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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chunky Chips

No, not the chocolate kind. (They wouldn’t be a problem at all!) I’m talking about the embarrassing kind, where you can’t even get the ball on the green from a couple of feet away.

It doesn’t take a lot of practice to become a good chipper, but even the best players chunk them at times. (Even Tiger and Phil have hit poor chips over the last few weeks, and we consider them geniuses at the short game!) Fortunately, there are a couple of simple tips that can help even the worst chipper improve quickly.

You may have heard the first one stated this way: Hit the little ball before the big ball. That simply means you want to hit the golf ball before you hit the ground. (You did realize that Earth is the big ball, didn’t you?) The easiest way to do this is to move the ball back in your stance a little, just to make sure that you hit it while the club is still moving down. The taller the grass is around your ball, the farther you’ll need to move it back.

As a general rule, moving the ball back in your stance means that the ball will come out a little lower with more backspin. It will fly further onto the green before landing, but it won’t roll quite as far. Of course, the taller the grass is around your ball, the less backspin you’ll get and the farther the ball will roll… but that’s better than having another chip from the same spot.

The second tip helps when the lie is a little “fluffy”―you know the one, where the grass is so thick that the ball is suspended above the ground. These are the lies where the club sometimes goes right under the ball, leaving it pretty much where it was before you made your stroke. These may be the most embarrassing shots of all. (Other than shanks. Nobody likes a shank.)

Many players use a sand wedge for all their chips. (Among pros, Mickelson is the best known.) But the best way to avoid going under the ball is to use a “taller” club, like a 9-, 8-, of even 7-iron. Take a look at this diagram:

Fluffy lies with different irons

As you can see, the ball is sitting on a cushion of grass and not touching the ground. The top of the sand wedge doesn’t even make it halfway up the ball; it would be pretty easy for it to slide right under the ball and leave the ball in the rough. With the same lie, the short iron presents a much taller profile; even if it’s not a pretty shot, the iron will still hit the ball solidly enough to get it out of the rough.

Granted, if you short-sided yourself and don’t have much green to work with, the chip hit with the short iron may leave you a fairly long putt. But at least it will be a putt, not another chip from the same spot.

You can walk right out onto the course and use both of these tips without any practice at all. They won’t turn you into a scratch golfer, but they can certainly help prevent some double-bogeys. This is one area where golf truly is like life…

Sometimes you get can ahead if you just avoid compounding your first mistake.

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