The Case for ... One-Handed Chipping

March 03, 2014

I was in the middle of the 18th fairway at the Taconic Golf Links in Williamstown, Mass. I had just hit another excellent drive (for me). And I was filled with dread. Why? In spite of striping almost every tee shot that day, my card was littered with double and triple bogeys. All because of the bane of my golfing existence—chipping.

From 90 yards I am fine, but put me within 20 yards of the green, whether in the fairway or the rough, and the chances of my making a mess of the hole increase exponentially. My unsightly chip shots come in all forms—chunks, flubs, blades, double hits and, yes, whiffs. I walked off the 18th green at Taconic dispirited, demoralized and desperate. Something had to be done.

So I took action, drastic action. I resorted to the one-handed chip. The righthanded chip, to be more precise. It started during a practice session. You know how it goes: You chip a handful of balls toward one of the pins on the practice green, and when you walk onto the green to retrieve your balls, you flick them (gently, so as not to damage the green) back to the apron. In my case at least, those flicks have always been executed with one hand. After a while, I couldn't help but notice that the one-handed passes were more effective than their two-handed counterparts.

From time to time over the years, mired in the depths of a severe chipping slump, I have turned to the one-handed method in the middle of a round. On occasion I enjoyed reasonable success, but I always felt a sense of embarrassment that I had sunk so low. Inevitably, the left hand would make its way back on to the club.

"What if ... what if ...," I asked myself after that abysmal day at Taconic, "I embraced the one-handed chip?" I was hesitant at first and used the method only while playing with those with whom I was totally comfortable, but before long I was hitting six or eight one-handers per round. I started getting up and down more often. I even chipped in every now and then. In two months I shaved 4.5 strokes off my index. The newfound confidence in chipping has carried over to the rest of my game. Since I am less fearful of missing the green, I am hitting more greens in regulation because I am being more aggressive with my approach shots. And if I happen to be a few yards off the fringe, I am no longer filled with trepidation. I just step up and flick.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't claim to have become an excellent chipper. But even if I have become just an average chipper, that's a huge step forward.

One unique feature of my mono mano method is that I often hold something in my left hand—a towel, my putter, a water bottle—while executing the shot. "Is that legal?" an opponent asked one day. I assumed it was, but I thought it best to make sure, so I checked with the USGA. "Perfectly legal," came the prompt reply, as long as I wasn't using any of those objects to build a stance. Nope, just my confidence.

Almost as enjoyable as saving strokes is the range of reactions my new technique prompts. Perhaps my favorite comment came from a caddie at Winged Foot as we walked off the 18th green. After witnessing a half-dozen deft one-handers, he said, "That's the best exhibition of one-handed chipping I have ever seen." Some might call that a backhanded compliment. I prefer to think of it as a one-handed compliment.

An English teacher living in New York City, Mark Donovan carries a 12.3 index.

PHOTODAVID WALBERG FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

Almost as enjoyable as saving strokes is the range of reactions my new technique prompts.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)