You took care of what you thought was the hard part. You split the fairway with your best drive of the day and managed to hit the green in regulation—with a 4-iron no less! Your reward? Your ball is now above the hole, and there appears to be a pronounced left-to-right break for the ensuing putt. For many golfers, this turns a birdie opportunity into a tap-and-hope scenario. They either get scared and try to cozy the ball to the cup—but wind up short and now face another tricky downhiller—or they put too much pace on it but fail to play enough break. The ball races by the cup on the low side and sets up a likely three-putt.
If this sounds all-too familiar, let's try something different. First, ask yourself at what speed do you see the ball going in. If you're seeing it pouring into the back of the cup, you might want to think again—you're making your target smaller. Test this out: On a practice green, find a downhill, left-to-right lie and practice hitting three putts at three speeds—the first so the ball dies at the cup; the second with enough speed to get it about a foot past the cup if you miss; and the third so it would roll two or three feet past. You'll start to see how adding more speed to the putt changes the break and makes it much harder to avoid a lip-out, even when you get the read right.
Now comes the part where I give you one thought when you have this putt: maximum break, minimum speed. That's how to handle these suckers. Oh, and one more thing: Stop paying attention to the cup. Instead, focus on that spot where you think the ball will begin to turn toward the cup—the aim point. It's always great when one of these sliders drop, but they usually won't if you peek too soon.
MATT KILLEN is a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher. He works with tour pros Justin Thomas, J.B. Holmes and Jessica Korda.
I've heard it said that a chip shot is a miniature version of a full swing. I couldn't disagree more. Some of the same fundamentals apply, sure, but chipping has way more going on. I have one basic full swing that gets me around the golf course, and I make only minor adjustments to hit draws and fades, low shots and high. On the other hand, I have at least 10 chipping motions—and I'm constantly learning and exploring new ones. I believe there's no such thing as a standard chip, and that you should always be brave and try to execute the shot that the situation and lie demand. What shot offers the best chance of getting close to the hole? You have to channel your creativity and feel to find the answer, which is fun.
One of my favorite chip shots is what I call the “nip-spinner.” It comes out hot and low, takes one big hop, then quickly settles. I love hitting it in front of crowds. Everyone thinks you've skulled it across the green, but you just smile and wait for the sizzle. I'll use it when I'm just off the collar without much room between myself and the flag, and the slope is such that I won't be able to control the distance as well with a putter.
I'm going to show you the technique to hit this specialty chip—as well as how to sink the putt. Even if it's just the other guys in your group watching, I guarantee you'll get some applause.
COMMIT TO SPEED
I learned how to hit the nip-spinner when I was 13 or 14. Before then, I didn't have the strength and swing speed to pull it off. I use a lob wedge, and to the untrained eye the motion looks similar to a flop shot. It's a long backswing relative to how short the shot travels, and the downswing path is heavy out-to-in, cutting across the ball. The difference between it and a flop is impact. With a flop, the club comes in shallow and slides under the ball. With the nip-spinner, the club comes in steep to meet the ball first, then the turf. There's a lot of interaction between the club and the turf, so you'll make a divot—or at least scuff the grass pretty good. My main swing thought is, hold my left wrist flat through the shot so the clubhead never passes the hands. It's a low, cut motion at the bottom of the swing. Instead of the ball sliding up the clubface, the grooves grip the cover of the ball to create a lower trajectory and a ton of spin.
When you first practice this shot, be prepared that you'll probably blade a lot of them. Don't worry. Stick with it, and you'll figure out the feeling of suppleness in the wrists that lets you pinch the ball off the turf. Keep asking yourself: How fast can I swing while making the ball travel the shortest distance possible? When I'm in a tournament and the opportunity comes to hit this shot, my typical mistake is not committing to the necessary speed. I'll decelerate, and the ball will pop up high, right and short of where I intended. Depending on the slope of the green, the ball still might finish a reasonable distance from the hole, so it's not a horrible miss. Still, if you want to get it close, you've got to keep the speed up through impact.
BURY THE PUTT
Hopefully you've chipped to within gimme distance. But the nip-spinner is often needed for tough situations, so even leaving a six- or seven-foot putt might be a good outcome. Regardless of the length, I'm going to let you in on a recent revelation I've had with my putting: I need to get lazy. By that, I mean I want everything about my stance and stroke to feel super-relaxed, almost sleepy. When my putting is off, there's usually tension somewhere in my body. I think everybody is the same when they start missing putts—they start making tiny adjustments as they search for something that works. Before you know it, you're standing uncomfortably. Get lazy is a great thought to get back to making a good stroke. When I was struggling with my putting for a period, my coach, Cameron McCormick, did an amazing amount of work studying video of me from 2015 and 2016. We discovered that I had developed this unnatural C-shape look to my back and that my arm plane was disconnected from the shaft plane. Though these problems were unique to me and my cross-handed putting style, the universal lesson is that whenever you have a great putting day, ask someone to snap a photo of you at setup. If/when things go awry, you'll have a useful image to work back to. It's about the easiest way for golfers to make use of their phones, and it's visual proof that you're capable of burying a putt and saving par.