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Saturday, June 17, 2017

How Your Lead Shoulder Affects Your Chipping

I know that sounds like a strange title but bear with me. This post may help you dramatically improve your chipping!

In late May I did a post called Dealing with Conflicting Wedge Advice. Recently Dana left a comment on that post asking about an article he read on "side-saddle chipping" and how it compared to the pop stroke I described in Ruthless Putting. (For those of you who haven't read the book, I devoted a chapter to Bobby Jones's pop putting stroke and noted that Jones also used it for chipping.)

I found the article at It's by Stacy Lewis's coach Joe Hallett and it's called The New Way to Chip, and Turn Bogeys into Pars and Birdies. To be honest, I wasn't particularly impressed by it because it just looks like chipping from an extremely open stance. (See the photo below.) I also told Dana I'd do a post this week about using your wrists when you chip.

Side-saddle chipping position

As I prepared to do that post, I realized I needed to talk some about how your lead shoulder works when you chip, and why your chipping problems can be caused by your shoulder. But as I started working on this post, I realized why Hallett's "side-saddle chipping" technique seemed so revolutionary to them. (I don't think they recognized it, because they never mention it in the article, and because some of the advice they gave makes no sense if they did. I'll come back to that later.) So here's what Hallett & Company didn't tell you.

I'll make this anatomy lesson as brief and painless as possible.

The drawing below shows the bone structure of one shoulder. (This is a right shoulder -- a leftie's lead shoulder -- but it works the same way for the left shoulder of a rightie.) Your humerus -- that is, the bone in your upper arm -- is actually a bit L-shaped, with the ball joint extending out past the main bone. In the drawing, I've put a huge black dot over the ball joint and an upside-down L for the upper arm.

When you address the ball for a putt or a chip or even a full swing, your shoulder line extends from the angle in the L of one shoulder, through the ball joint, along the black line to the other shoulder's ball joint and out to the angle of the other shoulder. You can see the lines for the lead shoulder in the small line drawing labeled "At Address" below the drawing. (Yes, that thick black line at the end of the "arm" represents a hand, which is presumably holding a wedge. Stop snickering!)

Shoulder design and movement during chip

But when our intrepid golfer swings the club back to chip the ball, and he reaches the change of direction (in the second drawing), notice what happens at the ball joint. For your arm to cross your chest, the entire L shape of the upper arm rotates outward, so that the small part of the L is no longer in line with the rest of your shoulder girdle. This changes how the club is going to contact the ball when you actually chip the ball, unless you return the shoulder to the original address position.

In fact, this is one reason why some of you have a "chicken wing" finish in your full swing. Your elbow can only move up and down, in line with the bone in your upper arm. When your shoulder rotates to the position shown in the "Change of Direction" diagram, your elbow now points toward the target, not behind you as it did at address. And if you don't take measures to get your shoulder back in line, your elbow will STILL point at the target when you hit the ball. Do you follow me so far?

Although they may not realize it, that's the reason teachers want you to "cover the ball" and "keep your hands/the club in front of you" and all those other phrases they use to describe keeping your elbows closer to your side throughout your swing. In fact, that's the purpose of Ben Hogan's legendary elbow drill, as shown below. Keeping your elbows as close to your side as possible during the lower half of your swing forces your shoulders to rotate back into their original address position at impact. That improves your contact and accuracy.

Which brings me back to the Hallett article. Why does "side-saddle chipping" seem to improve a player's chipping results? Because it changes the lead shoulder's address position to match its "change of direction" position, and keeps it in that same position throughout the entire chip! Once you eliminate the extra movement, you basically lock the lead shoulder into the most extreme position of the chipping motion. Ta-daaa! Fewer compensations in your chipping motion, more consistent ball contact.

Do Hallett and his people understand this? I doubt it, because the article advises:
When you’d like to chip the ball longer distances or even pitch it, adopt a more traditional setup.
The more traditional setup won't lock the lead shoulder in place, and he doesn't tell you that you need to lock it in place. That's because he doesn't realize that's the strength of his side-saddle method.

Rather than using two different methods to chip, I'd rather see you chip using Hogan's drill. You can chip, pitch, even hit knockdown shots using his drill -- a single technique that will benefit you all the way through your game. And you'll automatically use your wrists more effectively because the Hogan drill teaches proper wrist action as well. (Why? Because with your elbows close to your side, your wrists are automatically forced to bend and unbend at the proper time.)

So if you're having trouble with your chipping, you might want to try using Hogan's drill -- now that you know what it's supposed to teach you -- and see if that doesn't improve your chipping.

And Dana, I hope that answers your questions. Just let me know if you run into problems or have more questions.


  1. I used to use saucer pass when it was legal, but now use this

  2. Thanks, Mike. That's a very thorough and informative set of observations. Let me sit with the article for awhile and try the Hogan drill. Good stuff as always.

    1. There's no rush, Dana. Take all the time you need. The important thing is to understand why things get out of whack and how to fix them. Actually making the fix, especially when it's something you haven't considered before, can take time -- not because it's hard, but simply because the mental adjustment can take a while.

      And thanks for the kind words. I try!