Lower Your Score – Improve Your Chipping
It is hard to get golf pros to agree on much. They all have different opinions on the best equipment, the best golf courses, even the best clothes. However, there is one thing that just about every golf pro would agree to – the easiest and fastest way to lower scores is to improve your chipping. While you can see long-term gains from improving your swing, those improvements are slower to come. With chipping, you can practice your form and see results incredibly quickly. Since most golfers neglect practicing their chipping game instead opting for full swings and putting practice, chipping is ripe for quick improvement and many saved shots.
The key to a consistent chipping game is controlling the distance of your chip shots. Think about it – when was the last time you were WAY off line with a chip shot? It doesn’t happen very often. Since you are starting from just off the edge of the green, it is pretty easy to get within a couple feet of the right line to one side or the other. However, it is very easy to hit a chip shot 10 feet short or 10 feet long. Because of this, the vast majority of your practice time should be spend on controlling the distance of your chip shots. Don’t worry about the line – as long as you make good contact and control the distance, you will be left with a very makeable putt for your up and down save.
Gaining control over your distance while chipping is all about making clean contact. If you don’t make good contact with the ball, you will have no way of guessing how far the shot will travel. By hitting the ball first and taking a small divot, you can start to feel the ball coming off of the club and, over time, you will learn exactly how far the ball is going to travel.
In order to make clean contact, you have to have a downward swing plane, much like with a full iron shot. You want your club head to be swinging down over the grass that is behind the ball, so that the ball gets pinched between the club face and the ground. When done properly, the contact will make a clear ‘clicking’ sound and the ball will pop up easily out of the grass. A well struck chip shot will take surprisingly little effort to cover the distance to the hole.
As a way of practicing your distance control on chip shots, it is helpful to use a drill. One great drill for chipping distance is called the ‘ladder drill’. This drill requires very little in the way of equipment, and can be done alone or with a friend. To start, you will just need a handful of golf balls, your wedge, a couple of tees, and an open space on a practice green that you can chip to.
For the set-up, walk onto the green and place one tee just a few paces from the edge. Then take the other tee about 10 steps further onto the green and push it into the turf. The two tees are going to act as the start and finish of your ‘ladder’. Head back to a good spot to chip from and drop down several golf balls. For your first try, the terrain should be a relatively flat to make the drill easier. We can add elevation change later.
The goal with your first chip shot is to chip the ball past the first tee, but not by much. You want to keep the ball as close to the tee as possible without coming up short. If you fail to do so, retrieve the ball and try again. When your first shot successfully passes the first tee, you can continue on to the second chip shot. This time, you are trying to chip the ball past your first shot, but short of the long tee. If you succeed, the drill continues and you try to keep chipping balls further than the one previous while still being short of the longest tee. If any of your chip shots come up short of the previous shot, the drill ends and you start over.
The idea behind this drill is to develop feel in your hands by training yourself to add just a little bit more power on each successive shot. At first, you might only be able to fit a couple shots into your ladder before you miss. However, with some practice, you will soon be able fit 6 or 7 shots into the ladder, if not more. For variety, try chipping with a friend, alternating shots until one of you misses. This adds some fun to the drill and puts a little extra pressure on you, as well.
Chipping is an often overlooked but critically important part of the game. If you want to lower your scores, you need to commit to spending some time practicing your chipping and improving your distance control. With even a small amount of practice time, including the ladder drill, you can start to see the improvements in your very next round.