Dear Dr. Putt:
Please help me! I am really terrible on short chip shots. Sometimes I skull em, and sometimes I hit behind the ball and it only moves a few inches. The further away I am, the less horrible I do, but from about 10 feet off the green and in I am really awful. I am not sure if I am even using the right club. I should be doing this with a pitching wedge, shouldn't I? One of my playing friends suggested a 7 iron. I am really a pretty good player except for this. I hit the ball high and can get 175 yards consistently out of my 5 iron. What do you think? M. Chips
My Dear Mr. Chips:
Dr. Putt would venture to say with some certainty that your problem is quite simple. You are trying to manipulate the blade with your hands while decellerating through the ball. Furthermore, you are trying to take the same kind of divot that enables you to hit the ball so high and far on full shots. Consequently, you take a small chop at the ball rather then brush the grass wtih your blade.
Happily, the prescription is quite simple. "Putt" your short chip shots. That is, think about putting the ball with the same grip, motion and stroke as you would on the green, but with the appropriate chipping club.
Dr. Putt assumes that you putt with firm wrists and hands, maintaining the same angles between your wrists and the shaft throughout the swing (as they say, maintaining the triangle). He further assumes that you are putting with a pendulum motion so that the follow-through is slightly longer than the backswing. Finally, he assumes that you are using the standard reverse overlap grip rather than lead-hand-low (or what is commonly called the "cross handed" grip). One can execute this simple chip with other grips (including Dr. Putt's "EOB" grip), but the standard putting grip seems to function best.
Execute the stroke by keeping your weight about 60% on the lead foot. Then simply brush the ball off the grass with your normal putting stroke. To hit the ball higher, play the ball slightly forward, and to hit it lower, play it back in your stance. But do not get the ball ahead of your hands!
On the matter of which club to use, two schools of thought exist. The professionals and most teachers advise using the club that lands the ball on the green quickest and then lets the ball roll the rest of the way. So if one is close to the green and needs more roll than air flight, a 7 iron may be right. The problem with this approach is that the player must learn the flight and roll characteristics of a variety of clubs. Golf is hard enough for most of us! So the second approach is to use a favorite club and learn it well. For this approach Dr. Putt perfers the sand wedge. The bounce helps it slide along the grass without catching. However, on very tight lies you may be better with a wedge of even a 9 or 8 to avoid bouncing off the ground and blading the ball.
This "putt your chip" stroke will work for distances up to the point where your hands go beyond about the 7 o'clock position. At that point you should switch to the more standard grip and chip. But again, think about brushing the grass rather than hitting down on the ball, and keep 60% of your weight on the forward foot.
To prevent trying to work the ball with your hands, try taking your right thumb off the grip as you swing (left thumb for left handed players). Swing smoothly trying to keep the hands ahead of the ball till well after impact. Really work to keep the back swing shorter than the follow through, and then pose at the end, which is what you should do on all shots, especially chips and putts.
Good luck, and good bye, Mr. Chips! (Sorry, Dr. Putt could not resist!)
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