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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