By Alex Nicolson PGA (First published in Golf Monthly in 2014)
Previously we looked at how an instinctive approach to chipping can dramatically improve your striking. Being clear on what the clubhead needs to do to the ball and playing the shot more re-actively can get your striking where it needs to be to build a good short game. In this article, I would like to help you take your chipping further - beyond a results-centric means to an end, to a stage where the process itself is a true source of enjoyment.
If you talk to a golfer who loves chipping, it’s not just because they are good at it (although they probably are). They see the art of chipping differently. Plotting the best route to the hole requires imagination and creativity, and they savour this problem-solving aspect of each chip. They study the lie, the slopes and swales in the green, the likely bounce and role of the ball. They have a variety of clubs and strategies at their disposal.
Whereas full shots are mostly hit at “full power”, chipping offers a considerably wider spectrum of feel, from the deftest chip and run, to the firm punch that squeezes the ball from the turf. From first arriving at the ball, to watching it travel to the hole, chipping lovers are immersed in the process.
The circle of mediocrity
One reason that most golfers don’t experience chipping like this, is their perception that devoting so much attention to a chip is only worthwhile for better players. “I’m just happy to get it within 10 feet” is a standard that I commonly hear. A low standard, leading to poor preparation, which in turn produces poor results, reinforcing the low standard and perpetuating the circle of mediocrity.
The results are poor but, more importantly, the quality of experience is limited. Without clear intention and commitment, chipping becomes a nothing part of the round. - a time-filler. However, it can be so much more (and your score will benefit).
The 4 stages of chipping love
1. What would it look like if the ball went in?
Golfers tend to not set their sights very high because probability says they won’t get it close and it avoids disappointment. If this applies to you, try swapping probability for possibility and see what happens – there’s no downside. When surveying a chip, ask yourself the question, “What would it look like if the ball went in?”
In answering this question, your inner Professor goes about trying to solve the puzzle. Your attention switches on, and you begin to notice the lie and the slopes in greater detail, trying to imagine where the ball might need to land before bouncing and rolling into the hole – which club would do the job best? Since every chip is different, you can be really absorbed in trying to solve the particular problem in front of you, every time. The benefit is that you go into the shot with intent. Gone are the vagueness and indecision that so often trigger poor technique.
2. What might it feel like?
Arming yourself with this new quality of information gives your practice swing real purpose - translating the picture in your mind into a feel - the strength of strike required. The golfer who imagines the possibility of holing the shot will obviously be looking for a more precise feel than his “somewhere up there” alter ego.
3. Hitting the shot – letting instinct take over
My previous article talked about the actual hitting, but you can see how much more inclined your conscious mind might be to let your instincts take over for the hit, if it has clarity on the task at hand.
4. Learning – what did the clubhead do?
I am fascinated by what fascinates people. In physical tasks like golf, one of the recurring ingredients present when people are truly absorbed is learning. In chipping, the question most worth exploring, either by intuition or deduction, is “what did the clubhead do?” Answering this question can be much more fruitful than trying to diagnose a technical swing fault. If you leave a chip short for example, was the problem the quality of the connection, or the (lack of) speed at which the club was travelling? If you get into the habit of asking yourself “what did the club do”, over time you will get to a stage where you intuitively know, almost immediately, what happened at impact. You will be much more able to shrug off a mishit, as you know exactly what the club needs to do differently next time, and you will instinctively make the right adjustments.
Directing your attention
Think of your attention (or focus) as a spotlight that can be pointed in any direction you choose. Where was the spotlight directed for the chip described above? When sizing up the chip, our attention is on the route to the target. When rehearsing the swing, our attention then might move to the clubhead, or a feel in the hands. In the actual stroke, you might find the best results come from focusing on a single dimple on the ball, or the target itself. Either way I’d encourage you to explore what works for you and to see this level of immersion as the source, rather than the outcome of good play. This wonderful relaxed concentration will not only yield your best golf but is also enjoyable in its own right.