even more prior to becoming tangent to the ground, thereby de-lofting the clubface, lowering trajectory, reducing spin and increasing roll.

3. Forward ball position; i.e. ball moved half a ball-width forward from middle-of-stance. With this ball position, your eyes (again with a steady head) are looking down directly at the back of the ball during the stroke. Here the club head bottoms out at the same middle-stance position, but because the back of the ball is at this point, the club is bottoming out just as it contacts the ball, producing increased loft and spin but less roll.

If you “open” or hold the club face at more than a 90-degree angle to the ball’s intended line, thereby adding loft, you increase spin. If you “close” the clubface, or place it at an angle less than 90 degrees to the ball’s intended line, decreasing loft, you reduce spin. By varying your face angle to the target line you can change the golf ball’s trajectory, spin, roll and other action on the green. You should not attempt altering face angle until you have mastered all three ball positions.

Altering your weight distribution alters the angle at which the club head comes into the ball. If your weight is set more to the rear leg, you will shallow out this angle of attack, allowing the club head to come into the ball with more loft, resulting in a higher/softer shot, often with more spin. If you set your weight to the front leg, the angle of the club head into the ball is much steeper, decreasing loft and usually decreasing spin. This is a subtle variation of the basics mentioned above. It can give you a greater array of shot choices and control from the basics, but you should not attempt altering weight distribution until you have a complete understanding of ball position and face angle, can perform them effectively, and have a qualified teacher assist you.

Altering fulcrum points means altering the point at which your hands release the club head. In the chipping stroke, your hands normally release when they return to the point they occupied at the address position—just inside the crease of your pants on your lead leg. Altering fulcrum points takes a lot of practice, may not be necessary for every golfer and, like weight distribution, should only be attempted after you have a thorough understanding of ball position and face angle and have a teacher who is qualified to determine what particular variation on the basic theme is best suited to your improvement.

To learn how to chip the ball close to or even into the hole, contact me at the Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head: (843) 338-6737; pete@golfacademyhiltonhead.com; golfacademyhiltonhead.com; or on Facebook at Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head. We guarantee to improve your game.

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