Most golfers know that the short game is the most important part of the game. We know that because we’ve been told that over and over again by instructors, playing partners, television commentators, and magazines.
It’s been widely promoted in the world of golf because it’s true. The short game is a unique part of the game. It’s not sexy like the driver, but it allows us to accomplish the whole point of the game; getting the golf ball in the hole.
Now, when I say “short game” you probably think of a couple different shots.
There’s the putt, which is obviously part of the short game, but there’s also pitching and chipping. That’s where we’re going to focus in this article.
Golf isn’t a game of perfect. All players, even the professionals, miss shots from time to time. Pitching and chipping is generally the shots that are required when we’ve missed a previous shot, typically an approach shot.
It’s in those moments, when our game shows its flaws, that we have an opportunity to crumble even more, or save the round with a good short game. The truth is, a good short game, is the difference between a good player and a great player.
The ability to chip and pitch the golf ball well will, without a doubt, lower your scores. No matter what your current skill level, improving in this area will drop your scores more than any other. Take some time to read this article and incorporate the concepts into your game and you’ll start seeing some low numbers on your scorecard in no time.
The Difference between Chipping and a Pitch Shot in Golf
The first thing we have to discuss is the difference between pitching and chipping. A lot of times, the two words are used interchangeably for the same shot.
You’ve probably heard your playing partners talk about pitching when they are chipping and chipping when they’re pitching. When we hear this talk, we generally know what they mean, but some people don’t know the correct terminology.
So, let’s first talk about the chip shot. A chip shot is a shot that stays close to the ground and bounces for most of the time after impact. To be honest, this could be of any distance, but generally golfers will chip when they are close to the green. The fringe is a cut of grass around the green, about the length of the fairway, that many people decide to chip from.
As for a club selection, a chip shot can be hit with almost any club.
- Most of the time, a player will select a mid-iron to hit a chip shot, but that’s not always the case.
- Occasionally a wedge is used.
- There are even times when players will use a wood or hybrid.
The club selection depends on the player’s comfortability, the distance of the shot, and any obstacles that might be in the way. A chip shot is a highly creative shot because it requires the player to assess the situation and decide on which club will work best.
Another version of the chip is the bump and run shot. It is generally considered to be a little longer version of the chip shot. For more information, head over to my article about the bump and run shot.
When to Chip
Now, the question becomes, “when should I chip?” It’s one thing to acknowledge that a chip shot is a very creative shot and another to give some tangible ways to decide on a chip and club selection. So, in this section of the article, we’re going to talk about when to chip and which club to choose when you do chip.
First, let’s talk about when to chip. Since a chip shot is a shot where the ball bounces and stays close to the ground for most of the shot, you have to analyze the ground conditions between you and the target.
For example, if your ball is in the rough and there is a greenside bunker between you and the hole, you probably shouldn’t chip because you can’t easily predict how the ball will respond when it rolls or bounces through the rough or bunker.
That’s the key, how easily can you predict how the ball will respond to the ground conditions?
There are two main things to consider with this;
- Ground Conditions
Now, if you’re in the fairway, 50 yards from the green, you might be able to easily predict where the ball will bounce because of the short grass, but the distance raises the likelihood that something will happen that you didn’t expect.
So, to wrap up when you should chip:
- You should chip when you can easily predict how the ball will bounce along the ground.
- It’s easy to predict how a ball will respond when the grass is shorter and there aren’t any obstacles in the way.
- Also, you can easily predict the ball when there isn’t much distance between you and the target.
Now, when you’ve decided to chip, which club should you use?
Well, that is dependent on two different things.
First, the distance of the shot. If the shot is short enough to chip, that doesn’t automatically mean that you have a short shot.
- For the longer chip shots, you probably want to use a club that hits the ball farther like a mid to long iron. At times, on longer chip shots, you may even use a wood or hybrid. That decision comes down to comfortability.
- On shorter chip shots, you have the option of hitting a wedge as well because you can get it to roll out.
One other factor to consider is spin.
A club with a higher loft is going to spin more than a longer club.
Take that into consideration. On a shot that is downhill, you may want more backspin, so the ball doesn’t roll out too far.
How to Hit the Chip Shot
Now that we’ve got the “when” out of the way, let’s start talking about how to hit a chip shot. So, you’ve decided to chip the ball and selected a club.
The Chipping Grip:
The first thing you need to consider with your chip shot is your grip. Most people will use the same grip on their chip shot as their full-swing. I would definitely agree with that.
There is another option though. Since the chip shot is like a long putt with a different club, you can use your putting grip if you’re more comfortable with that.
One of the main things that your grip impacts is the face angle. For a chip shot, there’s not a lot of time for the club face to turn, so you should be able to hit the ball on line with your putting grip.
That all being said, make sure your grip is one that can get the ball rolling in your intended direction. That’s the most important thing.
As for your grip pressure, you want to make sure that you are holding the club fairly light. The tighter you grip the club the more “feel” or “touch” you lose on the shot.
For a chip shot, and all short game shots, you really want to be able to feel the club and judge distances well. So, make sure your grip is loose, but you won’t drop the club.
Aiming your Chips:
The next thing to do is aim. Since you’re relying on the ball to roll along the proper line, I’d encourage you do crouch down behind the shot like you would a putt. This will allow you to read the break of the ground.
Make sure you pick a very specific line, just like you would a putt. Your goal is to get the ball started on that line and let gravity take it to the hole.
Once you’ve selected your line, you’re going to want to align your club face to that line. An easy way to do this:
- Pick out a blade of grass or a leaf or something that is closer to your ball than the hole. Make sure that secondary target is in line with the target.
- Then, you can address your club face to that secondary target and be more accurate.
- Once your club face is lined up perpendicular to where you want to go, set your feet. Your feet line ought to be parallel to your target line.
Next, it’s your stance. Your chipping stance is a little bit different than your full-swing in a couple ways.
- First, your feet ought to be close together. They shouldn’t be so close that they touch or so close that you easily lose your balance though.
- As always, make sure you’re comfortable in your stance. You never want to have a foot stance that’s uncomfortable just because someone tells you it’s what you should do.
- Your ball position will be off the inside of your back foot (right foot for a right-handed player). This will allow you to get the ball down on the ground and rolling quicker.
To go along with this, it’s a good idea to start with about 60-70% of your weight on your front foot. So, you may feel like you’re tilting a little bit forward, but that’s good. I’ll explain more about this in the “Impact” section below.
The Chipping Swing:
Now, you’re ready to swing the club and hit your shot. The swing for the chip shot is very similar to a putt. You want to make sure that your wrists stay fairly stable.
To make sure you do this, keep the backside of your wrist flat. You want to eliminate any wrist hinge.
Again, similar to a putt, you’ll swing the club like a pendulum; with the backswing and forward swing being the same length.
Also, the rotation of your wrists, and therefore the club face, stays pretty stable as well. Any wrist of club face rotation is an unnecessary movement that may cause the ball to fly off to the right or left.
One secret that every golfer needs to execute a great chip shot is to always accelerate through the ball.
Amateur golfers get into trouble when the decelerate through impact.
Impact, like I said above, is very much tied to the ball position and your weight distribution. Since your weight starts a little forward and the ball is placed back in your stance, you’ll want to make sure impact is moving down and through the ball.
What I mean by this is that you’ll want to hit the ball first and the ground second; both of them in that order. This sort of impact position will keep the ball low and will also put some good spin on the ball before the first bounce.
Not only that, but it’ll make the distance much easier to control.
The Chipping Finish:
The finish position, as I mentioned above, ought to be equal distance to the backswing. Your hands will finish fairly low and the club face will be square to the target line. You also ought to have your weight distributed the same as it was at address, on the front side, and keep it like that throughout the swing. Since this is a small swing, there isn’t a ton of change throughout the swing.
When to Hit a Pitch Shot
A pitch shot is a little different. It’s similar to a chip in that it’s not a full-swing, but that’s about where the similarities end.
- A pitch shot is typically chosen when a player has some sort of obstruction, like a bunker or pond, to get over.
- It may also be selected if the ground conditions aren’t favorable, making it difficult to predict how a ball would respond if it rolled along the ground for a significant amount of time.
Again, like we talked about in the section above, unfavorable ground conditions may be the rough, but it may be the fairway if the shot is a little longer. When a shot is a little longer in distance, it brings in a lot more factors that can push your ball off line.
Another indication that you should hit a pitch shot is if you need the ball to land softly or with a lot of backspin. Those two things will cause the ball to not roll out as far.
So, there’s also a chance you need to hit a pitch shot if you don’t have a lot of green to work with because the pin is tucked close to the edge of the green.
As for club selection, the pitch shot has fewer options. In general, you’re going to want a club with a lot of loft to hit a pitch shot. This could be anything from a lob wedge to a 9-iron.
Whatever club you feel comfortable getting the ball up in the air with. Obviously, depending on your club, that’ll influence the shot height, distance, and roll.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t pitch with a 7-iron, but that’s fairly unlikely and takes a bit more touch than a normal pitch shot.
How to Hit a Pitch Shot
Again, now that we’ve got the “when” out of the way for pitching, let’s talk about how to actually hit a pitch shot.
How to Grip for a Pitch:
First things first. The grip is always the most important place to start.
Unlike the chip shot, the pitch shot will use the same grip as your full-swing.
- Make sure that the club is in your fingers and not too much in your palms, similar to your grip if you were swinging a hammer.
- Next, both of the “V’s” on your hands will point towards your back shoulder.
These two main characteristics will keep consistency between your full-swing and pitch swing, as well as keep the ball flying on the proper line.
Similar to the chip shot, you want to make sure that your grip is not too tight. I like to encourage people to imagine the grip on your club is a tube of toothpaste with the cap off and facing down. You’d be able to swing the tube without any toothpaste coming out, but also keeping it in your hands.
How to Aim a Pitch Shot:
For the most part, aiming your shot is very similar to a chip shot. Aim your club face perpendicular to the target line and align your feet line parallel to that.
That being said, there are times when you’ll need to change that with a pitch shot.
- In order to hit a shot higher than normal, you may need to open your club face and open your stance. The more you do these two things the higher the ball will go.
- Then, when you open the club face and your feet, you’ll swing your club path down your feet line.
- In order to aim this type of pitch shot, sometime called a flop shot, you want to make sure your club face stays perpendicular to the target line at all times.
For more information on hitting the high flop shot, head over to my article on how to hit the flop shot.
The Correct Stance for a Pitch Shot:
The stance for a pitch shot is, for the most part, the same as a full-swing.
- Your feet are shoulder width apart
- The ball is in the middle of your stance
Some changes you can make to the normal set-up is your ball position and feet (discussed above).
- In order to get the ball higher in the air, you can move the ball forward in your stance.
- The opposite is also true, in order to hit the ball lower, move the ball back.
Moving the ball back in your stance will also increase the spin on your shot.
You’ll also want to move your weight slightly forward in your stance, just like the chip shot. This will allow you to create a good downward, ball first, impact.
On to the swing portion of the pitch shot. The swing is very similar to a full-swing, which is different from a chip shot.
- In this shot, you will allow your wrists to hinge in the backswing.
- Similar to the chip shot though, you still want to make sure that your backswing is the same length as your forward swing.
- You’ll also want to make sure you accelerate through the ball too.
Like I said, the impact position ought to be ball first and then the ground. Again, this is the same as the chip shot.
Actually, it’s the same as most shots in golf except the driver and putt. A ball first, then ground impact position will give your shot better control and spin. Hitting ground first, will result in a skulled pitch shot and everyone on the opposite side of the green getting stitches!
Pitch Shot Finish:
Finally, the finish position, like I mentioned earlier, will be about the same length as the backswing. You won’t finish with the club all the way up on your shoulder, like in a full-swing, but you’ll still have the club in front of you and your weight on your front foot.
The Bottom Line
Knowing when, where, and how to hit a chip, pitch shot, flop shot, bump and run, or a low spinner wedge is the beginning of having a really fantastic short game. A great short game can really save a player after a missed shot; keeping scores low.
The next time you encounter a short shot, take a second look and figure out which shot you should hit to take to give yourself the best chance of getting the ball close to the hole.
Finally, to fine tune your pitching and chipping. Head over to our article on wedge bounce to make sure your clubs are optimized for the shot you’re trying to hit.