How much of your practice time do you spend on your short game?
Everyone’s different, of course, but chances are that the answer is…
And if you happen to be a higher handicap golfer (15 or higher), studies have shown that the answer is most definitely, not enough.
It’s estimated that, in any round of golf, almost 65% of all shots taken are hit from within 100 yards of the hole.
That’s probably an eye-opening statistic for a lot of golfers.
When more than six out of every ten shots you take is a short game shot, it doesn’t take a lot of analysis to see that improvements in this part of your game can have a big impact on your scorecard.
Sadly, though, the golfers who could benefit the most from this improvement (high handicappers) are the ones who spend the LEAST amount of time working on it.
It’s been shown that as handicaps go up, the amount of time spent practicing the short game goes down.
For instance, single-digit handicap players spend, on average, upwards of 30% of their practice time on the short game.
By contrast, golfers with a handicap higher than 15 spend only about 15%.
A Little Extra Short Game Practice Makes a Big Difference
With proper technique and practice, higher-handicappers can certainly make some incremental improvements in their long game.
But gains in the long game can take a lot of time and effort.
So, although you should obviously work to get better at driving the ball and at hitting your longer irons and hybrids, relatively speaking, you’ll find that it’ll be easier to make improvements in your short game.
Because not every golfer will be able to develop a great long-game.
It does take a certain amount of strength and timing to produce consistently long and accurate shots.
On the other hand, every golfer, regardless of their size, their strength, their gender, or their age, CAN develop a great short game.
And mastering your short game takes much less time than it does to significantly improve your long game.
That sounds like a smart investment, right?
Mark Broadie, the author of the groundbreaking book called Every Shot Counts, and a member of the USGA Handicap Research Committee, said this:
“If you’ve got two hours to practice, you probably won’t start hitting the ball longer or straighter in that time period. But you could probably get better at your putting and chipping in two hours of practice.”
Developing the proper technique and spending time practicing these types of shots can be the great equalizer when it comes to competing with stronger players.
They may outdrive you, but your solid short game will allow you to get up and down around the green more often so that you can save those strokes that you have previously been giving away.
The Chipping Statistics Tell the Tale
There are all kinds of statistics that bear this out.
Here’s a couple:
a. Getting Up and Down
When it comes to getting up and down on greenside shots (chipping or pitching close enough to the hole to enable you to one-putt), scratch golfers do this about 77% of the time!
5-handicappers get up and down on these shots about 60% of the time. And 9-handicappers are successful about 46% of the time.
By comparison, what is the percentage of times that 18-handicap players get up and down? Just 17% or less than one out of five times.
b. How Close to the Hole?
A big part of getting up and down is being able to chip the ball close enough to the hole so that the putt to save par is relatively easy.
From 5 yards off the green, for example, scratch golfers chip to within 3 feet of the hole on average, 5-handicappers chip to within 4 feet, and 9-handicappers chip to within 5 feet.
By comparison, what do you think is the average distance from the hole that 18-handicappers chip to?
The answer is about 10 feet.
Meaning that their likelihood of making the next putt is statistically pretty low (around 20%, or put another way, missing 4 out of 5 attempts).
From these and other statistics, it’s clear that higher handicap golfers are costing themselves strokes that could be saved if they were to devote more time to short game improvement.
Is there something that better players know about the importance of the short game that less skilled players haven’t yet learned?
Is their short game expertise a big contributing factor to them being a single-digit player in the first place?
Food for thought.
What’s Meant by “Short Game?”
When we refer to the “short game,” we’re talking about all those shots that are made when you’re relatively near the green or on the green.
So it includes pitching, chipping, green-side bunker shots, and putting.
Typically, the term “short game” applies to any shot made within 100 yards of the hole.
While pitching, putting, and bunker play are all critical, we’ll be focusing on chipping in this article and how to save strokes by improving this vital component of the short game.
Setup and Technique Are Crucial
In a way, the chip can be thought of as a mini version of the full swing.
But while there are some similarities, there are important changes that need to be made in the setup and the stroke to ensure a successful result.
Keep in mind that the definition of a chip shot is one that’s on the ground a greater distance than it is in the air, so it’s usually a low running shot.
Too many golfers hoist their chips high into the air. That results in a loss of control and inconsistent results.
Trying to determine where to land a high-lofted chip so that it then runs out the correct distance to the hole is a difficult skill to perfect, particularly when minimal practice time is spent working on these shots.
You’ll have better success if you play your chip shots to spend more time on the ground than in the air.
Let’s take a look at the important setup and swing elements:
How to Chip a Golf Ball in 5 Steps
The chip is a short shot with a short stroke, and as such, it requires a relatively narrow stance.
In fact, one of the biggest mistakes that amateurs make when chipping is to assume a stance that’s too wide.
A wide stance can encourage the shifting of your weight from side to side, and this is something that needs to be avoided when chipping.
In addition to being narrow, the stance should be slightly open, with your lead foot being slightly further back from the target line than your trail foot.
Many amateurs assume that, just as in their full swing, they should align their body and their feet square to the target line.
This is incorrect.
A slightly open stance enables you to rotate your body in the downswing which, even in this short swing, is important.
If you're too square, the body will resist rotating, and the hands will take over and get too active at impact. That can result in the dreaded ‘flip,’ which is the bane of most bad chippers.
If you tend to chunk your chips or to occasionally blade them, chances are that a lack of rotation is causing you to flip at the bottom.
You should also place most of your weight on the target-side foot, as much as 60-70%.
This weight distribution, combined with having your hands slightly ahead of the ball, puts you in the proper position to make a descending strike on the ball.
Hitting down on the ball is absolutely essential to make good contact and to impart some amount of backspin on the ball.
2. Ball Position
The proper position for the ball on a chip is slightly back in your stance, somewhere between the middle of your stance to just inside the trail foot.
Having the ball slightly back in your stance, combined with keeping most of your weight on your target-side foot, prevents fat and thin shots and helps you make consistent contact with the ball.
The goal is to make contact with the ball just prior to your club head reaching the low point of its arc, which provides the downward angle of attack that you’re seeking.
A word of caution about the descending angle of approach into the ball, though:
Too many amateurs interpret this to mean that they need to stab sharply downward into the ball, which often results in sticking the leading edge of the club head into the ground. As a result, the ball goes nowhere.
While you do want to have your club head make contact with a downward strike on the ball, you still want to have the sole of the club glide along the top of the grass through impact.
You should never take a divot on a chip shot.
The setup that we’ve described will put you in a position from which this downward angle of attack will happen naturally. So you don’t need to further exaggerate the angle.
You do want to have a little bit of steepness in your stroke, but concentrate on having the bottom of the club skim the grass after first making contact with the ball.
Control is the primary objective when chipping.
Consequently, you should choke down on the grip.
On short chips, you can even grip down to just above the steel.
This will maximize your control of the club and will improve your chances of making pure contact.
4. Bowed Left Wrist
As we mentioned, the cause of most poor chips by amateurs is the flipping of the hands at impact, which can result in either fat or skulled shots.
Improper technique can certainly contribute to flipping (e.g. a lack of body rotation), but the usual suspect is a subconscious desire to lift the ball into the air.
We’ve stressed the importance of a descending angle of attack and how the proper stance will make that easier to do.
But, to ensure that you don’t flip your hands, you should also make sure that your lead wrist is slightly bowed at impact.
By coming into impact with the logo of your golf glove pointing to the ground in front of the ball, it’s far less likely that you’ll flip your hands and far more likely that you’ll make crisp contact.
5. Leg Action / Body Rotation
There’s often a mistaken impression that the knees and body should remain stable and inactive during a chip, in much the same way as they are during a putt.
On the contrary...
Proper chipping technique calls for an athletic motion of the body during the chip that results in your right knee being kicked slightly in toward your left knee and your chest facing the target on the follow through.
If you were to simply toss a golf ball to someone ten feet in front of you, you wouldn’t stand rigid and eliminate any movement or pivot in your body.
As you release the ball on your toss, you’d naturally rotate toward the person you’re throwing to.
This is the same motion you should emulate when you chip.
This natural, athletic movement will give you a far better feel to control the distance of the chip.
Once you’ve gotten proficient at the setup and the basic chipping motion, the most important part of chipping that you need to focus on is distance control.
All the good technique in the world does little good when you leave your 30-foot chip 15 feet short or 15 feet long.
Your goal should be to consistently get your basic chips close enough to the hole so that you’ll at least have a good percentage chance of making the putt.
This is how you’ll begin to save pars that would otherwise have been bogeys and to save bogeys that would otherwise have been double-bogeys.
If you’re able to do this a handful of times during the course of a round, you’ll start to see your scores come down... along with your handicap index.
To improve your distance control on chips, you’ll need to shift your focal point.
Instead of focusing on the hole, focus on where you want to land the ball.
By identifying where to land your ball, while also factoring in how much the ball will roll out from that point, you’ll start to get very good at judging not only how hard you have to hit the chip, but also which club will produce the right trajectory.
With practice you’ll learn what the ratio of air time vs. roll time is for each different club.
You can figure that out for all the clubs you might potentially choose to chip with, but as a general guideline, the approximate ratios are:
- 7 iron - 20% air time/80% roll
- PW - 50% air time/50% roll
- LW - 80% air time/20% roll
Obviously, the greater the loft, the more time the ball will be in the air, while lower lofted clubs will spend more time on the ground.
Use your practice time to dial in these ratios for yourself and to determine which clubs produce the best results for you at various distances.
Chipping Drill for Distance Control
There’s a great practice drill that you can use to help you get better at managing your distances when chipping.
It’s designed to help you shift your focus to the landing area rather than on the hole and to learn which clubs and what trajectories are appropriate for different distances.
Here’s how the drill works:
- Take a small towel and place it on the green on the target line between you and the hole.
- Practice hitting chips with different clubs, all with the intention of landing the ball on the towel, and then watching how far it rolls out toward the hole from there. Your focus should be on the towel, not on the hole.
- You’ll learn very quickly that certain clubs produce a trajectory that’s too high, so that the ball ends up short of the hole, and that some clubs’ trajectories are too low making the ball roll out well past the hole.
- After a while, you’ll figure out which clubs work the best for different length chips, how hard to hit the ball with each club to make it travel the right distance in the air, and how much roll-out distance to expect.
Hopefully, we’ve convinced you that one of the fastest and easiest ways to lower your scores and your handicap is to learn how to chip a golf ball correctly.
Saving a handful of strokes with a good short game could be the difference between shooting in the low 90’s or the high 80’s or perhaps shooting in the low 80’s versus the high 70’s.
Statistics show that high handicap amateurs hit a fairly small percentage of greens in regulation.
A player that shoots in the 90’s, for example, generally hits only about 3-4 greens in regulation each round.
Another way to read that statistic is that 90’s golfers miss 14-15 greens each round.
If you miss that many greens each time you play, there are only two ways to lower your score:
a. Either hit more greens (easier said than done)
b. Or improve your short game to the point where you’re getting up and down a higher percentage of the time.
Our suggestion is to do what the pros and the low handicappers do.
Spend a larger percentage of your practice time working on these scoring shots and start saving strokes by pitching and chipping it close to the hole.
Your scores will come down and you’ll have a lot more fun in the process.