Mar 30

How to Improve Your Short Game, Part 1: Chipping vs. Pitching Strategy

How to Improve Your Short Game, Part 1: Chipping vs. Pitching Strategy

The short game can be a very frustrating part of golf because it requires a lot of feel and imagination. In addition, the lies you encounter around the green can be very difficult, depending on the time of year and the type and length of the rough. Furthermore, the mental game is very prevalent in the art of chipping and success requires a fusion of mental and physical abilities to work together to consistently hit your best chip shots.

Chipping vs. Pitching

We’ve heard from numerous golf instructors that most amateurs prefer to pitch the ball up in the air rather than to chip the ball along the ground when they are near the green. Sometimes the pitch shot is the best alternative given you have a bunker between you and the green or plenty of rough and very little green to work with. That’s when the sand wedge can be very useful. However, most golfers favor the sand wedge as their preferred option regardless of how close they are to the pin or how much green they have to work with. While their comfort level with one club can lead to reasonable results at times, professionals teach that it’s typically better to choose your shot and club in the following way:

  1. Can you putt the ball without major impediments like thick rough or unusual contours?  If the fringe or fairway is mowed low enough, using a putter (the “Texas wedge”) can produce consistent results to get up and down.  
  2. Can you chip the ball onto the green and let it roll to the hole?  If you are reasonably close to the green and can land your chip shot about 2-3 feet onto the green, then the rest of the shot is just judging how far you think the ball will roll once it lands.
  3. The last alternative is to pitch the ball over any obstacles in your way or because you need to impart spin on the ball to slow it down quickly near the hole.

Most people actually favor pitching the ball as their first option, rather than their last. Typically, they choose a sand wedge because it helps them get the ball in the air. If they practice their short game at all, they practice with a sand wedge.

The first golf short game tip is: putt first, chip second, and pitch only when you have no other option. It takes some practice to learn how to chip well, but if you put in equivalent effort into both chipping and pitching, you’ll be much better at getting your chips closer to the hole than your pitches. There’s a reason that almost every teaching pro favors the methodology of getting the ball on the green as quickly as possible and letting the ball roll toward the hole.

The control and accuracy you get will improve your short game and lower your scores. One reason is that when you pitch the ball, you impart backspin which reacts less predictably when the ball hits the green. It becomes hard to judge how this spin will react when you hit an upslope or downslope on the green. Chipping, on the other hand, gets the ball rolling on the green earlier in the shot and can be more like a putt in the way you judge distance. There are times when pitching is the best answer, but a majority of the time, a chip should result in a better outcome.

We’ll tackle ball position, stance, and other strategy-related items in future short game posts. We will also address the chipping yips and how to cure them through both sound mental and physical strategies. Good luck improving your game!