I had the great fortune of watching Payne Stewart practice his short game many times during my early adulthood, and I tried to pick his brain whenever I could. He had the best hands I have ever seen in person, but mainly he kept it simple. Here are the things that really stand out from being around him:
Good chippers have good rhythm. I like to say good chippers are good dancers. They never stop moving. They tap their feet, waggle and stay loose. They stare at the target and glance at the ball. They do not stay frozen over the ball, letting the tension and anxiety build.
Unlock your inner dancer if you are struggling!
Good chippers understand that technique flows if you allow it. There is no need to be overly technical with chipping. Much like the putter, a golf club is a weight on a stick and the toe hangs down. It's designed to come up out of the ground and swing on an arc, with the face staying square to the arc. Your wrists will hinge if you allow them. Your weight will shift if you allow it, like gently tossing a ball.
If someone ever tells you to keep your head still, or treat a chip like a putt and don't move anything but your arms and shoulders, by all means run and hide! It's simply not natural to attempt these things.
Good chippers allow gravity to accelerate the club, not applied force. Good golf in general comes down to eliminating tension. Picture Usain Bolt sprinting - you won't see him trying hard, with tension in his face and body. He will be as relaxed as possible, for that is from where true speed comes. It's the same in golf.
The reason the pros make it look effortless is because it is. There
is an absence of tension. Remember, when you try to do something
in golf, it produces to tension. Allow things to flow.
Good chippers make sure the club is light. A golf club weighs
around one pound. However, much like the putter, when you introduce
tension in your shoulders, arms and hands, the club ends up
weighing considerably more. By putting downward pressure on the
shaft and balance point, you make it heavier than it needs to be. Too
much effort is then required and bad shots follow.
More tension is introduced the next time, and before long, you
are caught in a vicious cycle. Break the cycle by releasing the tension.
Basic chipping comes down to setup. Control the club in your
fingers, not palms. This eliminates tension in your forearms and
allows your wrists to hinge. Keep your feet fairly close together.
This allows your legs to relax so that the weight naturally shifts. Let
your arms hang closely to you. This keeps them light. When you do
these things, the club travels up on the backswing and gravity brings
it back down into the ball.
Watch the pros—the club travels high to low, not low-back and
high-through. Compression occurs and
contact is consistent. You are on your way
to getting up and down!
Pat O’Brien is the teaching professional at
Lakewood Country Club in Dallas. He’s the short game
instructor to 2007 Masters Champion Zach Johnson, as
well as PGA Tour players Vaughn Taylor, Colt Knost,
Ted Purdy and numerous o More...