Practice, practice, practice. It seems to me that this is where we left off last week. The rainy days of summer have seemed to go into hibernation at least for this past week, therefore I am sure that you have taken the opportunity to get out onto the golf course.
Last week I discussed the basic swing fundamentals of the chip shot. The fundamentals included the basic set up or stance, the stroke, body movement and, of course, where to play this shot.
More importantly, there were three basic rules that were explained when hitting a chip shot. These rules included ball position always opposing your back foot (foot furthest away from your target), club face always square to your target and no wrists. Applying these rules, along with implementing the basic swing fundamentals into your chip shot, will most certainly create consistent contact and assist you in getting the ball up and down more often when you miss the green.
Understanding the fundamentals is only the first step to proper and consistent execution. Now the real work begins. Practice, practice, practice. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In other words, if you want to improve or get better at any aspect of your golf game, you need to first understand what changes are needed and then you need to implement those changes through repetitive practice.
To properly practise and become more proficient at chipping, you need to take a small bucket of balls to your nearest practice green. Stand approximately five yards off of the green while choosing a target (hole) approximately 15 yards on the green (middle of the green).
This is what I would consider a medium distance chip. You want to ensure that you do not practise too short of a shot to begin with, as the shorter the shot, the more difficult it becomes. The main reason for this is most players will initially feel more comfortable taking the golf club further back in their backswing. This gives the player a feeling of creating speed. Choosing a medium length chip shot should allow you to comfortably create the feel needed to not only repeat your swing, but experience success in hitting the shot.
Now, start hitting chip shot over and over again to the same hole with the entire small bucket of balls. When you have hit them all, you need to pick them up, return to the same spot and hit them all again. Repeating this process over and over again will assist you in beginning to feel what your body is doing or not doing properly and also start to create a feel for distance. Through this repetitive process your swing shall begin to change and become more efficient.
Once you have done this, you are ready to begin breaking rules to create new shots for different situations. Last week I talked about creativity and ‘if you can see it you can hit it’. Golf courses are built with all sorts of hazards and or obstacles in your way. These, of course, come in many different forms, but the most obvious are sand traps, slopes, trees and water. We know that all these hazards can play havoc with our heads as well as our score cards. When they are around the green, we need to equip ourselves with different types of shots to overcome them and still get the ball up and down.
Breaking the three basic rules that I mentioned earlier will assist you in creating different ball flights (the trajectory the ball flies or the height at which you hit a shot). This, of course, relies heavily on the fact that you are proficient at hitting the basic chip shot.
Rule No. 1 was that the ball position was always opposing your back foot. This ball position, if executed properly, would create a low trajectory or ball flight. A low ball flight will allow the ball to carry over the long grass, land on the green close to the edge and roll to the hole like a putt. In reality there are three ball positions — back, middle and forward in your stance.
Changing the position of the ball between your feet will create a different ball flight. In other words, the more forward you place the ball in your stance, (in line with your front foot) the higher the ball will go with more backspin.
This can be used in a situation where you have to carry more long grass to a hole location that is close to you. Of course, this is only one of many examples that you may choose to change the ball position, but doing so will create a higher flight.
Rule No. 2 was in regards to the club face always being square. To create a higher flight by just moving the ball position forward, you may want to experiment with opening the club face (laying it on its back slightly, or the club will appear to be aiming right of your target for right-handed golfers). Doing so increases the loft of the club.
Breaking both of these rules (ball forward and club face open) will assist in hitting the ball even higher with more back spin. This is great for many situations, but especially when you are close to the green and the pin is close to the edge as well. This shot comes off the club face much softer and will not roll very far.
Rule No. 3 is never use wrists. A properly hit chip shot does not require the use of your wrists. If you now allow your wrists to hinge in your backswing and un-hinge through the ball, you can now hit the ball extremely high (relative to the size of your backswing) and have it stop on a dime when it lands on the green.
This shot can be extremely useful for hitting over a small tree or over a sand trap to a pin that is cut close to you where you need to make the ball stop quickly. This is called a flop shot and is considered one of the more difficult and/or highly skilled shots in the game of golf. Hitting this shot requires you in most cases to break all three rules at the same time. You need to more the ball forward in your stance, open the club face and use your wrists.
Keep in mind that when you break a rule, the shot or the execution of that shot becomes more difficult, but extremely useful. Becoming proficient at the basic chip shot and understanding the flight it gives you will provide you with the confidence to start experimenting with breaking the rules and creating new shots.
Once you become proficient at breaking the rules, you then can start to use your imagination in how you want the ball to get from point A to point B.
Scott Bergdahl is the head professional at Lakewood Golf Resort near Sylvan Lake. His column appears Tuesdays in the Advocate.