This is a big question for many players. Even the pros struggle with it sometimes, as you may have noticed if you watched much golf this weekend. What is the determining factor for choosing the putt over the chip... or vice versa?
To be honest, there aren't any clear-cut, always-true answers. I talked about this some in my book Ruthless Putting. The height of the rough, the distance between the ball and the green, the skills you bring to the game, your comfort level, even the type of round you're playing (match play vs. stroke play) can influence your decision. Sometimes you just know what you should do. But when you can't decide, here are some basic guidelines that can help you overcome your indecision.
- If the ball is sitting down in the rough, chip. If the grass is thick and the ball will roll along the top, putt. If the grass is thick enough, you can putt even in taller grass. Just remember that you'll still have to stroke the ball more firmly than you would if the grass was shorter.
- If the ball is very close to the hole and the green runs away from you, a flubbed putt may be better than a flubbed chip. Which shot will leave you the least trouble if you don't hit it well? This is a defensive play, so choose the shot you feel is safest.
- Forget that whole "acceleration" thing. You've probably been told you need to accelerate the club through the ball to get a solid shot. If you aren't confident, this advice often leads to stubbed or skulled shots. Rather than trying to accelerate, take a longer backswing and try to swing at a constant speed. You're more likely to get that acceleration you want this way, since gravity will accelerate your club automatically, and also more likely to hit the ball solidly.
- Don't get cute with the shot. Unless you really trust your short game, don't try to do anything fancy. Just make sure your next stroke is a putt. Leaving yourself a ten-foot putt is better than leaving another shot from the rough on the other side of the green.
There often aren't any right or wrong answers when it comes to the short game. Even Tom Watson, after he missed out at the Open Championship this year, said he felt better when Jack Nicklaus told him he'd made the right choice. Hindsight is always 20/20, but it's always too late to help us... so just relax and make the best choice you can. You'll learn and improve from it, even if you do hit a bad shot.