Salt was in a good mood. The day was bright, the wind was calm, and it was not too hot. It was a good day to be outside at the golf course, and he felt like a fortunate man. Chipping, poor chipping in particular, was on his mind.
The golfing public had taken notice of the day, too, and were at the course in large numbers. The range was nearly full, and even the pitching and chipping green had a few patrons. Salt thought everybody should practice their short game more. So Salt wandered over to see how things were going.
For Joey, they were not going too well.
Joey was in ninth grade, and wanted to make the varsity golf team. He had a long, supple swing (too long for Salt’s tastes) and could hit his driver very well. He wanted to lower his handicap, but struggled around the green. Salt watched him hit a few chips from the grass around the green. Joey would carefully give himself a good lie in the grass before hitting each chip. And his results were generally good. Joey seemed fairly pleased with himself.
But Salt was not. He stopped over to say hi to Joey, and to see if he might steer this aspiring golfer in a better direction.
“Hi Salt”, said Joey. “I’m practicing my chipping today. I’m hoping to shave some strokes off my handicap and get up and down more, so I can make the golf team.”
“Good for you, Joey,” said Salt. “But why do you always set the ball on top of the grass like that?”
“Because, if I don’t, it’s really hard to hit a decent chip. Sometimes it goes too far, sometimes it barely moves at all. If I give myself a decent lie then it’s much easier to hit a good chip.”
“Yes, you are certainly right about that. But what happens on the course? There you have to play the ball where it lies.”
Joey considered this for a moment. He was a little annoyed with Salt. Who was this old geezer, walking over and spouting wisdom like a golfing Yoda?
“So what do you want me to do?” Joey asked finally, with a bit of teenage sneer.
“Take five balls and give yourself a perfect lie for each, and hit your chip. Then, I’ll throw five balls in the grass, and you have to play them from where they lie. Then let’s compare your results.”
So Joey did as Salt asked. He gave himself a good lie, and then hit the chip without any practice swings. And most of the chips were indeed pretty close to the hole, with a good chance for an up and down. “Very good”, said Salt.
Then Salt threw five balls into the grass where Joey was standing. “Now hit those,” he said.
Joey did. The first ball had nestled down in the grass, and Joey hardly moved it at all. The next ball was about halfway visible, but there was some grass in the way. Joey’s chip rolled well past the hole because Joey misjudged his landing spot, since the club could not impart any backspin on the ball. And so on. Needless to say, the results from this group of five were less than stellar.
Salt had Joey’s attention. “If you want to be good at chipping, you have to practice hitting chips that you will actually encounter on the course,” said Salt. “And, unlike a driver or a shot from the fairway, every chip is different on the course, because every lie is different, every green is different, and so on. So you really need to take a few practice swings that duplicate your lie before every chip. Once you have a feel for how the club will hit the ball, pick your landing spot on the green, and execute your chip. I’ll bet you see better results.”
“By the way, I have been to many PGA Tour events and studied the pros as they work on their games before and after their rounds. Believe me, they don’t just practice chipping from perfect lies,” said Salt. “Jordan Spieth sure doesn’t,” he added. (2:35 in the video below — see how he scatters the balls, lets them settle into the grass, and plays them where they lie).
“Here, try again.” Salt threw five more balls into the grass around Joey’s feet, just as Spieth would do.
Joey did as Salt had asked. When he had a bad lie, he found some similar grass nearby and tried to find a swing that would get his clubface through the grass before hitting his chip. When the lie was good, one practice swing was enough. Joey quickly learned that the worse his lie was, the less spin the ball would have, and so the farther it would roll once it hit the green.
This set of five was much improved, and Salt was pleased. “Very good Joey, that was much better,” said Salt approvingly. “Now, go and putt each of those balls in the hole before coming back for more chipping.” Salt thought you should hole out all your chips, to reinforce the idea of getting up and down, and to provide a tangible reward for a good chip, and penalty for a bad chip during practice.
Joey did as Salt had asked. “Thank you Salt,” said Joey.
Salt waved to Joey as he was walking away in the warm sunshine, to see if he could spot any good golf swings on the range today. “An all too rare bird,” Salt mused to himself as he strolled away.
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