Golf Tips
Hitting Down and the Short Game
By Clive Scarff
Jun 22, 2004, 11:50

The Masters golf tournament at Augusta National usually heightens awareness of two things: the start of spring for golfers in North America, and the importance of the short game. Particularly chipping. Just ask 2003 Masters Champion Mike Weir about the importance of chipping… Weir hit just 38 of 72 (52.7%) greens enroute to his first major victory.

So what are the two most common, most annoying errors in chipping? The fat chip (chunker) that goes nowhere... and the thin chip (skull) that shoots across the green, perhaps even into the bunker the other side. Guess how they are caused? Hitting up. We are so determined to get the club under the ball that we either hit the ground first (and the slower clubhead speed of a chip means we cannot even muscle through the ground) and the ball goes nowhere, or, in an effort to miss the ground all together, we strike the equator (or top) of the ball with a rising leading edge (or sole). This leads to a low, screaming shot that goes well beyond our intended target.

If we can somehow see our way clear to striking the golf ball first, before the ground, we can achieve clean contact and dramatically improved results. The key to striking the ground after impact when chipping, is acceleration. Unfortunately most of us are very reluctant to accelerate while executing the short game. Why? A simple fear of hitting the ball too far. We have a realistic fear of hitting this "delicate" shot way too far ‑ past the hole, over the green, into the trap opposite maybe. Thus, we desperately try to slow the clubhead down prior to impact. So here's the situation... not withstanding the fact we need to hit down... we have a short shot that we do not want to hit too far, yet we know we need to accelerate the clubhead in order to achieve clean contact. How do we accelerate, and yet gain control over the distance the ball will travel? The answer is simple, but not necessarily easy. Shorten your backswing. The two curses of bad chipping are trying to hit up at the ball to lift it, and swinging back too far... followed by a deceleration of the clubhead in the hopes of not hitting the ball too far.

I said the answer was simple, but not easy. The trouble lies within our perception of what is a short backswing. We are used to wrapping our club around our necks in order to hit big booming drives, so relatively speaking a backswing that goes to our waist "seems" short. The fact is, if you were to swing back to your waist, and accelerate the clubhead down toward the ball, you would likely create shot that travels in excess of 25 yards. Yet here we are trying to hit a chip shot ten or fifteen yards. So, we try to ‑ whether consciously or otherwise ‑ s I o w the clubhead down. Deceleration. Most players I have ever taught who struggled with chipping, swung the club back ‑ not 10%, not 20 %, but ‑ 100 to 200% too far. And most were completely unaware of how far back they were swinging in the first place.

While this has been a quick tutorial in chipping, it is also vital information in understanding the connection between hitting up, and bad chipping. Hitting up that the ball will lead to bad chipping. I have found many students’ poor chipping technique to be exacerbated by the fact they were trying extra hard to hit high chip shots when they did not need to. This just led to them hitting up at the ball in an exaggerated manner which then made a bad thing worse.

When you go to hit your chip high into the air, ask yourself this key question: what are you trying to get over? Unless you need to get over a bunker, a hedge, or perhaps even your ex-spouse, you would most likely be better off keeping the ball low. A ball that is low, rolls. Shots that roll are easier to predict. And, the next time they show a professional chipping in (holing out) from off the green, note whether the ball was low and rolling, or high and bouncing. When a ball bounces in it does make for exciting television, but the majority of the time you will see the ball was rolling well before it reached the hole.

Clive Scarff is a veteran teaching professional, based at Bowen Island Golf Ranch near Vancouver, BC, and writer of the golf instruction CD “Hit Down Dammit!”. For more info visit:

© Copyright 2004 by Clive Scarff.