Chipping — which generally means that the ball will spend longer rolling on the ground than it does in the air before it first hits the ground, while taking a lower trajectory — is one of the easier skills to learn. Often you can take a lower-lofted club and use a short swing barely longer than a putting stroke to get the ball rolling. Pitching — which means the ball will generally travel longer in the air than it does on the ground, while also taking a higher trajectory — is slightly more complicated. In the end, the fundamentals of both are simple for golfers of all skill levels to learn.
In this article, we will go over some of the fundamentals and describe ways to improve both your chipping and pitching.
The most important tip to remember is that you have to choose the right shot for you. This is critical, because not every golfer has the same skillset and comfort level with all shots.
First of all, when faced with a chip or pitch shot, you need to assess the lie. Is it sitting up perfectly? Is it buried in the rough? Are you on an upslope or downslope? Are there any obstacles in your path? Can you realistically aim at the flag or should you take a more conservative approach to ensure you reach the green?
The general rule of thumb to follow is to get the ball on the ground as soon as possible. Beginners should always look to their putters first, especially if they are just barely off the green. This greatly minimizes risk. If you are too far away from the green to putt, the next step should be to use a club like a fairway wood, hybrid or iron to make a small swing that gets the ball rolling with topspin through the fairway and onto the green. All you have to do is line up like you are going to putt and make a similar motion like you would on the green. The visual of a grandfather clock going back and forth is great for starters.
As you go up in skill level, using a higher-lofted wedge becomes more of a consistent option because you then remove the variable of having to judge the speed of the fairway grass compared to the green. But it's important to remember, a wedge usually involves more risk the more you try to open the face and get the ball higher in the air. Playing the ball further back in your stance with your weight slightly towards your leading side is a safer shot that will make the ball come out lower with more control.
After choosing the right shot, the next step is to reduce tension.
Gripping a club too tightly is detrimental in all phases of the game, but it can be particularly troubling when chipping and pitching the ball. This is because these shots require feel, which decreases greatly when you grip the club like you're holding on to the edge of a cliff.
This is an odd image, but the proper gauge is to picture holding a bird. You wouldn't want to crush the bird holding it too tightly, but you also wouldn't want it to fly away. You have to hold the club with a tension level that provides support while allowing you to feel the clubhead moving back and forth. It's amazing how this one fix can completely change someone's confidence around the greens.
Everything in golf comes down to the face. It controls a shot's trajectory and direction, so where it is pointed matters a great deal.
Start with where your clubface is going to end. Great pitchers of the ball finish with the clubface held square or slightly open because this provides height to a shot. If you see that clubface turning over to where the toe is pointed upwards, that is a cue for a lower shot with more power behind it. Usually, you don't want that when you are hitting shorter feel shots around the greens.
To hit the ball high, that face needs to start at least slightly open and it needs to finish there, too. If you can balance a glass of wine on the face when you are finished, that's a good sign.
To hit the ball low, you need to start with a square face and have a low follow-through where the clubface goes through impact naturally. It's a smaller version of a full-length swing.
What is the bounce of a wedge? If you were to hold the clubhead in the palm of your hand, the bounce would be the part touching your palm. It's that flange on the sole of the club that allows a club to "bounce" through impact.
Using the bounce of a club to your advantage is perhaps the most critical skill any chipper or pitcher of the ball can have. Why is this? Well, if you make contact with the leading edge of the clubface — the very bottom of the face — your club will dig into the ground wherever it enters. That means that if the leading edge hits the ground before it reaches the ball, you are going to hit a chunk and the ball won't go far at all. Even if the clubhead reaches the ball before the leading edge digs into the ground, it often takes perfect timing to get proper contact.
Meanwhile, if the bounce of a club makes contact with the ground before the leading edge, your margin for error goes up significantly. Picture it like you are trying to hit the ground with the bottom of the wedge rather than the actual clubface itself — even if you have a slight misstep, your club will continue moving forward and won't get stuck in the ground.
Of course, not every single situation calls for using the bounce. If you have a hard-pan lie with no room underneath the ball, you will likely need to drive the leading edge into the ground and play the ball back in your stance to ensure proper contact. But for the most part, using the bounce is the way to go.
Where your ball lands and what trajectory it has is a big piece of any short game shot. If you are hitting a lower shot, you will want to allow for more room as the ball will run more once it hits the ground. And if you are hitting a higher shot, you will want to land it closer to the hole because it likely won't run on the green as far.
Some golfers like to pick out a specific spot for where they want the ball to land, and some players just want to pick out a general area. Regardless, a great golfer visualizes the type of shot they want to hit, the height of the ball, how it will land, the speed of the greens and how it will roll on the green.
Chipping and pitching comes down to feel and being confident with the shot you choose to hit. Beginners should focus on keeping the ball on the ground longer, taking the highest-percentage shot available to them. When you again experience, that's when you can take more risks and develop more confidence.
The easiest way to do this is to start by reaching for the putter in most situations. If you can then learn how to hit lower lofted "bump and run" shots from around the green, that will serve as a foundation for everything else that is to come.