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Smart Golf: Chip Tips

Understand your limits. Davis often sees the yips erupt when a player tries to get too cute around the green. Say you have a chip from a downhill lie to a tight pin on a green that slopes away from you. A Tour pro might open up his lob wedge and hit a little flop shot that stops close to the hole. A fifteenhandicapper would be better off realizing that at his skill level, a shot that merely stays on the green, even if it stops thirty feet past the hole, is a good shot. "Doing those fancy Phil Mickelson things from a tight situation isn't realistic," Davis says. Just trying to do it ratchets up nerves. Planning a realistic shot, on the other hand, enhances confidence. To the extent that nerves are part of a golfer's chip yips, attempting a comfortable, easy shot can help.

"But what if I'm in match play," you say, "and my opponent has hit the green in regulation?I've got to try to lob it close, even if it's from a tight lie to a tucked pin."

The best option the average player has in such a situation is still to hit a high-percentage shot that stops somewhere on the green, Davis thinks. This way, his opponent at least knows that he must two-putt in order to win the hole. And as we all know, he won't always manage it.

Practice putting from off the green. There's nothing disgraceful about using a putter from off the green. In Scotland it's a time-honored part of the game. Even touring pros do it when they play a course with very tightly mowed chipping areas, such as those at Augusta National or Pinehurst No. 2. But when the pros encounter a course that calls for putting from off the green, they practice until they understand how much the fringe or fairway grass on that course will affect the roll of the ball. Even though many average players resort to the putter when they feel yippy about a chip or pitch, very few average players practice it.

As your practice gives you a feel for the way the ball rolls through the fairway grass on a particular course, Davis says, try to envision a hole beyond the one you're actually aiming at. Putt toward this imaginary target. If the ball has to roll through five yards of fringe, maybe the imaginary target needs to be 20 percent farther than the actual hole. If there are eight yards of fringe, uphill, maybe it needs to be 40 percent farther. It depends on the conditions, of course, but you need to have a feel for it.

If you've got both a day job and the chip yips, you may have to choose which one you want to eliminate entirely. Getting rid of the yips for good requires a lot of practice, both to improve mechanics and to renew confidence. But even if you can't devote as much time as a professional would to these tips and drills, they can bandage your game sufficiently so that no one in your foursome will know about your affliction.

1 TAKE TWO
This drill can double as on-course medicine. It's particularly helpful in situations where you have to wait while your opponent plays before you hit a delicate pitch. Take two clubs and put one in each hand, with the shafts parallel. Take slow, rhythmic practice swings. Your object is to keep the shafts parallel throughout the stroke. "If someone is wristy, the shafts go all over the place," Davis explains. "You don't use a ball with this drill. You just want to feel your swing."

2 THE TENNIS BALL DRILL
This one won't help you on the course, but if you incorporate it into your practice sessions, it might cure one of the fundamental causes of yipped chips: improper wrist action. Wedge a tennis ball in between your wrists as you grip a chipping club. Hit your chips without letting the tennis ball fall. If you maintain the proper firmness of your wrists during the stroke, the ball will stay in place. If your wrists get loose and flip, the ball will drop to the ground. This one will seem awkward at first, especially if you're a wristy chipper, as many players dealing with the yips tend to be. But it works. "The idea is to maintain the shaft angle through impact," Davis explains.

3 RAISE A HEEL
This is something that can help you both as a practice drill and as emergency medicine on the golf course. "Most people who have problems with pitch shots around the green don't have good footwork," says Davis. "They're way too flat-footed. When golfers stay flat-footed hitting a pitch shot, leaving too much weight on their right sides, they're going to come out of their posture on the way through the ball and skull it. A good player moves his feet and shifts his weight, ending up with the right heel off the ground."

This exercise emphasizes the proper position of the right heel (for a right-handed player): Address the ball. Raise the right heel an inch off the ground. Hit the pitch, keeping the heel raised all the way through the swing. When played like this, there's no way that you can leave your weight on the right side. This is a practice drill, but there's no rule that says you can't lift your right heel off the ground before you hit a pitch in competition. Doing so will make it almost impossible to skull the ball.

PRIVATE LESSONS
BILL DAVIS
Jupiter Hills Club, Tequesta, FL
561-746-5228
Individual lesson: $250 per hour

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