The Golf Academy has a saying: Putt when you can. Chip when it’s not possible to putt. Pitch when there’s no other option. That may sound a little extreme, but consider this – putting consists of using one lever (shoulders). Poor contact gives you at worst a fair result. Chipping also utilizes one lever (shoulders), but because the ball gets off the ground slightly, contact needs to be more exact. Pitching is a two-lever movement (shoulders and wrists). It requires greater control to achieve success.
The best players on the PGA Tour miss greens. It’s inevitable even for the best players in the world. Will MacKenzie leads the PGA Tour in Greens in Regulation Percentage at 76.85%. Scott Stallings, a three-time winner on Tour still hits 68.38% of his greens in reg but ranks 100th. The Tour average is a whopping 67.92%. The general consensus is that if you hit 12 greens in regulation, you should shoot even par or better.
So how often do these guys get up and down for par or better? Chad Collins is your Tour leader at 74.85%. Nick Taylor ranks 100th at 60.58%. The Tour average is 59.36%. These guys are good.
When you miss a green, you have to decide which shot to employ and which club to use. Your lie will largely dictate your decision, but you should also consider the required carry distance, the slope of the target area, and the speed of the green. In Mechanics of the Short Game, PGA Instructor Jay Friedman told us you can use virtually any club in your bag to chip the ball.
Chipping is a “bump and run” shot. But if you find your ball in thicker grass just off the green (think Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club), consider using a putting stroke to chip. Holding the club more in the palms of your hands (lifeline), your address position should closely resemble your putting stance. Gripping the club like you would for a full swing brings a 2nd lever into play (wrist hinge), making for a more complex shot that’s more difficult to hit consistently from this lie. You’ll have to stand a little taller than you would for a conventional putt, but you’ll also have a steeper shaft angle, which raises the heel off the ground making it harder for the grass to snag it. Grip down on the club about an inch. Your weight should slightly favor your lead foot/heel. Take the club straight back and straight through.
For a more conventional chip shot, you still want to grip down on the club slightly and swing with your shoulders (one lever), but if you’re chipping with a more lofted club, practice introducing a slight wrist hinge on the backswing to account for the amount of carry the shot will produce. The chipping motion requires a descending motion, not one that is level. While maintaining a slightly open stance with feet and hips, brush the grass, creating a slight bounce. Tilt slightly from the hips. If your lie is good, play the ball more in the center of your stance. If the lie is not good, move the ball back in your stance. This will make for a steeper angle of approach, a slightly de-lofted club face, and will result in more roll-out. A poorer lie is likely going to result in more roll-out because there’s no friction between the ball and the clubface, only grass. Chipping should be easy, and with a little practice, it can be!