Chip, Pitch or Putt?
When you have missed a green with your approach shot, you are often faced with a decision, as you almost always have options on how to play the next shot. Generally, you have to choose between putting the ball, or hitting a chip or pitch shot. These are three different methods of playing a shot, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

To me, you should always play the shot that carries the highest percentage of success. Most golfers do not practice their chipping and pitching techniques very much, if at all, so those parts of their games are not as refined as they could be. And that just HAS to cost you strokes in every round. But given that, let's dive into the choice — chip, pitch or putt?

If you are a good putter, for example, why wouldn't you want to put the putter in your hands as often as you can? If your ball has missed the green, but the grass between you and the green is reasonably closely cropped and level, why wouldn't you choose to play it like a lag approach putt? When you choose this option, my suggestion is to carefully read the putt from the edge of the green to get a feel for the speed and break once the ball reaches the putting surface. Then look carefully at the fringe or collar grass the ball has to traverse before it gets to the green. Is it mown closely or a little ragged? Is the grain of the grass growing against you or in your favor? Then choose your line and trust your putting skills.

It is often said that your worst putt is likely to be as good as your average best chip, so think about that.

Chipping is a simple stroke with typically a lower-lofted club. Golfers I've known that are good chippers are actually few and far between, probably because few practice this very important shot. Good chippers always have a simple stroke, with very little wrist break, and they stay firm through impact. They "read" their chips like a good putter reads a putt. They choose a landing spot for their shot, and the club that will provide the right balance of carry and roll. And they practice. Usually a lot. That golfer that you see hitting chip after chip around the practice green is probably going to beat you.

Pitching the ball is another shot entirely. Usually played with a more lofted sand or lob wedge, the well-executed pitch shot is a thing of beauty to me. Good pitchers of the ball typically have soft hands and a light grip on the club. They also have what Ken Venturi called "low hands" in his comments on Mr. Hogan in the wonderful coffee table book, "The Hogan Mystique". What Venturi meant by this is that good pitchers of the ball set up with their hands low, almost down to their knees sometimes. And they keep them low throughout the short swing path. As the club comes through impact, their hands identically "cover" their address position, so that the club makes proper engagement with the turf and the bounce and loft can do what they were designed to do.

So, learn the difference between chipping, pitching and putting and practice each of these very important shots. An hour around the practice green doing that will do more to drop your handicap that 3 hours on the practice tee bashing drivers and hitting 6-irons as far as you can.
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[ comments ]
GolfSmith7 says:
I have been working on this exclusively for the past 2 weeks. Even though I am hitting more G.I.R's my scores haven't made a big improvement and its because I am losing to many shots still on holes I don't hit the green's. Short game is where it at to go low.
dottomm says:
I practice my pitching and chipping obsessively and I feel great around the practice green...On the course is another story.
GBogey says:
Agree with dottomm - hit my chipping target so often on the practice green its scary and don't see near that success on the course. Pitching, however, is my real thing to work on. I like the hands low concept - makes sense - and probably something I am not consistent about.
jrbizzle says:
Good article and advice. For those who don't play or practice a lot, or struggle mightily with this decision, I would also recommend doing some Google research into Steve Stricker's technique. He takes almost all the wrist break out of ALL his short shots, thus more consistency, but less "wow" factor. His "dead hands" approach to the short game will not make many guys in your foursome jealous as you won't be pulling the string back on your wedges, but it is a very repeatable and predictable swing.
...the Murseless says:
One option that Terry overlooked - chipping/putting using a fairway wood or hybrid; in cases where you want the advantages of a putting stroke, but want a little more loft than a putter to get past the fringe or fairway (yet still reducing or eliminating the possibility of chunking or thinning the shot) a hybrid or fairway wood can be your friend.
joe jones says:
Option 1 is a no brainer for me. I will putt from almost anywhere as long as the surface is reasonably short and there is nothing in the way such as a drain, sprinkler head etc in my line. I will always opt for a shot that will get on the ground asap so my next option would be a hybrid. I play with an all hybrid iron set so it might be anything from a PW to a 6 Hybrid.It all depends on distance and lie. All in all my success rate is very high. My partners ( who throw around compliments with great reluctance) Usually will say things like "How the hell do you do that' often. It works for me.
onedollarwed says:
Well I must be the odd an out, because I'm always most comfortable with a chip. I prefer to chip almost everything with a 48 degree Eidolon. Putting from more than a foot off the green seems to yield unexpected results - mostly the speed. I'm regularly hitting the flag stick, or burning the edge of the cup. Of course there are days when every chip seems to come up a foot or two short, but the lines are always there. Chipping feels like bocce to me.
But, depending on the amount of green to work with, and the lie, I'm happy to pitch or flop. The putter is the only shot that doesn't jazz me. I like the crisp descending contact of a nice chip with the ball back by my right foot, my hand forward. I just get the lines right.
DougE says:
onedollarwed, I could not agree with you more. I am exactly the same way. You are NOT the odd man out.
onedollarwed says:
I played Sunday and kept getting compliments on my chipping, though I didn't think I was doing anything special. Sadly, a couple of my friends have serious chipping woes. One guy practically does a "Sir Charles," and spazzes out. I think just hitting on a nice descending blow back in the stance takes all the low percentage issues out. Now chopping out of thick stuff, even greenside, that's a whole other story!
sigmapete1 says:
I never understood why there is a distinction between chip and pitch. I use the same motion for any short shot, but setup and length of swing determines trajectory and distance. With my feet, ball, and weight distribution in varying positions, the exact same body and hand motion will produce anything from a low runner to a high flop. I never think in terms of chip vs. pitch, only in terms of what trajectory do I need to stop the ball close to the hole.

Keep it simple!
onedollarwed says:
As I see it/feel it, a chip it just a little dink on the backside of the ball - producing a low bounding/rolling ball. The backswing is minimal, and you're really only hitting it 30-40 yds max, and as short as a few feet.
A pitch is more like a full swing, where you're getting under the ball and playing with some loft. The ball is better played in the center of the stance, and you might grab a pelt in the process. A full pitch is a full shot with a wedge say - up to 120yds or so - and as short as 15-20 feet. you're going to get some spin on a pitch usually, but not as much as the flop - as the other extreme - overswinging, up in the stance, max spin potential, open face, etc.
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