You know the adage, ”Drive for show, putt for dough”. Yes, those big booming drives or long irons down the fairway can be very impressive and putting could count for around half the numbers on your scorecard.
Now, what happens when you find yourself a bit short of the green or with a bunker or pond between you and the flag? Worse still, that sexy drive left the fairway and you find yourself in the rough amongst the trees with low hanging branches.
To chip or to pitch, that is the question.
A chip is typically a shot that sees the ball staying low, bouncing a couple of times, and running a fair distance. A pitch will see the ball taking a much higher trajectory, sticking the green, with much less roll out.
When to Chip
There are two situations where the chip shot could be the best option. Firstly if you happen to be in the rough, say under trees, and you need to keep the ball low.
Here the need is to punch the ball out low and advance as far as possible towards the target. Secondly when you are just short of the green and the flag is placed some distance from the front, and there is a fair distance to run.
How to chip. There are many factors to bear in mind to execute this shot successfully. Aiming the chip shot needs the same attention as a putt, so you might crouch down to check the lie of the land first.
Pick out a marker, say a leaf or blade of grass along the intended line, but closer to the ball and your eye line, as a secondary target. Now you can align the clubface to this target and position your feet.
We now have to look at the stance, which will more closely resemble your putting stance than that of the full swing. Feet should be much closer together with the ball positioned further back in the stance, just off the inside of your back foot.
Keep your weight forward, without tilting, around 60-70% on the front foot. This ball position and weight distribution will allow you to hit down on the ball keeping it low and rolling forward.
When it comes to the grip, some coaches will recommend the standard grip you use for a full swing. Others opt for the putting grip as the stroke will be similar to a putt, but with a different club and a bit more force. What s important is to have a “light”, but firm grip to increase the feel. The main thing you want the grip to influence is the face angle at impact.
Now you are ready to swing and hit your shot. The action will be similar to a putt, using a pendulum action and not breaking the wrists. This will ensure that the clubface remains square to the target and prevents the ball from flying off at an angle.
The backswing and the follow-through should be of equal length. Remember to accelerate through the shot, slowing down will result in a huge fluff.
Phil Mickelson explains the mechanics of the chip shot.
Lastly will be the choice of club. Coming out of the rough with some distance to the green you might take a 5 or even a 3 iron. Closer to the green you want to drop the ball about 3 feet on to the putting surface and allow it to run the rest of the way to the pin.
You, therefore, need to consider the distance to the green and the amount of green you have to work with. A wedge will give you about equal flight and roll, whereas a sand wedge will have less roll. On the other hand, a 7 iron will have much more roll out to reach pin positions further back on larger greens.
When to Pitch
The only similarity between the chip and the pitch shot is that both are not full-swing shots. Unlike the chip shot, with the pitch, you are looking for a flight trajectory with little or no roll out.
You would choose a pitch shot if you were faced with an obstruction, such as a pond, stream, or bunker that you need to get over. It may also be that the ground conditions on the way to the green were such that a chip and run would not work.
When you need to land the ball softly with a lot of backspin, or the pin is placed close to the front of the green, the pitch shot would again be the right option.
To hit a pitch shot you would use the high loft clubs, from a lob wedge to say a 9 iron, depending on the distance and the height required. Again we have to look at aim, grip, stance, and set up to execute a successful pitch shot.
This video will give you some tips on how to master the pitch shot.
The basics remain the same when it comes to aiming the pitch shot, aim the clubface at the target and your feet parallel to that. As with the chip shot have a firm grip, but loose enough to give you that extra feel. The pitch shot may be a bit stronger than the chip shot but is still not a full-swing.
With the pitch shot, your stance will be more open, feet apart about shoulder width. The ball placement will be in the middle of your stance, and your weight still favoring the front foot.
Placing the ball further forward will give you more height if required. Some coaches differ on whether to hit down on the ball to produce spin, or to hit ball and ground together. The answer probably lies in the “bounce” of your clubs, practice will show you where it works best.
The swing for the pitch shot is basically the same as the chip shot, ensure the backswing and the follow-through are the same distance and accelerate through the shot.
The difference comes in here, that in the pitch shot you will break the wrists, and allow them to hinge on the backswing. As always, finish with your weight on the front foot.
While practicing the pitch shot, you should also try to master the “flop” shot. This shot would be employed when you want the ball to pitch and sit with no roll-out if possible.
To pull off this shot you will open the clubface more and open your stance further. Make sure that the clubface remains perpendicular to the target at all times.
Leave the muscle behind, and forget the “sexy” long drives, to improve your scorecard the “surgeon’s” touch around the greens is where the big difference will be seen. Remember always, if you can putt, putt. If you can’t putt, chip, and if you can’t chip pitch.
Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.