Every golfer knows the old adage, “Drive for show. Putt for dough.”
It’s been around for ages with good reason. It’s largely true. Nowhere more so than the PGA Tour, where everybody is a great ball-striker. The winner is always one of the week’s best putters. To make birdies, you have to make putts.
Casual golf fans have dwelled on how far Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus hit the ball. And they were both extremely long hitters in their eras. But serious golf fans know they were also the game’s best putters, especially with victory on the line.
As far as John Daly hit the ball when he gripped it and ripped it, he wouldn’t have two major championships without a deft touch around the greens.
Bottom line: to be a good golfer, a low-handicap golfer, you have to be skilled around the green.
Putting skills gets a lot of attention, and it should. That’s what really separates the winners from the losers on the PGA Tour.
But for those of us lucky to find time for a quick round on the weekend, the most overlooked aspect of the game may be chipping. Next to making birdie putts, saving par from off the green is the most important factor in scoring.
Most weekend players don’t spend enough time chipping, and it really costs them on the scorecard. Many single-digit handicappers hit half or fewer greens in regulation. But they often save par from bunkers or just off the green.
For those having trouble chipping, here are three basic tips to help you steal a few strokes you ordinarily throw away with a mediocre short game.
· Swing down on the ball. Hit through it and take a divot, just like on a full iron shot. Too many players with poor short games try to “help” their chips get airborne by scooping under the ball. Instead of helping the ball rise, that tactic leads to skulled shots that roll through the putting surface and chili dips that don’t reach the target. It’s easy physics. The loft of the club will propel the ball into the air. Don’t worry if you have a tight lie, still hit down on the ball and the club will do the work.
· Accelerate through your swing. The club needs to be moving swiftly upon impact. Otherwise, you’ll hit behind the ball or skull the shot, making your playing partners dodge a hot grounder. Worse yet, you could hit the ball twice – once on impact and once while your club swings through the shot path. And that’s a penalty. Yes, you don’t want the ball to go far. But the way to reduce distance is to cut your backswing. Don’t take the club back as far as you would for a normal approach. Shorten your swing, don’t slow it down.
· Pick a target for landing the shot. Visualize the shot you want to hit and where it needs to land. Then aim there. Don’t just look at the pin and try to hit a shot that distance. It won’t work. You have to plan the exact shot, taking into account what the ball will do when it lands. If it’s a downhill chip, you don’t want your chip to carry as far as if the shot were fall or uphill. Your target and the shot you plan should take into account what side of the hole you want your ball to finish on. If you don’t hole the chip, you want to be as close as possible while leaving yourself a flat or uphill putt. The best result either goes in the hole or a few inches past the cup, giving it a chance to go in.
The best way to improve your scores usually isn’t by hitting dozens of drives on the practice range. More often, it’s by practicing the type of chip shots that save strokes on several occasions each round.