Let's take a look at what constitutes chipping vs pitching, what the difference is between chipping and pitching, and the basic fundamentals of executing each shot.
Learning to chip and pitch the golf ball effectively is one of the best ways to improve your game without taking lessons. You can easily take multiple stroke off your game with just a few hours of practice per week!
Chipping and pitching the golf ball are two of the most essential skills to navigating a round of golf, and also two of the most often-confused and misunderstood. While some players could view the techniques for all of their swings as basically existing on a spectrum, it is also possible to divide the shots up into certain ranges where they are clearly different techniques.
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Golf Chipping vs Pitching
The basic difference between chipping vs pitching is going to be the length of the shot, or more specifically how far you want to carry the ball. What happens after the ball hits the green depends a lot on the slope of the green that you are playing into as well as the trajectory and speed of your chip or pitch shot.
All else being equal, however, the main difference between a chip and a pitch shot is that a basic chip will carry the shortest distance possible to reach the green and then roll the rest of the way (hence the common term “bump and run” used to describe a stock chipping technique). Typically somebody will chip the ball when they are very close to the green (within a few yards), although there are odd combinations of exceptions and some grey areas where it’s hard to say what the difference is between a long chip and a low pitch.
A pitch shot fundamentally will be played when there are more like 10, 20, or 30 yards to carry the ball onto the green and will also typically be played as a higher, softer shot (with the option of adding more spin) that carries closer to the target and rolls out less.
These are the standard techniques and differences. While it is possible to hit a high, soft chip shot and also to hit a low, running pitch shot (and blend the techniques of the two) most players use the distance of the shot to determine whether they term the shot a pitch shot or a chip shot.
Chipping vs Pitching Distance
There are other factors, but namely we are going to see the distance of the shot determine whether a “chipping” action is used (on shorter shots) or a “pitching” action is used (on longer shots).
One rule of thumb is that most players will chip the ball if they have between 1 and 5 paces to carry the ball onto the green. It is possible to hit a longer-carrying chip than this but you would need a lot of green to work with or be chipping into an up-slope.
Most players consider pitch shots to be shots between about 10 and 30 yards, maybe a little bit more. From these distances usually the ball will have enough speed on it that it will need height, spin, or both in order to stop in time to stay on the green.
Outside of 30 yards you will see most players start using an abbreviated version of their full swing. This is especially true once you reach about 50 yards, but in the 30-40 yard range a player might use more of a “pitching” technique depending on pin placement.
Chipping vs Pitching Technique
A lot of experienced golfers automatically adjust their technique based on how far the ball needs to carry and roll out, even without thinking about the situations as different or separate shots.
Naturally for a standard “chip” shot that we want to fly less and roll more players will hit the ball lower, and for a pitch shot which needs to carry more they will take a bigger swing but try to hit a weaker shot. Here’s some ways to do that if it’s not natural to you!
One of the best and most basic chipping techniques is to learn to hit the “bump and run.” On PGA Tour golf courses with tournament pins and conditions, this technique is slightly dated. Most players opt to use a 60-degree lob wedge on almost every green side shot, and if they want to play a bump and run they will just pre-set a lot of forward shaft lean with the same club.
Hint: this is not the best way.
A better way for amateurs to learn is what many successful tour pros used for decades playing on courses with conditions that were probably more similar to what most golfers are tested with at their local hotspots or country clubs. This bump and run approach is called simply “putting with loft” and it is exactly how it sounds.
Basically take your sand wedge, grip it exactly like your putter, set up exactly like your putter, and swing with the same stroke and rhythm and tempo as you would with your putter. You have the option to do all of this but pre-set your weight about 60/40 on the front foot, shifting your belt buckle and inch or two closer to the target and hence your low point as well, and you will hit down on the ball slightly more and this also will work better if the ball is sitting down in any kind of bad lie.
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With this basic motion, which should be like a putting stroke where you are just pivoting the shirt buttons and using a pendulum stroke without adding any angle to the arms or wrists, you will soon get a great feel for consistent contact and see how far your sand wedge flies and rolls out on short, medium, and long swing lengths.
After you have mastered that, just do the same thing with a pitching wedge, 8 iron, and 6 iron. Alternatively you can learn to do this with your lob wedge, gap wedge, 9 iron, and 7 iron. What really matters is that you gain a feel for this shot with multiple different clubs.
Just choke down on each club so that it is effectively the same length as your putter. Each one will come out lower, hotter, and roll farther. The idea is to pick the club that lands about 1-2 paces onto the green and rolls the rest of the way to the flag, simply changing clubs and swing lengths and nothing else.
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When To Chip
You should chip any time you are within a few yards of the green, and when you have green to work with. Learn to visualize the roll-out for a few different clubs and your first question should always be “what club can I chip 1-2 yards onto the green and have it roll the rest of the way to the pin.” If there is any club in your bag that you can do this with, it is almost always your best shot from green side.
We do this for the simple reason that a ball that has less air time is easier to control. Think about a driver versus a wedge, or a flop shot versus a putt.
The hallmark of a pitching technique is that you are going to use more loft and more speed and a bigger swing in order to hit a shot between 10 and 30 or so yards in the air.
The difference between most chipping actions and most successful pitching actions is that in order to create this speed while also adding loft so that we don’t hit the ball too far, we are going to use some wrist and even elbows to set the club and then throw it back under the ball. This requires some timing and release in the shot rather than just a pure pendulum stroke.
It should be noted that two of the greatest pitchers of the golf ball ever, Jason Day and Steve Stricker, both use a very wide pitching stroke where the wrists and arms are taken out of the shot and it is almost like a very big putting pendulum. While this might sound like a great idea - and if you’re good at it absolutely don’t stop! - it actually is a lot more difficult of a shot to pull off despite the mechanics sounding simpler. The margin for error is very small as the hands have to move maximum distance away and return to that precise spot and many players find it difficult to control the low point and make ball-first contact with such a sweeping motion and even more precision is required out of bad lies.
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It’s a lot easier to create loft and spin by hinging the wrist and even the elbows on a longer shot and blending these motions, feeling like you are “throwing” the club head under the ball. Blending this with body rotation is the best way to create a pure pitching action. You are going to want the club head to pass the hands through impact as the wrists break down through the bottom of the swing. This will add speed to the club head as well as loft at the same time, which is exactly what is needed for a high, soft pitch shot.
When To Pitch
You should pitch the ball whenever you are too far away for a chip shot, up to about 30-35 yards. These are the situations where you’re going to need to get the ball in the air and stop quickly on the green, as low lofted shots from these distances cannot stop in time.
Longer full wedge shots actually stop more quickly because they are hit hard enough to generate spin. Shots in the pitching range, while it is possible for some minor spin to be generated, generally are going to need to rely on height as well in order to stop the ball in a reasonable distance once it lands.
Chipping Wedge vs Pitching Wedge
This is where it can get a little confusing. You'd assume that you should use a pitching wedge for pitch shots, right? Not necessarily. Let us explain.
What Wedge To Use For Chipping?
As we discussed earlier, there is a large amount of personal preference in this. Nowadays almost all tour pros use their lob wedge to hit almost every green side shot. This wasn’t the case before modern course conditions (i.e. long rough and glassy greens) became the norm around the 1990s.
The standard answer is most players want to use their sand wedge, gap wedge, or pitching wedge in order to chip, as we generally want SOME roll-out. Be aware that many pitching wedges these days are lower-lofted than they used to be, so a gap wedge or a sand wedge is probably a better choice. This should be your “stock” chipping club and then for longer and longer chips learn to switch to lower-lofted clubs to get the ball rolling farther on the green.
What Wedge To Use For Pitching?
Nowadays, almost everyone is going to use their lob wedge or sand wedge for pitching. This is to help with the loft and spin we mentioned is needed to stop the golf ball from pitching distances.
On the PGA Tour you will see almost all lob wedges, but there is one thing to be aware of for the casual player. While wedges come in all kinds of configurations, one typical set up is for 60-degree lob wedges to be lower-bounce clubs and the sand wedge to be a wide-soled, high-bounce club.
This difference in bounce could be useful in your decision making. Just be aware that on a hard, tight lie the bounce could get in the way of getting the club head working under the ball.
Similarly, if a ball is sitting up in the rough, a low-bounce 60 degree with loft added through impact could slide right under the ball and not advance the ball at all. Pros will recognize this lie and pick the ball as if it were on a tee, but many players could benefit from going with a higher-bounce sand wedge out of the rough and slightly opening the face and using the bounce of the club to their advantage, just like you would out of the sand.
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Chipping Drills vs Pitching Drills
By far the best drill to learn how to be lethal from green side with your chipping is a drill called “railroad tracks.” The original version of this drill would have a player set down either clubs they aren’t using or alignment sticks horizontally every yard or two depending on your skill level, anywhere between 1 and 10 yards (see the image above). Then practice carrying your chip shots into each of these brackets, working your way up and down the tracks and picking random targets. Do these until you can hit your desired segment 5 out of 6 times.
The next iteration of this drill is to use credit cards (or another flat object) spaced the same way. You don't want your railroad tracks to interfere with the roll of the ball for this variation. Repeat the drill, watching how far the ball rolls out when you carry it into each segment. After getting a feel for this with your wedge, repeat this drill with a couple of your other chipping clubs and start to learn how those roll out, as well.
Combine this drill with Harvey Penick’s classic “one ball” short game practice method for best results. Harvey advocated everyone to learn the short game by taking one ball and practicing getting up-and-down over and over again from different locations, rather than taking a pile of balls and trying to hit the same chip shot over and over again.
This “old time” advice has been supported by all the latest Phd-level research about “block practice” versus “random practice” and how our brain best learns how to produce a skill on-command, as we would be required to on the actual course, and is the best way to translate your practice to actually being able to chip it close and finish it out during your next round.
In a similar fashion to the “railroad tracks” chipping drill, one of the best pitching drills you can do is to set up tees or even alignment rods at, say, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 yards and practice flying your ball at those targets, working up and down the ladder and picking random spots.
It is absolutely recommended in the beginning to learn a “stock” pitch shot. If you master a stock pitch shot, you can then start to experiment with different variations for different situations.
If you are completely short-sided it’s okay to hit your “stock” pitch shot knowing that your perfect shot is going to have the ball release 15 feet past the hole, for example. It’s often better to hit this shot and try to make a long putt than to try a flop shot or some technique you haven’t practiced, mastered, or aren’t even comfortable with.
That said, once you feel comfortable with your stock shot, one of the best drills for beginners and pros alike is illustrated here by former PGA Tour pro and current PGA Tour short-game coach Derek Deminsky. He advocates that even if a player wants to use one “stock” shot on the course (many high level players still do this) that they practice a full spectrum of shots in order to “calibrate” themselves, and also to have a feel for the shot if they need to pull out a “speciality” shot once or twice a round because of a lie or pin placement that really forces their hand.
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Let's face it, golf is hard and chipping and pitching are cornerstones of the game of golf. Most recreational players spend the vast majority of their shots inside 30 yards, and almost every shot from off the green that isn’t a bunker or flop shot is going to be classified as one of these. Becoming proficient inside of 30 yards is one of the fastest ways to start breaking 90, 80, or even 70 if that's your next milestone!
The terms are thrown around rather loosely, but in general pitch shots are going to fly farther than they roll, and chip shots are going to roll at least as far as they fly, usually farther. A pitch shot is higher, softer, and is hit from 10 yards or more away typically. A chip shot is typically a lower, running shot that is going to be hit from within a few yards of the green. Pitch shots are going to use more wrists cocking back and throwing through impact to add loft and speed while a chip under normal circumstances will be a more neutral “pendulum” type stroke that just pops the ball onto the green as soon as possible.
Master these two shots and learn when to use them, and you’ll start to feel like anywhere within 30 yards of the green is the same as being on the green. Missing greens can become a non-issue and you will feel like you would on a long putt - that you’ve got a good shot at getting down in two, and the worst you should do is three.
Understanding the difference in chipping vs pitching and then mastering both is much simpler than most people think. The key is to make the technique as simple as possible, and then develop as much feel for contact and speed control as possible within that technique. The most important thing is that you can repeat your motion and develop as much “touch” as possible within that motion, even if it isn’t “textbook”.
Touch and visualization of what the ball will do once it lands on the green are the skills needed rather than any particular technique inside of 30 yards. Keep that in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to a very solid short game!