Golf: Chip and Pitch to Lower Scores

By: John Hartley

Most people think the answer to lower golf scores lies in hitting their drives further. The reality is that you will make more impact on your scores by chipping and pitching well. Yet many golfers don't know when to chip and when to pitch.

Pitching is when you are about 100 yards or less from the flag, and you hit a high shot with plenty of backspin to stop smartly when it lands. Yes, you can be pitching from 120 or 130 yards, but it is when you are closer in that you have most impact on your score.

You chip from closer in, usually from 40 yards in, right down to when you are just off the green. If you are a yard or so from the edge of the green you can putt successfully, so long as the grass is short, and the grain is not against you. But the chip is a safer shot once you get further out.

When to chip and when to pitch?

I see many golfers chipping when they would do better to pitch and vice versa, both round the practice green and on the course. What is the difference between the two?

It has nothing to do with how far you are from the pin, but everything to do with how you strike the ball. You usually pitch with a pitching wedge, or a specialty wedge, and sometimes with a sand wedge. It is vital that you hit the ball cleanly, coming down onto it - if you hit it 'thin', hitting into the back of the ball instead of near the bottom, you will hit the ball further than you want. It usually flies over the green. If you hit too thick, you will strike the turf first, and the ball may not reach the green.

This is important, because if you have a very bad lie, such as on a bald patch of earth or very short grass, you may not want to pitch unless you must. You will find chipping is more reliable, once you learn the basics

Bend your wrists to pitch

Assuming you have a reasonable lie, and you are 50 to 100 yards from the pin, you probably want to pitch. The important thing about pitching is that you must bend the wrists on the backswing.

Not sure if you can do it? Here's a practice routine. Go onto the practice ground, take a 7-9 iron, and stand with your feet close together. Practice swinging the club back with your arms only, keeping your legs still. Your wrists should cock naturally, so that the club is about at a right-angle to your left forearm. If that is difficult just practice till it happens naturally.

The easiest way to do this is to hold the club loosely - never hold it really tight - and just swing it back. You probably don't need a full swing, so when you get to the top, you let the weight of the club bend or cock your wrists.

When you swing down - nice and slowly because it is control and accuracy you want, not distance - you let the wrists uncock, and strike down on the ball so it flies high, and then lands softly, not running far. Sounds simple, and yet I see many people trying to pitch stiff-wristed. When you are 100 yards from the green this works after a fashion, although the ball will not stop well, but once you get closer in it will land you in trouble.

How to get over a bunker

For example, say you are 30-50 yards from the green and there is a bunker in the way. Try to get over stiff-wristed and you are likely to end in the bunker or right over the green as the ball will not fly high enough to clear the bunker and land softly.

So you need to pitch, taking a short swing, cocking the wrists on the backswing so the ball flies high and stops quickly.

On the other hand, when you chip you must keep your wrists stiff, and not bend them. If you bend the wrists, the ball may go high or low, you may 'thin' the ball or hit behind it. In other words, you will be inconsistent.

What you need to do here is to take anything from a 7 iron to a pitching wedge - the 9 iron is actually ideal - and swing the club back like a pendulum. The swing it forward, still aiming to come down on the ball stiff-wristed.

The ball will fly low with just a little backspin, and run across the green. How far it runs depends on the club, but usually from twice to four times as far as it flies in the air depending on the club.

I recommend you use the 9 iron for all chipping, except when you need a bit more loft to get onto a slightly elevated green, when I would use a standard pitching wedge. Likewise, I would recommend using a standard pitching wedge for pitching, until you are very confident that you can get the ball near the hole. Then, you could experiment with the sand wedge for very short pitches.

In conclusion, when you pitch, you break the wrists to get the ball high in the air. You chip stiff-wristed to get a low flight. If in doubt what should you do? Chip every time. You will find you soon become accurate with your chip shots, but it will take longer to learn to pitch accurately.

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