One of the most frequent questions I get asked from students is how to play a shot when the ball is below or above your feet, or if you encounter a side-hill lie. The reason this is such a popular issue among players of all types is because it’s something we rarely practice, if ever. The tee at the practice range is flat. And guess what? I now teach primarily indoors on a GC Hawk and…you guessed it, the hitting mat is flat! One of my most enjoyable sessions with a student when I taught at the course was to take them out and practice these uneven lies. It was central Kentucky so there was a lot to choose from. There are four different shots that fall under this category and give a player fits; when the ball is above your feet, when the ball is below your feet, a downhill lie, and an uphill lie. I’m going to give you some tips on how to play each shot so you know what to work on, how to work on it, and have confidence the next time you are faced with one of these difficult tasks. Nerves come from the fear of the unknown. The more you practice and execute these shots with successful results, confidence will begin to replace the nerves.
Ball Above Your Feet The biggest consensus we have all heard with this shot is that it tends to go left of your target (for a right-handed player). And this is correct, but how many times have you aimed right of the target expecting it to draw back only to stay out to the right and miss the green? This is because you probably did everything in your power to not hit that ball left, including leaving the face open. So you aimed right, and then produced a swing that would do anything but hit it left. Instead, let’s not fight against the lie or circumstance, let’s cater to it and take what the lie is giving us.
The ball being above your feet means your impact zone is closer to you, and sometimes shin-high, knee-high, or even waist-high. This flattens your swing out to begin with, with in turn should produce a draw or hook ball flight. When the ball is that much closer to your body, you need to make the club shorter. Gripping the club at the end of the shaft where you normally do will result in a fat shot because the club is too long in relation to the distance of your hands to the ball. Choke down a couple inches so you have good control over that golf club and in a couple practice swings make sure the sole is bottoming out where you need it to achieve clean contact.
At address, position your weight more in your toes. This lie already creates a flatter swing and this stance will help counteract that. The flatter swing is what creates the pull or draw, so aim to the right accordingly.
Ball Below Your Feet Here we will do a lot of the opposite from the situation above because the ball is further away from you. Club up because you need the extra length in the shaft and grip it normally. Position your weight more in your heels here, or away the ball. The key is to feel like your center of gravity is lower than normal and you have a nice grounded base. The popular miss here it to hit it thin or top it so you want to ensure that your body stays down and through the shot. Because the ball is further away from you the common error is to come up and out of the shot early and fan it to the right, so aim a bit left of your target.
Uphill Lie For an uphill lie you are doing just that, swinging “up” on the ball. Because of the angle of the turf you will be adding loft at impact. If you pull your 7 iron for the shot based on the distance, your club will actually be more like an 8 iron at impact because of the attack angle. So the popular miss here is to come up short. Instead, club up and play the ball about an inch more forward than you normally would. The big key here is to match your shoulder plane with the slope of the ground. In this case because you are swinging uphill, you want your lead shoulder (left shoulder for a righty) to be higher than your back shoulder. This will automatically adjust your attack angle and swing plane which will lead to better contact quality.
Downhill Lie Again we are talking opposites from the previous situation. Play the ball back a hair from normal and angle your shoulders to match the downhill slope (right shoulder higher than left for right). Take one less club because you will be coming in with less loft this time. This will ensure ball first contact.
You now have the info needed but in order to execute these shots you need to practice them. Head out to the course on a quiet evening where you are able to drop a few balls on a hole without holding anyone up. Practice the different lies and alter club selection and figure out what gives you the best success. Hitting a perfect drive doesn’t always lead to a perfect lie and you need to get that ball on the green to score. Don’t forget to replace your divots!
The Ladies Gut it Out in Texas 2020 has been a year of great loss and that couldn’t have been more true for LPGA player Amy Olson at this past week’s U.S. Open. Champions Golf Club in Houston was playing tough as it should for an Open, but weather cancelled the final round on Sunday and moved it to Monday. The course was wet and playing long but the greens stayed firm and fast. This made for brutal conditions but Olson had an advantage. She is longer than average off the tee and flies her irons fairly high. But another obstacle was thrown her way Saturday night when she learned that her father-in-law had unexpectedly passed away. Her husband headed back home but convinced her to stay and finish the tournament; to play inspired; to play for her family.
It’s never a good time to lose a loved one. But the night before the final round of your game’s biggest event where you’re in contention, and 2 weeks before Christmas, is downright cruel. The temps Monday morning were in the upper 30’s and playing a tough track all bundled up for the elements is no picnic. Throw in a heavy heart and a truckload of emotions and you got your work cut out for you to even finish the damn thing. So it’s no surprise Amy came out and bogeyed 3 of her first 4 holes. Nobody would have faulted her for mailing it in and hitting the road, but like golf often does, something clicked.
Olson birdied number 5 and 6 and took a share of the lead by hole 7. This seemed to free her up a bit and take her focus away from her mourning family and direct it to enjoying the moment of competition. Through 11 holes she held a 2-stroke lead and was the only player in the field under par. She then got into grind mode making par after par, like you have to in a U.S. Open. The people closest to her were not surprised. She was tough as nails. You’d have to be to win a record 20 NCAA tournaments.
Everyone just kind of assumed that the winner would come from the Olson/Shibuno group. But in the group ahead, A Lim Kim went on a run of her own and birdied 16, 17, and 18. Suddenly Olson needed a birdie and she smoked a hybrid on 16 that rolled over the green and settled into a horrendously gross lie in the rough. It was her first bogey in 11 holes and at the worst possible time. She stood in the 18th fairway needing to hole out her approach to force a playoff, and knew it was all but over. But with one last bit of fortitude and human spirit, she stuck that wedge to 6 feet and made birdie to finish runner-up.
After the round Olson said she did everything she could to not think of the negativity surrounding the death of her father-in-law. She sang to herself and instead thought of all the positive moments she shared with him. “Lee was a big, tough military guy but was incredibly generous” , she said of him post-round. Well his daughter-in-law put on a big, tough, military-like performance that we know he is extremely proud of.
Enjoy the game and each other,
Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional