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Different strokes for different folks is a phrase that has been around for a long time. It may mean different things for different people but you would be hard pressed to find many that would disagree with its common meaning; i.e. everyone has a different way of doing something. That something could be the way they walk, talk, and especially the way we play golf. Each of us plays in a way that works for us and what may work for one may not work for another. However, there are some basic concepts that are common denominators for anyone looking to hit chip shots crisp and solid every time. You may be able to get away with not doing these from time to time but if your goal is to chip it crisp consistently, getting the following correct will help tremendously:
Club face angle & bounce
This is the balance point of the stroke. Think of a tight rope walker using a pole for balance when walking on a rope or cable. They subtly shift the pole as needed to maintain balance but it is always held in the middle. If they were to hold it unevenly, walking in balance would be extremely difficult. The same is true with ball position. It can vary slightly as you don’t feel the same every day, but keeping it within a small range, to maintain the balance of your stroke, is highly recommended.
To keep the ball position (balance point) consistent and to ensure you’re as accurate as possible, assume a stance width of 6”. The balls position would have the middle of the ball 4” (or one clubhead) inside your lead foot heel (left foot for right handers, right foot for left handers). This allows the middle of the ball to be slightly back in the stance and the clubhead will catch the ball as it is still descending.
TECHNICAL TIP: Be sure to always base your ball position off your heels NOT your insteps or toes. If your feet are flared towards the target it is very easy for the ball position to move too far forward in the stance. You may assume its 4” back in the stance but that 4” would be from the lead toe. When the feet are flared towards the target the lead toe is often 3”-4” closer to the target than your heel, hence the ball is too far forward. Because the club will bottom out its swing arc near the center of the stance, based off the heels, the tendency will be to hit shots fat. If you make a compensation to not hit it fat, you run a high risk of disrupting your balanced impact and the jerk will result in hitting the ball skinny, and across the green ankle high at 100mph. For an illustration watch this short video:
Having a stance 6” wide and a ball position 4” (one club head) inside the lead heel will allow you to hit the ball prior to the club head reaching its low point of the swing and each shot will be crisply struck. This will give you a ‘standard’ trajectory and spin and the base for specialty shots later. If you would like a lower shot that runs more, move the ball position back in your stance ½ ball width. A descending club head equals less loft, lower trajectory and less spin, thus a running chip shot.
If you want as slightly higher trajectory and more spin than the standard shot mentioned above, move the ball ½ a ball width forward in the stance (closer to the lead foot). The clubhead will be near its bottom out point as impact occurs, which will allow for more loft at impact. More loft equals a higher shot and more spin.
TIP: Looking at different spots on the ball will help with trajectory/spin. With the standard shot; middle of the ball 4” back in the stance, look at the middle of the ball. If the ball is back ½ ball width, look at the front of the ball (to help maintain hitting with a descending stroke). If the ball is ½ ball width forward, for a higher shot, look at the back of the ball.
If Ball Position is the balance point of the swing, Alignment is the perspective.
Humans have a natural instinct that is developed since childhood, that allows them to have an awareness of where an object is in space; i.e. a target, or in this case the hole. If the alignment of your body is off, the perception of where the hole is and where it actually are become skewed and your stroke is compromised.
Ideally your feet would be parallel to the target line, with the lead foot flared towards the target. Allow the upper body to align itself with the lead foot which would make the upper body open to the target line. Another way to align yourself would be to have your stance slightly open to the target line. Both options allow for the stroke to be more descending and crisply struck. Because chip shots are usually hit from lies where the grass is thicker, the descending stroke will get the most clubface/ball contact with the least amount of grass, soil and water between the two. When this happens you have more control of the spin and shot.
If your stance is aligned too far to the right or left (too closed or open) the brain and body are not linked and the stroke gets confused. Does the stroke follow the body’s alignment or does it follow the direction the brain thinks the hole to be? This confusion leads to jerky strokes the thin, knee high, 100 mph shots across the green and the chunk’d shots that go all of a few inches, if they go anywhere at all.
Face Angle-Utilizing bounce
Bounce – how much the sole, or bottom-most part, of the club heads lifts the leading edge
Above we discussed impact happening as the club head was descending into the ball. However, if the club is descending too much the leading edge will dig into the ground and get stuck, even on a good stroke. To eliminate this, and utilize the bounce of the clubhead to your advantage, it’s a good idea to open the clubface slightly. This does a number of things 1) allows the club to skim across the ground through impact without getting stuck 2) if the stance is slightly open and the stroke is more descending, it adds loft back to the shot and 3) when the stance is slightly open a square clubface will hit the ball left of the target. When it’s slightly open it allows the ball to follow the intended target line.
This maybe a small thing, but it is also the keystone to the others mentioned above. On almost any swing, the butt end of the grip should be pointed slightly to the target side of your zipper. If the ball position is 4” back from your lead heel, this will give the shaft a slight lean towards the target and aid in making a descending stroke. If the ball is moved slightly forward, with the goal of a higher softer shot, the shaft will be more vertical (void of a lean) and the ball will go higher with more spin. Move the ball back in the stance and the shaft lean towards the target will increase. Whichever shot you are wanting to hit the butt end always points to the same spot. Not only will it allow you to control trajectory and spin but it will allow your hands, and thus the clubhead to have the same release on every single chip shot, regardless of trajectory. Your consistency will improve as will the crispness of each shot.
Some of these items will be new to you and may take some time to become habit but with just a little bit of practice they will become routine. Until they do remember to do these things when hitting a chip:
Stance width 6” apart
Ball position 4” inside the lead heel
Club face slightly open
Butt end of club pointed slightly to the target side of your zipper
In no time at all the skinny and chunk’d shots will be a thing of the past and you never know, you just may chip a few in.