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Chipping is a Crucial Third Down Play

Written by Bobby Lopez


Posted on May 07 2006

Chipping is a Crucial Third Down Play

Yes I’m a football fan. I can’t help it. Even though I must say I’m disgusted with the salary caps, free agency, the all around musical chairs played in trades that really make the game look a lot more like a rich boy’s hobby among the owners. I also disagree with the rules changes that tie the hands of the defense in order to score more touchdowns. Then when they score more touchdowns the NFL complains about the demonstrating after the score.

Applying football to golf…your tee shot is the first down play. If you’re second and twenty all day you’re not going to win many football games. You need to find a way to control your tee shots and get them on the fairway with a decent angle to approach the green. Your iron approach to the green is important but second down won’t kill you if it’s not the best play in your game and even if you hit it close you’re not done yet. It doesn’t matter if you miss a six foot putt for birdie or get it up and down from a bunker it’s still a par…which in my book is a first down! You can hang on to the ball and keep working it around the golf course.

Your chip shot is a third down play that you need to convert on. You need to convert on third down to win football games and it’s the same in golf. Even the best only hit about 60% of their greens in regulation, so touring pros are getting it up and down more than you might think. Chip a ball in off the green and I consider that a TOUCHDOWN! You were heading for bogey and made a birdie!

I like to classify a third down play in yardage. For instance…if you’re right on the front edge of the green with a straight uphill chip with plenty of room to roll the ball so you can use a low lofted club, I would consider that third and three. You should convert most of the time from third and two or three. If you’re ball is behind a bunker forcing you to elevate the golf ball and stop it on a dime, I would call that a third and twenty! Not much chance of converting here.

I like to see most average golfers practice more on the third in 5 or less. First they have a far higher opportunity of converting to first downs and they happen more often. To be successful on third and short plays you need to dominate three different facets of chipping:

The Stroke

To get a feel for the stroke try taking your three wood and gripping it very low on the shaft and holding the butt of the golf club up against your front forearm. This position will NOT allow you to flip your hands. Flipping is death to the chipping stroke. You need a pendulum motion with NO motion in the hands. Try to stroke like a pendulum from your front shoulder.

The Alignment

I suggest using a hitting station to chip from. Use the diagram below to see the chipping station I use. I see very sloppy alignment when teaching chipping. It seems like golfers understand the importance of aligning a putt and neglect the importance when chipping. Make sure the leading edge of your golf club is pointed directly at your target, (which may not be the hole if there is some break to consider). Many golfers leave the club face open. You’ll find that if you do leave your club face open you are probably doing the same on your full iron shots. You’ve become so use to the look that it doesn’t look open to you, but it is.

The Choice in Loft and Landing Area

You want to use the least amount of loft possible when chipping. Loft equals speed so if you want the ball to roll faster use less loft. The further you are away from your landing area to more loft you need to slow the ball down. Loft or arc will cause the ball to roll slower.

The only way to improve with your choice of loft and roll is to practice. Find a practice chipping green and work your way all around the green. Chip with a six iron from about three yards off the green. Hit the ball so it goes only to about a foot or so on the green and watch it roll. Then you can begin adjusting from there. From the same position try an eight iron and hit it with same amount of force to reach the same lading area. Observe carefully the roll of the ball and you should find that it rolls less distance and slower than the six iron shot did.

You should find that you have to move back about three more yards from the landing area to get the ball to roll the exact same distance with an eight iron from six yards way from the landing area as a six iron did form three yards from the landing area.

Make your adjustments accordingly and you’ll begin to recognize the amount of roll and loft you need to accomplish any third down and short play. Don’t get discouraged when you miss a green in regulation, get excited about making a recovery. When you chip one up close on the golf course don’t feel silly if you scream FIRST DOWN and wave you arms like a referee. I do!

Bobby Lopez, PGA