Good chipping is crucial to any golfer's quest for lower scores. Your favorite Tour player is no exception — regardless of ability, all golfers miss greens and need a sound short game to keep bogeys or worse at bay.
The way I stress the importance of the short game to my students is to tell them to imagine how good their scores would be if 90 percent of their chip shots resulted in automatic up-and-downs (which is the rate at which most Tour players get up and down from within 10 yards of the green). Assuming that you miss up to 12 greens a round — like most amateurs do — and get up and down only once or twice, you can see how reaching the 90 percent up-and-down success rate common among Tour pros can significantly lower your handicap.
If chipping isn't one of your strong points, here's an easy technique that will help make knocking the ball close nearly foolproof. You don't have to be a pro as much as you have to be efficient.
Step 1: Club Selection
For this shot I recommend using one swing with different clubs, depending on the distance to the pin. For close pins I use a sand wedge, while for longer chips I'll go as low as a 6-iron.
Step 2: Address
Notice in the photo above how I've set my weight slightly forward while playing the ball well back in my stance. This ensures a descending blow at impact and eliminates any chance that you'll hit the ground behind the ball (fat contact is the most common cause of bad chip shots). Grip down on the club enough so that you can stand fairly close to the ball, and let the heel of the club come off the ground. This will produce a slight "bow" in your left wrist, which will keep it firm for a smooth back-and-through motion while minimizing its ability to hinge. Standing close also helps you to swing the club more "down the line," which gives you excellent directional control.
Step 3: Swing
Consistency is the key, so take a few practice swings to ensure a nice "scuff" in the grass just in front of the ball (no divots allowed). Then step into the shot and repeat your practice swing (length and tempo) as you chip the ball. Once you learn to ensure clean and consistent ball contact, you'll find that your chip shots roll the proper distance and stop near the pin for an easy putt.
Q: What exactly do you and Phil Mickelson talk about when you're prepping for a major?
— Ryan P., Pacific Palisades, Calif.
A The details are private to Phil, but basically we try to figure out (1) where the course will most critically attack his game, (2) where his missed shots are most likely to end up, and (3) how long putts roll and break. Then we work on sharpening his game to meet the course's primary challenge (sand shots for Oakmont, chips shots for Pinehurst, etc.), and finish by practicing shots from his miss areas. Our goal is to have no surprises in a major.
Congratulations to 2011 "What's Your Major?" Winner Randy Blunt. Here is his winning essay:
A Win for Autism
My major is the Autism Charity Classic, played in Tubac, Ariz., at the course where Tin Cup was filmed. This past year's event was an amazing two days for both my son, Tyler, and me. Tyler is non-verbal. He doesn't speak, but he is kindhearted and loves people. He also loves being out on the golf course, as I learned during the Autism Classic this past year. The shade of his Pelz hat and control of the golf cart throttle were all that he needed to enjoy the round, Tyler's presence was an inspiration to everyone, especially me. When I received the third place trophy and hoisted Tyler on my shoulders, the crowd responded with a burst of applause. Tyler will be my "caddy" for many years to come, and next year we are after the top prize. The event benefits a terrific cause and provides positive support for Tyler. Former NFL player Rodney Peete and his son R.J. played in the tournament this year, and he has committed to making it an annual affair. We are hopeful that more players will bring their kids next year. Winning the 2012 Autism Classic would mean the world to us. It would mean another trip to the winner's podium for Tyler, and this time, I'll have his communication tablet ready for him to thank the crowd.