Success around the greens is as much about decision-making and strategy as technique. Allow me to explain…
1) The golden rule
When you’ve missed the green, you need to be able to get it up and down as often as possible to keep your score together. But it’s not just about technique – you also need to make the right decisions. My golden rule of greenside chipping strategy is this: if you can putt it, putt it; if you can’t putt it, chip it; if you can’t chip it, pitch it; and finally, if you can’t pitch it, lob it. The lob should be your ‘last resort’ as it offers the least margin for error in the execution.
2) If you can putt, putt it
If you’re only just off the green on a tight smooth fringe, you should have no hesitation in reaching for your putter. The putter requires no interaction with the turf, so it’s a very simple choice.
3) If you can’t putt, chip it
If you’re a little further off the green, and the ground is too uneven to putt with any certainty, use a club that will carry the ball to the edge of the green and let it run out. This might be a 7-iron, but equally, a lot of golfers use hybrids these days for this kind of shot. Try both and see which works best.
4) If you can’t chip, pitch it
If you’re further away again facing a slightly harder shot off more of a slope or from not quite such a good lie, you’ll need to hit it a little harder and carry it a bit further to get it on the edge of the green. This is where I would switch to my gap wedge and play a slightly higher-flying pitch shot.
5) If you can’t pitch, lob it
Finally, if your ball has found a poor lie, or you have bunkers, mounds or hollows to carry, you’ll need to play a fuller lob shot, in which you accelerate more through the ball and hit it higher, perhaps even carrying it almost all the way to the flag. For me, this is a job for my 58˚ lob wedge.
6) Don’t just practise your strengths
You will often need all four of these shots at some stage in every round, so it’s worth heading to the chipping green, finding different slopes and lies, and working hard on each type. Beware though – we golf instructors often observe our pupils only really practising the shots they like and are reasonably proficient at. Those shots are unlikely to cost you the most – it’s the ones you find harder that you really need to practise. So, if you’re determined to get your handicap down, work on every kind of shot so you can get it close enough to the flag to get up and down more often.